Mangia Questo!

No purists beyond this point.

Home-Made Pasta December 8, 2008

Filed under: Italiano,staple,Uncategorized,vegetarian — mangiaquesto @ 11:43 pm
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Making4There’s something amazing about fresh pasta that you just can’t get with pre-packaged grocery store pasta.  It’s a bit of work, but a pasta machine helps.  You can do it without (and I have), but I don’t recommend it unless you’re looking for a really serious arm workout.  I suggest getting a pasta machine with a crank handle and the basic lasagna and fettucine/spaghetti cutters, nothing too fancy (I got mine for about $20 at Benix in Toronto).  Once you taste homemade pasta I’m sure you’ll be using it a lot!  To make four heaping plates of amazing fresh pasta, you will need:

3 cups of all-purpose flour

4 large eggs



The traditional way of making pasta is to make a mound of flour on your marble counter and make a well in it.  Then you crack the eggs into the well and very gently beat them with a fork, gradually incorporating flour into the centre well.  I’ve tried this twice with zero success: The flour levy always breaks and I end up with egg all over my counter.  If, like me, you’re a pasta novice, I suggest doing the above in a large mixing bowl.  I think you get the same results, minus the eggy mess on your counter. 


Once the egg and flour are incorporated, add water a tiny bit at a time until the dough holds together nicely and is neither sticky nor crumbly.  Knead it for 3 to 5 minutes, then place the dough back in the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for at least half an hour, then break out the pasta machine.  


In case you got a pasta machine with no instructions, here’s how to use it: Take a piece of dough about the size of your fist and flatten it down into a disc.  The key to getting it to run smoothly through the pasta machine is lots of flour.  Sprinkle flour on both sides of the dough and spread it around with your hand.  Set your pasta machine to 7 using the adjuster (or whatever makes the gap between the rollers the widest) and start trying to squish the dough disk between the rollers as you turn the crank.  It helps to really squish down the lip of the dough and let the roller take care of the rest.  Run the dough through at 7 twice, then reduce the dial to 6.  Run it through once on each setting, reducing the space between the rollers each time until you get to 1.  Run it through more times as needed if the dough gets twisted or folded.  You may need to sprinkle more flour on the dough if it starts feeling sticky as you go.  Once you have a nice flat sheet of pasta, you can attach the fettucine cutter.  On my pasta machine, you have to take the crank handle off and move it to another spot to turn the fettucine cutter.  Feed the sheet of pasta through the fettucine cutter to make noodles.  If you aren’t in the mood for fettucine, you can use the sheets of pasta for lasagna, cut them into large rectangles and roll them into manicotti or canelloni, cut the pasta randomly to make maltagliato (literally, “badly cut”) pasta, or use a round glass to cut it into circles for ravioli. 

For fettucine, sprinkle flour over the cut noodles to keep them from clumping up.  If you’re making sheets to use for ravioli, etc., place them on a plate and cover with a slightly damp paper towel, then layer more pasta over the paper towel, cover that with paper towel, and so on. Fresh pasta needs very little cooking time (only about 3 minutes), but it still expands a lot through cooking.  Cook the pasta in a large pot of heavily salted boiling water.  Serve with your favourite sauce.

This recipe makes a lot of pasta (probably enough for two generous meals for two people, plus leftovers each time).  If you don’t have time to roll out and cut the rest of the pasta you can freeze the dough in a zipper freezer bag, probably for about a month.  If you can stick it out and roll out and cut all of the noodles, make sure they’re generously floured then lay them on your counter to dry for about an hour.  You can then roll them into little nests (if they’re fettucine or spaghetti) or just toss them in a container before putting them in the freezer.  Enjoy! 



Beginner Pie Crust August 31, 2008

Filed under: staple,vegan,vegetarian — mangiaquesto @ 12:54 am
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You’ve probably heard how impossible pie crusts can be, or at least how easy it is to mess them up. I want to dispel these myths (or at least half-truths). You CAN make pie crust as long as you have a small amount of patience and a little bit of extra time. I think the results are worth it, and much better than pre-made pie crusts.

This is the first pie crust recipe I tried, and it worked so I’m sticking with it. A lot of people shun shortening, preferring the more classic butter pâte brisée. I started out with this recipe because I wanted something dairy-free. I also think the shortening is more forgiving than the butter, which is important if this is your first pie crust.

I’ve tried this recipe with regular and with golden shortening, and find that the golden shortening gives the crust a nicer flavour and colour. Keep your shortening in the fridge for best results. If you’re making a pie like apple or pumpkin you could also add some cinnamon and sugar to the flour mix for extra flavour.

For a single pie crust, you need:

1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 cup of cold shortening

1/2 teaspoon of salt

4 tablespoons of ice cold water (and possibly a bit extra)

Put the flour in a medium bowl along with the salt and stir. Cut off what you need from the brick of shortening and cut that into a couple of thick slices. Drop the shortening into the bowl with the flour.

I did some serious research before I tried to make my first pie, and learned that a pie crust is very different from other baked goods (cakes, muffins, cookies, etc.). When you make a pie crust, your goal is not to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Think of it more as coating all of the fat in flour. This also explains why it’s important to keep your shortening and water cold: If the shortening warms up too much it will become soft and liquidy and will mix too much with the flour (don’t panic, this has never actually happened to me, just explaining the “science” behind all this madness).  

I like to keep things low-tech in the kitchen. Sure you can make this with a stand mixer or whatever, but who’s got one of those? Not me. If you don’t either, take one knife in each hand (just the normal ones you would use for dinner) and cut across the mixture in opposite directions at the same time, rotating the bowl and stirring so you cut up all the big lumps of shortening with your knife (cutting in the shortening). Keep going until the shortening chunks are about the size of a pea.  When you bake the dough, these little pea-sized bits of shortening will melt, creating the flaky texture you’re aiming for.

The next step is to add the water. I always find I need more water than the recipe calls for, so use your judgment. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, stirring with the knives and trying to limit touching the dough with your hands (because of the whole warming up the shortening thing). When you have added 3 tablespoons of water, see if the dough is moist enough by squeezing it with your hand. If it holds together decently it’s probably ready. If not, add more water half a tablespoon at a time. It doesn’t have to be doughy, but just has to hold its shape a bit.

When you can form it into some sort of ball, do so. Don’t worry if there are a few little dry crumbly bits as long as most of it will hold its shape. Place a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and put the dough ball on it. Flatten the dough ball into a disc, wrap it up and place it in the fridge. It needs to sit for at least an hour to relax, which helps to make the crust more tender and flaky.


After the dough has rested for a while, unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll out the dough with a well-floured rolling pin until it is about 1/4″ thick and about 2″ wider all around than your pie pan.

Here are two good ways to get your dough into the pie pan once it is rolled out:

1) (My favourite) Put one of those really thin and cheap bendy plastic cutting boards on your counter, sprinkle it generously (this is super important!) with flour and put a little extra on the counter in case the dough extends beyond the plastic sheet. Roll out the dough on top of the plastic sheet.

Lift up the plastic sheet and quickly flip it over onto the pie pan, then peel off the plastic sheet. Press the dough down into the pan. Easy, n’est-ce pas?

2) If you don’t have a cheap plastic cutting board but you do have a rolling pin, try this: Starting at one end of the dough circle, roll the dough around the pin, lift, place over pan and unroll. Also fairly easy.

After you’ve pressed the dough down into the pan, tear off the extra dough so there is about an inch of dough to roll into a lip. Roll it up and press little divots into it with your finger. Don’t worry about making it perfect, it will look rustic and charming. If you have extra dough left over you can lay it on a cookie sheet and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 10-12 minutes on 350F.

Some final notes: If the crust gets torn in the whole transferring to the pan process, just patch it up with some of the extra stuff torn off of the edges. The dough shouldn’t be sticky at all. If it is, sprinkle flour over it as you roll it out. Even if you think you’ve completely ruined it and are about to despair, don’t. Just add more water if it’s too dry or add more flour if it’s sticky and you’ll be fine. Hopefully everything worked out and your crust is flaky and delicious. As a friend of mine once said, “Now you can be known as a pie person!”