Growing up, my mother regaled my brother and me with stories of her family’s homemade pasta. Papa made the best lasagna with spinach pasta, she told us, and we spent hours drooling over the homemade gnocchi we knew that our great-grandmother made by hand, lovingly making a thumbprint well for the sauce in each one. We grew up knowing that pasta was an important part of our family heritage, something that you make to show your family that you love them. As a full disclosure, though, I can still count on one hand the number of times I have eaten fresh pasta at home: twice, and neither of those have been my mother’s pasta. Even though my brother and I knew the stories of our family’s pasta heritage by heart, we had never eaten my family’s homemade pasta simply because my mother never made it. That is, until this weekend.
During my visit at home this weekend, my mom and I decided that it was finally time to try to take up the family’s homemade pasta torch. We were armed with a new pasta attachment for the KitchenAid and a fresh pasta cookbook that I got her for her birthday. Plus, the sky spent most of this weekend spitting monsoons at us, and what better way is there to spend a rainy day than cooking and eating? There is no better way, I tell you. So instead of watching a movie, playing board games, or stomping around in puddles, my parents and I spent the afternoon playing with flour, kneading dough, and creating the most fabulous, easy, and wonderful fettuccine.
The pasta-maker attachment for the KitchenAid really simplified this whole process and made it an easy, almost brainless (but still raucously fun) activity. It wasn’t quick, necessarily– it’s not something that I would want to do during the week, for example– but it was a simple afternoon project that was worth at least triple the amount of effort that we put into it. Homemade fettuccine (and other pasta) is something you can of course make at home with such fancy gadgets as a bowl, a rolling pin, and your hands. I warn you, though, that it will take a bit longer and will probably help you tone your arms more than using a machine.
To accompany our extraordinary pasta miracle, we whipped up radicchio and some bacon into a lovely, rich, flavorful sauce. I do have to note that we didn’t use regular bacon in this dish– we used some special, uncured, Amish bacon that my best friend Katie thoughtfully brought me from Pennsylvania “for [my] next blog post.” This bacon (and I assume most Amish bacon?) is more flavorful than normal bacon, much, much less salty than normal bacon, and definitely lent a deeper meat flavor to this sauce. I would recommend using Amish bacon in this recipe if it’s available near you. This dish would also certainly be good with some low-sodium bacon from the supermarket or pancetta.
All in all, my entire family agreed that this pasta-making adventure was a rollicking good time, a delicious experiment, and a great success. We all learned how easy it was and how delicious the outcome can be. And, someday in the future, I’ll finally have some stories of my mom’s homemade pasta to share with my kids. Though to be completely honest, I’m not sure I’ll remember this one experience fully enough to really do it justice… So, what do you say, Mom? Another round of homemade pasta the next time I come home?
Adapted from Making Artisan Pasta by Aliza Green.
8 oz. all-purpose flour
8 oz. semolina*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
2-5 tablespoons tepid water
Place the flour and semolina in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix to combine the grains. With the mixer on low, add the eggs and egg yolk and beat until the mixture forms moist rumbles.
Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, adding enough for the dough to come together and form large moist crumbs. If the crumbs are dry with flour on their surface, add a little more water.
Keep beating the mixture until the dough comes together to form a mass that comes away cleanly from the side of the bowl. Then, turn your mixer off and tip the ough out onto a wooden surface and knead gently for a few turns. To knead, push into the dough with the heels of your palms to stretch the dough out, then fold the dough ball in half and turn a quarter-turn counter-clockwise. Repeat for a few times but do not overwork.
After kneading, wrap the dough in plastic and let sit for half an hour. This will let the dough relax and make it easier to work with.
When the half hour is up, unwrap the dough and cut it into four sections. Flatten each section slightly. If you have a pasta maker, follow its directions, first making flat sheets of pasta and then cutting the dough into fettuccine strips. Make sure to dust the pasta strips with flour or semolina each time you feed it through the flattener and again before you cut the pasta into strips– otherwise, the pasta will stick to itself and become a clumpy mess.
If you do not have a pasta maker, roll out the dough by hand. It will be springy and may be initially difficult to flatten into thin strips. Once the pasta sheets are thin enough (I would recommend that they be pretty thin), dust the dough with flour or semolina an gently roll up each sheet into a loosely-rolled log. Cut thin slices from the log with a sharp knife and then unroll to cook. This will help you make even, straight fettuccine strips without having to worry about keeping your hands steady
The pasta will cook in about three minutes in salted, boiling water.
*We were able to find semolina in our grocery store. I love it because it gives the pasta a creamier texture than with just plain flour, but if you can’t find it, feel free to use all all-purpose flour for your pasta.
Pasta with Radicchio and Bacon
Adapted from this recipe at Rustico Cooking
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces Amish, uncured pork bacon (or low-sodium bacon or pancetta), chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 small head radicchio, halved and then thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 pound fettuccine, fresh or dried
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.
Cook the bacon (or pancetta) and onion together until the fat renders and the onions begin to caramelize. Season with black pepper. Add the wine and cook on medium-high heat until the wine has almost completely evaporated.
Stir in the radicchio. Season with salt and saute, stirring, often, until the radicchio has wilted.
When the water is boiling, add the pasta. If using dried pasta, follow the directions for al dente pasta from the package. If using fresh pasta, cook for about three minutes, stirring often.
Just before draining the pasta, add the cream to the radicchio mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute, then stir in the Parmigiano.
Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the pasta cooking water. Fold the sauce into the drained pasta and dilute with the reserved cooking water if needed. Serve immediately.