Tuesday, September 30, 2008
There is nothing actually Australian about this pasta dish. The misnomer is the result of my boyfriend's affinity with my half-homeland (my mother is an Aussie and he insists on telling everyone that his girlfriend is a full-blood Australian, as if this gives him some cache among more pedestrian boyfriends who have bagged less "exotic" flames), and since this was the first meal I ever made him, there you have it: Australian Pasta.
And the reasons this was the first meal I ever made him are simple: 1. it’s impossible to mess up, 2. it’s made of things I had lying around the house.
However, this time around, I went on a very easy to mess up limb. Home-made pasta. I found a Kitchen Aid pasta attachment at my mom's house and decided to dedicate a Sunday afternoon to being elbow deep in flour, scraping hardened dough off of my nails for days to come. There's something fascinating about the transformation of flour and eggs from a shaggy, dry mess to beautifully elastic dough by your own hands. It's empowering. My arms throbbed with the pain of a great creator, molding and transforming a primeval lump into silken, translucent sheets. It was like Pygmalion but better, wherein I get to eat my creation!
Or, if you're my dad, like a Samurai Sword Master. Whose process, he mused, is extremely similar to the constant folding and rolling of dough to create firm but silky pasta. In order to have a sharp hard blade, but a flexible sword, Japanese sword makers hammer together layers of steel of varying hardness, welding them into a metal sandwich. It is then reheated, folded back on itself and hammered out thin again. After this has been repeated about a dozen times, the steel consists of thousands of paper-thin laminations of hard and soft metal (Similar to making pastry dough too). When it is ground to a sharp edge the hard metal stands out and resists dulling, while the soft steel keeps the sword from breaking.
Yes, we’re not working with steel here, but the idea is the same: folding layers together to create durability and suppleness. And you’ll find that it is actually quite simple.
Fresh Pasta Dough
1 ½ cup all purpose flour
2 extra large fresh eggs
2 extra large fresh egg yolks
A Kitchen Aid Mixer, with a pasta roller and fettuccine cutter attachments.
You have two options here, both I have tried: 1) the well method, where you knead the dough entirely by hand, or 2) with a mixer, where you finish kneading the dough by hand. I found that the second version produces the most consistent results, but please try it by hand at least once. It’s like being a kid with play-do.
THE WELL METHOD:
Pile the flour into a well and place the eggs and yolk into the center. Using a fork, gently mix the eggs with the flour, dusting flour into the well until it forms a paste (you should have incorporated about half of the flour by now). Careful of rivelettes of egg sloshing down the side of the well—this happened to me, and almost avalanched into an open drawer. Luckily catastrophe was averted by some quick motion and extra flour.
Using your hands, form the mixture into a ball shape (if it’s too sticky, add a little extra flour). Discard of any dry bits that may have fallen off and flour a clear space. Knead the ball for about 6 minutes, until it has formed a firm yet elastic and slightly sticky ball (If it is dry and difficult to work, add a tablespoon of water). Cover the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes, you don’t want to overwork the gluten in the flour.
The steps after that are the same as the Mixer Method, so I’ll jump back to that briefly…
THE MIXER METHOD:
Attach the dough hook to your mixer (you must use a dough hook, as paddle attachments don’t actually knead the dough). Pour the flour into the mixer’s bowl, and form a slight well. Add the eggs into the well, and start the mixer on the lowest speed. If the yolks aren’t breaking, feel free to break them yourself with a fork. Blend for about 3 minutes on low speed, until the mixture has formed a ball on the hook. If it hasn’t, and is instead sticking to the sides of the mixing bowl or crawling up past the hook, add some flour and give it a few more rotations.
Put the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 2 minutes, or until the dough is firm yet elastic.
The easiest method for kneading is pushing the dough forward, folding it once, turning it 90 degrees, and repeating. This is binding and developing the gluten in the flour, to ensure elastic silky pasta dough. When you have reached your desired results cover the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Rolling the Pasta:
This is a little time consuming, but it gets quicker each time you do it.
Cut off (never tear dough) a quarter section of the dough and roll it into a 3/8 inch thick strip and coat lightly in flour if the dough feels sticky. Set your pasta roller on level 1, and carefully feed the dough through. Fold the dough, and do again. If it ribbons form (meaning, there’s a ruffle in the middle of the dough) add a little more flour. On the first setting, I usually roll the dough through once, then fold and roll the dough twice, then roll it through one final time. On the next layers (I do 1, 2, 4, and 6 on my roller) I roll it through once, fold and roll once, and then roll it through a final time. Eight is the highest setting and excellent for delicate pasta dishes, such as ravioli or agnolotti, but for my fettuccine I wanted there to be something to chew on so I went with 6.
Repeat this process until all of the pasta has been rolled.
If you are not planning on cutting your pasta right away, flour the pasta and cover the dough in wax paper. Seriously, do this. I didn’t flour and chose plastic wrap instead and had to pick off dough with my fingernails and start over completely. It was one of those bizarre moments when cooking almost made me cry.
When you are ready to cut, place a large plate underneath the cutter so it can catch the pasta. Feed each sheet through the cutter, and lightly dust with flour to keep the dough separated. It sounds like a lot of flour, but my dough was on the sticky side, so use your judgment. If it’s not sticky, no need to add flour.
To Cook the Pasta:
Boil a large pot of water with a large handful of salt. It should have the taste of sea water, as this is the only thing flavoring the pasta (the sauce is meant to be like a condiment…imagine French fries with no salt and too much ketchup, that is how pasta becomes without salty water and too much marinara).
Cook the pasta for 3 minutes, drain and run cold water over it. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss.
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes (I use Cherokees for their color, but whatever has the best flavor), chopped
1-2 small zucchinis (I’m not a huge zucchini fan, so I opt with 1), sliced thinly and halved
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
4 tablespoons julienned basil
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 drop white truffle oil (optional, but its pungency is excellent in the dish)
Salt and Pepper
6 raw chicken Italian sausages (I usually do 3 mild, 3 spicy; you can do pork too if you want)
Cheese for grating (I choose Robusto by Unie Kaas, a nutty aged gruyere that’s absolutely delicious)
Heat a large saucepan on medium-high with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cut one end of the sausage and push out small one inch balls into the pan (it squeezes out like tooth paste and they look like small meatballs). Do this to all of the sausages and allow them to brown on all sides. Then add the onion, garlic, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and a tablespoon of butter.
Allow the onions to soften, and be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the tomato, zucchini, a pinch of salt, the remaining butter, and a few drops of the truffle oil. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
Cook for about 45 minutes (you can make your pasta dough during this time), stirring frequently. Taste as you cook and adjust with salt, pepper, and the truffle oil. In the last 10 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the basil and stir. When it is done, it should appear saucy, not watery.
Toss the cooked pasta in the sauce and serve with a freshly grated cheese and the remaining basil. Enjoy!