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by Francesca Di Meglio
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Adventures in Pasta Making
When this author finally tried her hand at pasta making, her reward was a delicious meal and simple life lessons she can savor forever. You could have the same
Click here to see a photo album documenting Di Meglio's adventure in pasta making.
There's nothing more Italian than a table full of assorted dish towels with fresh pasta sitting on them. I have fond memories of my Nonno's sister Concettina, with flour and flakes of sticky dough on the tips of her fingers in her galley kitchen in Ischia, Italy. Knead, knead, knead. Roll, roll, roll. The table would shake. The earth would move. By the end of the afternoon, long strands of fresh pasta would be dangling from every shelf, every counter, and every table surface in the place. We knew we were in for a feast. It was Italy. It was home. It was perfection.
? This weekend, I had my chance to try my hand at making the earth move. I've had Marcella Cucina (Harper Collins, 1997), the cookbook by legendary Italian chef Marcella Hazan on my bookshelf for two years now. I bought it because she explains how to make fresh pasta - and I was convinced I was going to do it. The book mocked me. I would be working on my computer and see its cover out of the corner of my eye. "I'll get to it tomorrow," I'd think. "Maybe next week." "Maybe never?"
Stressed out and far too pensive about the future, I decided this was the weekend that I needed the ultimate distraction, a chore for idle hands. It was time to face the flour. I picked up my old friend Marcella and headed for my cucina.
Until the moment that I started making the mound of all-purpose flour on my kitchen table, I felt the same way I do when I have writer's block - scared and frustrated and unsure of myself. But now there was no turning back. I cracked and dumped the two eggs in the well I constructed in the center of my mound. Marcella's eggs stayed within the bounds as though they were in a ceramic bowl. Mine, on the other hand, were running toward the edge of the table. I cupped the edges doing my best to keep the eggs in place. I was already defeated.
Still, I kept going. Step two was to mix the flour and egg with my hands. Too late. I had already skipped to that step in my attempt to keep the floor free of salmonella. I smooshed it all together some more. And soon I had a ball that actually seemed right. I pushed my thumb into it and it seemed to come out clean, which meant I had added enough flour. Now, I had to wrap it in plastic and put it aside while I cleared the flour and crumbs off the table. Then, I had to start rolling it out - by hand - because I am the worst Italian in the world. I don't own a pasta making machine of any kind. But I do have a big fat wooden dowel, which meant I could make fresh pasta the way Nonna did - the hard way.
Shortly after I started rolling, my dough was a gooey mess. I ignored Marcella's pleas not to add more flour. Soon, my pasta looked more like leather - with a large hole in it. That's when I decided to scratch the first draft, and return to the drawing board. Things improved drastically.
Already, I was learning from my mistakes. For starters, I made a wider well with shorter walls when designing my mound of flour. My eggs were perfectly contained, which meant I could scramble them and combine the ingredients just as Marcella explained in the book. Score!
When it came time to knead the dough, I was careful and let out a bit of aggression. It felt so good! The dough and I made friends. The softness between my fingers told me that I had done a better job this time. It was pliable and I could work it.
When it came time to roll it out, I was certain that it would turn out right. It's a laborious, fastidious job. You have to continuously wrap the dough around the wooden dowel and unfurl it - roll and unfurl, roll and unfurl, roll and unfurl.
The dough will tell you how far you can stretch it. You just have to be patient and listen. Follow the steps carefully, plan ahead, and roll with the punches, and your fresh pasta will at least be edible. Mine was actually pretty good. I cut it a little too wide, and it should have been a bit thinner. But it still tasted pretty great. And I'm sure the next dish I make will be even better. Why? Besides the fact that practice makes perfect, I'm going to pick up a pasta machine on my next shopping trip.
Making fresh pasta - or any Italian recipe from scratch - is a great way to reconnect with your heritage and ancestors. Although few Italians in Italy today are frequently making fresh pasta, many of them still appreciate the process and some even honor it. My Italian boyfriend has been boasting for weeks that his brother-in-law made a fresh batch of fresh pasta everyday over the holidays. Maybe the art of pasta making isn't lost yet. Maybe we can revive it. Certainly, we can all learn a thing or two from some good, hard manual labor.
For more information on Di Meglio, visit www.francescadimeglio.com
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