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The Perfect Pasta Dough Recipe

Pasta is one of those fundamental “from scratch” things that can seriously impress your dinner guests and also totally change the game on what you thought you knew. Once you’ve had fresh homemade pasta, it’s really hard to even call that stuff you buy in boxes pasta anymore.

I learned to make pasta the way I learned to make bread, which is to say with a few bumps in the beginning. My first bread was like a hard little football shaped rock. My first time making pasta it was similarly hard, which was all the more difficult since I didn’t have a pasta machine back then and so it needed to be (laboriously) rolled out the old fashioned way. The final cooked pasta wasn’t much better.

Somehow with both bread and pasta it was only the first time that was a disaster. Every time after was not only passable but definitely edible and quite good in fact.

The first pasta recipe I got to know and like was Giada’s recipe found on Food Network.

It’s a good recipe and turned out some very good pasta quite a few times. The only hang up I had with it is that it’s measurements are given in volume rather than by weight, which I think is important especially in the early stages of learning the fundamentals like bread and pasta.

If you don’t have a kitchen scale then it’s still a good starting place but if you want to really get into the finer points of pasta (or bread) then in my humble opinion a kitchen scale is essential to the learning process.

When I got my pasta maker a few weeks ago I decided to look for a more precise recipe so I could control and understand the process a little better. I am forever grateful to the lovely people at seriouseats.com who put together this super comprehensive guide to fresh pasta making, which takes into account so many variables like egg or no egg and water or no water.

The results of their intensive research and great documentation is this beautiful and foolproof go to pasta recipe.


Fresh Pasta Go-To Recipe

Ingredients

2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg for every 5 oz (141 grams) of flour. No water.


Isn’t that just a thing of beauty? That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Each time I’ve made this I doubled the recipe, which made enough pasta for 3-4 very generous servings.

Special Equipment

Kitchen scale (optional but highly recommended) – substitute volumetric recipe like the one above)

Pasta rolling machine (optional but recommended) – substitute rolling pin.

As I mentioned above a kitchen scale is not essential but very good to have when learning about the nuances of pasta and bread. Likewise, a pasta machine isn’t absolutely necessary and can easily be substituted for a rolling pin but I think it produces much better results with less effort. More on the pasta machine below.

Simple Ingredients & Good Technique

Italian and French cuisine are characterized in part by their very simple preparations executed with utmost attention to detail. So of course the first step to good pasta is good flour and good eggs. What’s also important is good technique, which can be summarized mostly as a bit of patience.

Mixing the Flour & Eggs

Most recipes ask that you make a little mountain of flour with a hollow in the middle where the eggs are placed.  A fork is then used to mix the eggs, pulling flour in slowly as you go.

I’ve done it this way on a marble pastry board (as shown above) but I’ve also done it just in a bowl (which makes for easier clean up) and honestly it comes out virtually the same as far as I can tell.

No Water

The recipe I followed is very clear on the point of no water. Unless your dough is so dry that you’ve been kneading it together for 3-5 minutes and it’s still a pile of bits then you shouldn’t add water.

I haven’t had a problem so far. It may not seem like enough but the amount of liquid in the eggs is enough to hydrate the flour.

Salt

Whether you add salt to the pasta dough is up to you. I’ve done it both ways (with or without salt in the dough) and it seems indistinguishable since the pasta is boiled in salted water.

Other Additions

Added at the mixing stage

Juices: I’m planning to make some coloured ravioli soon with the help of some beet juice, spinach juice, and maybe carrot juice. About a tbsp of strained liquid should be enough to colour the pasta without upsetting the liquid balance too much.

Spices & seasonings: Of course you can add any spice or seasoning that you like. Dried oregano comes to mind but I think it’s pretty flexible.

Added at the rolling stage

Basil: A few times I’ve added basil leaves during the rolling out process. I wish I had taken a photo. I will in the future. I think it gives the pasta a nice basil flavour and makes it look very pretty. The basil stretches a lot during the rolling and by the end you have very large green leaf motifs.

I usually add it just after the first setting (so around 1) but you could also add it at a later stage in the process (maybe at 5 or 6) for smaller basil motifs and see how that works. More on rolling out below.

Resting the Dough

After the initial mixing pasta dough (like bread dough) likes to rest covered so it doesn’t dry. I like to cover mine with a layer of plastic wrap and then a cloth. There’s nothing worse for dough than it drying out before you’ve had a chance to use it.

The resting period is so that the flour can fully hydrate (which aids gluten formation) and also so the dough has a chance to soften, which gives it that beautiful spring and body. If you try to roll out pasta dough too soon after mixing, it will snap and break because it doesn’t have sufficient elasticity. About 20 minutes should do it.

Rolling out the Dough

Before when I would make pasta without my pasta roller I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin. I found this to be very physically demanding, so much that I didn’t want to make pasta too often. It’s possible I wasn’t letting the dough rest sufficiently and I will have to try one day to see.

A more important point may be that the roller makes the dough much thinner than I’ve ever made any dough, from pie to empanada to roti and of course pasta.

Side Note: Short vs Hard Dough

Doughs can be hard (i.e. with gluten) which makes lovely elastic doughs like pasta or wonton, or they can be short (i.e. ideally no gluten development) which makes crumbly and tender pie crusts and tart shells. For pasta we want the gluten, but the gluten also fights back.


Pasta Rollers vs Rolling Pin

I very much recommend a pasta roller if you can afford the cost and the space in your home and plan to make pasta often. The one I bought is the Atlas Mercato 150mm manual crank machine.

I read some reviews before buying which suggested it was the best one but since I’ve had it I’ve noticed it literally everywhere. It seems to be the roller of choice for bloggers and chefs alike. It’s also the machine seriouseats.com used in their pasta experiments.

Every time I see this I’m more convinced I made the right choice without even having all the information. So lucky.

Laminating the Dough

After the dough has a chance to rest you can begin working on it by cutting it into pieces to be fed into the pasta roller on the widest setting. You should do this at least 2-3 times per piece of dough (though some suggest up to 10), folding it and returning it into the roller on the widest setting each time.

This process is called laminating and it helps gluten formation which makes for better pasta texture.

When you’ve finished laminating a piece of dough I recommend putting it under a cloth again while you work on the rest so that it doesn’t dry. It’s best not to put the pieces on top of each other or they will stick together. These are best practices that I don’t always follow myself (to save time and space) so I work quickly to prevent drying and gently pull the pieces apart if they’ve stuck together. The choice is yours. Definitely don’t do this with thinner dough because it’s too fragile to pull apart.

If your flour and egg didn’t mix quite enough you may notice dry pieces, chunks or uneven texture when you first cut the dough. Usually this can be remedied by a thorough lamination process. If my dough is dry and uneven I laminate up to 6 times and it usually does the trick.

Rolling out the Dough

Once you’ve laminated the dough start again from the first piece feeding it through the machine from widest setting (0) to thinnest setting (9). Sometimes I skip a few of the steps, which I think makes the dough crimp weirdly. It’s never caused a big problem but the choice is yours how to proceed through the steps. Definitely more patience makes better texture.

Since the dough dries so fast (especially when it’s rolled out) what I like to do is to roll out each piece all the way from thickest to thinnest, then shape it or cut it into my desired form, and put it properly to dry before I move on to the next piece of dough.

That’s just my process to deal with fast drying dough. You may find one that suits you better.

Shaping & Cutting the Dough

The Mercato machine has 2 cutting attachments that make fettuccini and spaghetti. I’ve made both and I think the spaghetti is slightly harder to work with but also my favourite as it soaks up so much sauce and has such a hearty mouth feel.

You can also make different kinds of pasta once the dough is rolled out. You could cut it into 1 inch strips for pappardelle, or into bigger pieces for lasagna, or even into tiny squares for macaroni (see Handmade Macaroni From Scratch.) I think I’ll need to write a whole post just about pasta shapes. Coming soon I promise.

Drying the Dough

The little baskets I made from the fettuccini in the feature image for this post look very cute but I’m not sure it’s the most practical solution. When the dough dries in this shape it can adhere together, which makes for clumpy stuck together pasta once it’s cooked.

When I made these cute little fettuccini baskets I ended up re-rolling all the pasta I had rolled and cut because it was sticking together so badly. I know a lot of very professional chefs do it this way and maybe with a good dusting of flour it won’t stick but in my experience this is probably a pro move not the best for beginners.

My favourite way to dry pasta is either on the edge of a large bowl as shown below or otherwise on the back of a chair (only if I’m cooking it right away since it’s a vulnerable spot for our hungry dog and stray elbows.)

When I posted this on Instagram I got a few suggestions:

  • A friend’s Italian grandmother dries her pasta on a cloth hanging off the edge of a table.
  • Another friend dries hers on a broomstick suspended between two chairs.

Cooking the Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks in boiling water very quickly. Depending on the shape about 3 minutes should be enough for perfectly al dente pasta. I recently heard a chef on Chopped say that fresh pasta cooks in 45 seconds, but that hasn’t been my experience. Ultimate test is the taste test.

Shown here is fettuccini in a simple homemade alfredo sauce with seared scallops. This was our very first pasta after buying the pasta machine.

I hope I haven’t missed anything and that this has been helpful. Please comment with any questions below.

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Alton Brown’s Perfect Omelette with Balkan Sheep’s Milk Feta

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I’m just going to warn you before we go any further that if you make this you won’t be able to eat regular omelettes anymore. The first time we tasted the Alton Brown perfect omelette over a year ago we were immediately struck by the intense flavours that come through when you don’t cook the s*** out of your eggs. They are sublime. They’re smooth and custardy in the middle, providing the perfect environment to melt a bit of cheese or sprinkle some chopped herbs…but not too much! You don’t want to take away from the beautiful decadent custardy flavour of the eggs, which is perfect with just a sprinkle of salt as well.

It’s really more of a technique or preparation method than a recipe per se. Bogdan is the one who makes them in our household and I’ve requested his expertise for this post. He’s made perfect omelettes in a variety of ways over time. Some of our favourite “recipes” include goat cheese & chive, gruyere & ham, and straight up crumbled sheep’s milk feta on its own. All taste amazing in a perfect omelette and if there’s one truth to be gleaned it’s that when it comes to omelettes, less is always more.

The weekend after we had our first perfect omelette we had a brunch date with friends. We had a fairly late start to the day and all our favourite brunch places had 45+ minute waits, so we went to a greasy spoon. Someone in our party ordered an omelette. Bogdan and I weren’t omelette people to begin with. We never would have ordered one and we never made them at home. I for one just didn’t like the intense jumbled flavours in a normal omelette. They were always so full of stuff and sometimes I felt like that stuff just didn’t go with the taste of egg. That was until we had a perfect omelette. It changed everything. We were believers. It became a fixture in our lives, taking up residence between sunny side up and eggs benny in our at home brunch repertoire.

So, after this monumental egg related paradigm shift, you can imagine we were really eager to see the (as yet totally foreign) real life restaurant omelette to compare. We waited with bated breath for what seemed like a really long time. When our server started bringing our breakfasts two at a time we watched for the omelette. When it arrived at the table we did everything not to gasp at the grotesque bloated, burned, and beyond overcooked rubber dome on the plate. As a general rule, I try to avoid any meal that’s all the same colour. Not only was this omelette all one shade of slightly browned egg, but it was dome shaped and filled to the brim with all sorts of things. As it turns out, this particular diner’s house specialty was baked omelettes that puffed up into an inexplicably sturdy dome shape.

Bogdan and I looked at each other and knew we had been ruined for omelettes forever. Thanks Alton Brown.

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So here are a few of the cardinal rules of making a perfect omelette

  1. A perfect omelette is taken off the heat way before it’s cooked because it continues to cook with the residual heat. If you remove it from the heat as soon as it solidifies, you’ve already overcooked it. Once you taste a perfect omelette you’ll understand that overcooking is the worst thing you can do to eggs.
  2. A perfect omelette isn’t filled to the brim. Less is always more. A little sprinkle of cheese, a few pinches of slivered ham, a dash of chopped chives. You don’t need anymore than that and believe me it will be flavourful. For this recipe we used maybe half an ounce (15 grams or about 1 TBSP) of feta.
  3. If you choose mediocre eggs you’ll get a mediocre omelette. There are other preparations using eggs that don’t necessarily need the best eggs but in this case, as with custard or hollandaise, the eggs are the star of the dish so you should really use cage free and ideally organic. Farmers market would be best. The yellower the yolk the better.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • Half an ounce (15 grams/ 1 TBSP) crumbled balkan sheep’s milk feta
  • Unlimited butter
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Alton Brown’s Perfect Omelette with Balkan Sheep’s Milk Feta

  1. About 5-10 minutes before you start put your eggs in a bowl of warm water so they come to room temperature. Putting them in the pan cold could make them cook unevenly. Likewise, if your fillings are very cold they can also affect the cooking process so those should also be taken out in advance.
  2. Preheat a non-stick skillet (preferably 8 inches for 3 eggs according to Alton Brown and Antonia Lofaso) on medium heat. This step is really critical. Imagine your oven dial on a 1 – 10 scale, you want to aim for 6 – 6.5 Too hot and they’ll overcook, not hot enough you might have some difficulty sliding the finished omelette off the pan.
  3. Prepare everything you’ll need because the eggs will only be cooking for about a minute. You’ll need to set our your butter, cheese, herbs, meat, salt, a spatula and a plate. Depending how much stuff you need to prepare you might have to do this step before you preheat your pan. P1120365_Fotor
  4. Crack the eggs one at a time into an empty bowl. Lightly whisk until incorporated. Normally you would add a pinch of salt here but if you’re using really salt cheese (taste your feta before) it might not be necessary.
  5. Butter the pan. If the butter browns your pan is too hot. If it doesn’t sizzle at all it’s too cold. You want it just warm enough so that when you drop the eggs in they’ll lightly sizzle.
  6. When you’re ready, pour the eggs into the pan then act fast. Set a timer if you need to so the next
  7. Using a silicone spatula scrape up the egg in middle of the pan so the cooked underside mixes with the uncooked top. Then pick up the skillet and gently swirl the egg around the edges (not high along the edges just over the existing egg).
  8. Put your skillet back on the burner and use your spatula to gently scrape off the edges and let them fall as they will towards the omelette. By this point there should only be a thin layer of uncooked eggs in the centre of your pan.
  9. Sprinkle on your filling in the very centre, trying not to get any on the outer edge of your omelette. P1120367_Fotor
  10. Use your spatula to loosen the omelette around the edges.
  11. Tip the skillet towards you and fold the bottom 1/3 of the omelette (closest to you) inwards toward the centre of the omelette. Then turn the pan toward your plate and use your spatula to slide the omelette onto the plate folded side first, flipping the final 1/3 over as you do.
  12. Garnish with any herbs you’re using. Serve immediately. Seriously. There’s no time for decorum here. If you’re cooking for a group tell everyone to just eat their omelette as soon as they get it because waiting even 5 minutes will really impact the final product. These are particularly nice served with tomatoes or field greens in a light lemon vinaigrette. Perfect.

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Also, for anyone who wants this process from the source, check out Alton Brown’s Good Eats Season 7 Episode 3 “The Egg Files VI: Zen and the Art of Omelet Maintenance“.

 

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