When I was 13, I was a finalist in Seventeen magazine’s Now You’re Cooking Competition. I was flown to New York, dined at Windows on the World and carted up to Hyde Park and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
What an adventure! During my long weekend at CIA, I cooked the meal I’d pitched, an Appalachian Mountain Brunch, and participated in classes and activities. One class I marveled about was the pasta making class. Coming from Tennessee, the fanciest pasta I was previously aware of was fettuccine – mostly because it wasn’t spaghetti. The funny thing is, I didn’t really take any techniques away from the class because I was stuck in the back and couldn’t see what was happening. All I gathered was that you had to have a fancy-schmancy machine to make pasta. I chalked up pasta-making to one of those culinary activities that only REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE do.
Boy was I wrong.
Fast forward a number of years to this week and I got an itch to make pasta. I blame it all on the mushroom guy at the farmers’ market. I happen to know the wife of one of those Five Fun Guys (you should check out their documentary), so of course I was going to buy a bag. I was chatting with the guy at the table that morning (not my friend’s husband), and he recommended chopping up the mushrooms, sauteeing in olive oil with garlic and a little salt and pepper, then tossing with fresh pasta from the pasta guy across the market. That sounded like a GREAT idea!
Along my way to the pasta guy, I stopped by some other booths to get an assortment of veggies and baked goods. The Swiss chard was calling my name, so a bunch of that went in my bag, its purpose to be determined later. By the time I wound my way around to the pasta guy, he was packed up and headed out. Bummer. At that point, I figured I would just buy some fresh pasta at the grocery.
But my foodie brain started working, and before long I had decided that I was going to try my hand at making pasta. Come to find out, pasta can be made by regular folks, too! And you don’t have to have a fancy machine (though it would really be handy). The Swiss chard wasn’t happy and needed to be consumed sooner rather than later, so that got paired with the mushrooms, some garlic and tomato – all of it bounty from my local farmers.
Making pasta is surprisingly easy. If bread scares you, okay, I get that. But don’t fear pasta! There is no yeast involved. And, as The Joy of Cooking so eloquently states, (I paraphrase) “Bad homemade pasta is better than good store-bought pasta.” I decided to forego the “mound of flour on my countertop” method for the “stick it in a food processor and whirl” method. Once the dough comes together, plop it on the counter and knead for about ten minutes. Divide, then roll out, just like cookie dough only really thin, and cut into whatever shape you can manage. Then plop it in a pot of boiling water. (I was excited to finally use that roller thingy in the picture. I’ve had it for a couple of years – long story – and never could bear to part with it because I bought it at an artisan center.)
I must confess, as I draped the pasta into the pot, I was doubtful it was going to come out as anything more than a mass of gooey boiled dough. But I was wrong! It was really good. I can tell there is more finesse that I need to acquire, but it was so easy – why did I spend all these years relegating myself to boxed pasta?! I am now campaigning for a pasta machine to add to my collection of kitchen gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, this is not something you’re likely to want to fool with after a long day at work – unless you like to cook to unwind (present!) – but absolutely give it a go on a Saturday or Sunday.
For the sauce,
- Sautee some garlic in a bit of olive oil
- Then toss in the chopped Swiss chard
- Once that wilts, throw in the chopped mushrooms and cook it through
- In a separate skillet, I sauteed some garlic and tomatoes in olive oil for my plate; I’m the only one in the house who eats tomatoes.
Surprisingly, I fed all three of us our fill and still had enough leftover for at least two more servings – and that was only a quarter of the pasta dough!
After cleaning up, I rolled out the rest of the dough and hung it to dry over my MacGyver-like pasta drying rack (note the dowel rods, removed from my son’s curtains, and my hairbands – yeah, I know, health department will be outraged). As sturdy a shape as this pasta is, the rest of it is likely to be used with a cheese sauce.
Now, once I have that pasta machine…
P.S. About that cooking competition: I snagged second place, behind a boy from Kentucky who cooked a Kentucky Derby Brunch. Funny, since I now live in the home of the Kentucky Derby.
For the pasta,
- 3-1/2 c flour (I did 1 c whole wheat flour and 2.5 c unbleached white flour)
- a few handfuls of spinach; wilted, squeeze the water out & chop
- 4 eggs (the recipe said I’d only need 2, so add one at a time until the dough comes together)
- 1 T olive oil (optional)
Whirl in a food processor until the dough comes together into a ball. Plop it on a floured surface, knead for about 10 minutes. Let it rest, if you have the time, then roll and cut. Drop in water that is at a rolling boil and salted until al dente – or mushy, if that’s your preference. Easy peasy.
I’m eager to make tomato pasta, carrot pasta, sweet potato pasta, herb pasta – the possibilities are endless!
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