Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Cast-Iron Darling!

That's right, my little blog is already one year old!

To celebrate, I wanted to do something special so I had my friend Jen over and we cooked up a feast! Plus, I tried my hand at something I had never attempted. It had been on my list for a while: make my own pasta. Without a pasta maker. Not because I'm a masochist; just because I don't own one. Although after reading this, it may seem like the former is also true.

I believe I followed Jamie Oliver's directions because he always seems to make things sound straightforward and tells me I don't have to worry. I halved the recipe because we were only two and the pasta was a side, not the main. We served it with a lovely braised pork butt and the carrot-celery ragout in which it cooked, and a delicious beet roesti, thanks to Mark Bittman - those recipes soon.

300g flour
3 eggs

and away we go with this deceptively simple recipe! I wasn't so keen on getting my counter all eggy so I put the flour in my Kitchenaid, since Jamie says you can use a food processor and so I decided a Kitchenaid was close enough. Maybe this was my first mistake.

Actually, my first mistake was not using "Tipo 00" flour. I searched; I could not find any and I didn't feel like going all the way up to Little Italy. So I used all-purpose. Things.... did not go ideally. The dough really didn't want to stick together. It was not as straightforward as Jamie had promised! It seemed like the dough was too dry!

Finally I got it to stick together enough to attempt rolling. I hope you've been working out, because this is serious business. My arms were still sore three days later! Maybe I should do this more often... I digress. Jamie says you should roll it out until it's as thin as a CD. I was really tired so mine was more like a CD and a half. Maybe two CDs. It wasn't thin enough, anyways. But I was proud and happy and rolled up the thin dough and sliced it into thin strips and unrolled it onto the counter. Pasta! It looked like Real Pasta! I was happy.

When we cooked it up, it tasted SO GOOD. DELICIOUSLY GOOD. SO GOOD THAT TWO DAYS LATER I WANTED MORE. I still didn't have a pasta maker. I still don't, come to think of it.

This time, I went and bought some Semolina flour from the bulk store, thinking this would be nice -- isn't Semolina what Real Italians use to make pasta? This may be true, but I am not a Real Italian. I am not even a Fake Italian.

Half-way through making it, I began to think that I should not have approached the Semolina, and I really should not have tried to make pasta A SECOND TIME with only my non-buff arms to roll out the dough. Clearly home-made pasta is good, because nothing else would be able to drive me to these lengths to get it.

This time:

1 c. Semolina
1 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 Tbs olive oil
3 eggs (I ended up using 4)

Making this pasta made me want to cry. It would not stay in a well-behaved ball. It crumbled if you even looked at it. It looked like a mound of cheese curds when at rest.

 Proof: Cheese curds, or pasta dough? Impossible to tell.

I left it alone for 30 minutes and let it think about its bad behaviour. When I returned, it had repented. I squooged it into a ball and it stayed. It even allowed itself to be rolled out, with reluctance. My sister called. She was coming for dinner. She wanted to bring a friend. I eyed the take-out numbers on the fridge, made the sign of the cross, and agreed.

It looks impossible at this point that the dough will allow itself to be rolled as thin as a CD.

I don't think my wrists will ever be the same again. However difficult rolling out pasta made from regular flour was, Semolina is beyond the pale. I swore. I made promises I couldn't keep. I vowed vengeance on the pasta.

My poor, red, puffy hands.

It still took 40 minutes to roll out and cut all the pasta, and even then it was not to Jamie's requisite CD-thinness.

Two CDs are better than one, right?

I felt so proud though. The pain made me blind to beauty, as a new mother, fresh from labour, is to her mediocre newborn. My pasta was so beautiful. Perfect. Golden. Nothing could surpass it.

To accompany my beautiful pasta, I made a light sauce of toasted walnuts, minced garlic, and chopped beet greens. 

About 3/4 c chopped walnuts, toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant. Move those to another dish, and heat 2-3 tbs olive oil and saute the garlic with a pinch or so of coarse salt. Add the beet stems, about a cup or more, and saute as well. At the end, throw in the chopped leaves, about 2 cups, and saute until wilted. Toss with the pasta and more olive oil and some pepper to taste.

It was very well received. The pasta was al dente in a way I had never tasted before. I guess that's the difference of having it fresh. The all-purpose flour pasta I had made the first time tasted more like the spaetzle I sometimes make; the Semolina tasted like Real Italian Pasta.

You know what, this pain-in-my-butt Semolina pasta was worth the agony. It was worth the trouble and the sore wrists and the red palms and the cursing. I would make it again in a second.

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  1. You realize that there is a pasta rolling attachment for the Kitchenaid? :)

    Still I commend you for doing all that rolling - I would have given up at the semolina-fall-apart point.

  2. I know, but they are wicked expensive, as is anything to do with Kitchenaid... one day! :)

  3. Awesome! Beet greens look like chard, tho.

  4. what a way to celebrate castirondarling's birthday :)
    anything home made is awesome.
    this looks gorgeous, love the colour!

  5. Beet greens also look like rubbarb. Sadness ensued. :(

  6. Get a pasta machine. Seriously. I have this one; you can find it cheaper.

    A marble rolling pin (pretty affordable on Amazon) also takes a lot of the work out of rolling out the dough before letting the machine do its magic.

    I got a machine for my birthday a month ago and now I just make pasta on a whim. The most annoying thing is letting the dough sit for 20 minutes after kneading it. Special flour? I use King Arthur All Purpose (or any other AP without the buttload of additives which sneak into everything American. I will try to find some semolina flour and try that though (and hope your praise for it isn't just Stockholm Syndrome ;) ).