Pasta is bad for you not!
That’s what they say. High glycemic and all that. I suppose that would be true of most commercial pasta products: they are almost pure starch; and like any refined starch product, they’ll be broken down quickly into component sugars in digestion. That says that the conventional wisdom about pasta is correct.
What about home-made pasta?
This is where the “not!” comes in. Traditional home-made pasta has a very different composition than the commercial variety. (Where have we heard this before?) Most commercial pastas have been developed for long shelf-life with dry storage at room temperature. I’m not exactly sure what the real shelf life of a typical commercial pasta product might be, you can certainly count it in units of months, if not years. I have this image of future archaeologists stumbling on a pantry with spaghetti or ramen hundreds or thousands of years in the future; they cook the stuff up according to the package directions and get an idea of what it was like to be a 21st century human.
Home-made pasta is made with fresh eggs though. In fact, the recipe I use has two eggs and six egg yolks with two cups of flour, a tablespoon of salt, and two tablespoons of good olive oil. That’s it. You don’t need a pasta machine to make this. A food processor makes very short work of the initial mixing, but even that isn’t necessary. Certainly, it’s not the traditional approach to pasta dough. Let’s assume you have a food processor though. Drop in two cups of all-purpose flour and the tablespoon of salt. Pulse briefly to mix these up. Pour in the olive oil and blend again with a pulse or two. Then put in the eggs and egg yolks. Now run the processor for about 45 seconds continuously. You should see the dough come together as a cohesive ball relatively quickly. When you check the result, it should be a little tacky to the touch, but not sticky. There should not be any significant amount of the dough left clinging to the sides of the blades or inner walls of the container. If there are, add a small amount of flour and run the processor for another few seconds to incorporate.
When that is done, turn the dough out onto a counter-top or table without any more flour and knead by hand briefly just to check that you’ve got the right consistency: tacky but not sticky. Again, you don’t want the dough sticking to the counter top in clumps. Add a little flour until you get it right. Then roll the dough out into a six-inch long “log” and cover it with plastic wrap. Let that sit at room temperature for four hours. In this time, the gluten proteins will relax. If you began to try to roll the pasta out at this stage, the proteins would be too elastic and would resist you. The four-hour rest gives them time to relax. If you’re in a rush for dinner, let the dough sit for at least an hour; but four hours is ideal.
Now we make noodles without a machine: Cut that dough into six equal pieces. Put five back under the plastic wrap and work with the first one. Put the smallest amount of flour on the counter top and pat the dough out into a 3″x3″ (about 7.5×7.5 cm) rectangle. Then roll it out with a rolling-pin to 6″x6″ (15×15 cm). Lift the dough off the counter to check that it isn’t sticking. Add a bit of flour. Then begin to roll the pasta out to a 20″ length gradually. Each time you run the dough out a few inches longer, lift it off the counter top to make sure it isn’t sticking. Add just a bit of flour as necessary and turn the dough over carefully. When you’ve got it out to 20 inches long, you should be able to see the outline of your hand through the dough. Set the sheet down on a clean kitchen towel to dry. Repeat this process for the other five pieces of dough. Let all six sheets of pasta dry for about 15 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to get a little tough looking.
If you wanted to make a lasagna, these pasta sheets are what you’d go with. However, my idea is noodles. Take one of the sheets and fold about a 2″ length over. Repeat this until you’ve got the entire 20″ length folded up on itself. With a sharp knife (I like a ceramic blade for this), slice the roll into ¼” pieces: each one will be a 20″ long noodle. Carefully unroll the noodles you’ve made into a “nest” by coaxing the rolls apart lightly with your fingers. Set that nest onto a piece of parchment paper or a cookie sheet. Repeat with the other six sheets of dough.
Each one of these nests is a suitable portion. If you’re a big hungry dude, you might manage two; but that would be going some. Two would be a big meal. Remember that there are 8 eggs in these six portions meaning that there’s more than one egg in each nest. Anyway, these nests can keep refrigerated for a day or so; and they’ll freeze up quickly and keep frozen for a while. You can cook them up frozen without any problems. That means if you’re cooking for one or two people instead of a larger family, your efforts here won’t be wasted. Any excess that you don’t want to cook up right away can be saved.
Commercial pasta takes 9-12 minutes to cook. Home-made pasta takes only about 3 minutes. Get yourself a good-sized pot of water, put in a few quarts (depending on how much of the total amount you’re going to cook up), add a tablespoon of salt, and get it to the boil. Drop in as many of the nests as you want and cook for that 3 minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, ladle out and reserve about a cup of the cooking water. Rinse the cooked pasta in a colander.
This home-made pasta is much more flavorful than the commercial stuff. Hence, you don’t need to cover over the blandness with a strong sauce. In fact, the lighter the better. About the simplest thing you could possibly do is warm a little extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add some minced garlic, & maybe an anchovy or two or a good dollop of anchovy paste. Drop the cooked pasta into the pan and stir to coat well. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water if you’ve done 2 or 3 nests; about ½ cup if you cooked up the whole batch. Sprinkle some fresh parsley on top and serve as is. Yummy. This is a great accompaniment to almost any fish course: garlicky shrimp, tuna, salmon, sea bass, and so on.
An alternative is a clam sauce. Here’s my favorite quick version. Drop five cloves of garlic down the chute of your food processor while it’s running. Stop and drop in the leaves from 10 sprigs of parsley. Pulse a few times. Put a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large pan and when it’s warmed up, add the garlic and parsley mixture. Then pour ½ cup of white wine and ½ cup of bottled clam juice into the bowl of the food processor and swirl that around to pick up any of the garlic and parsley you might have missed. Pour this into the pan to heat up. While you get that warming at medium-high heat, open three 6 ½ ounce cans of chopped clams and add these to the pan, juices and all. If you like spice, ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes or a shot or two of your favorite hot sauce would not go wrong at this point. Heat this all up for about 3 minutes. If you drop the pasta into its cooking water at about the time you’ve added the clams and pepper flakes to the sauce, everything will time up perfectly. Serve in bowls to hold the light broth that is this sauce. Sprinkle a little more fresh parsley on top, grate some parmesan over if you’re into that, and enjoy.
If you want to go with a marina, chose the simplest possible version, and better yet, make one yourself with fresh tomatoes.
You can play around with the flour in your home-made pasta. You can go with a high protein whole wheat flour like Wheat Montana. I love that stuff. I’m originally from Canada, and I could find a beautiful hard white winter wheat up there. It is almost impossible to find in the US where a hard red wheat seems to be what’s on offer. I find the problem with the American whole red wheat is that it tends to go rancid quickly; and even when fresh, the whole wheat versions have a bitter after-taste. This is because the whole germ is left in the milled flour, and the oils in the germ tend to spoil quickly. The Wheat Montana product is non-GMO hard white winter wheat. That means that even the whole flour has very high gluten (protein) content. Oddly enough, I buy it at my local Wal-Mart here in Colorado, of all places. It’s also available on Amazon. If you haven’t had white whole wheat flour, then I suggest you give their Prairie Gold a try. Experiment around with how much of this you can substitute into your home-made pasta. I think you’ll find that you can get really flavorful, high protein, and lower glycemic results with a little effort on your own.
Italians have a special flour used for pasta called Double zero or “00” or Doppio 0. I like my high gluten Wheat Montana flour. If necessary to get the required texture, you can add one more egg yolk to get the right results with a higher gluten flour. The oil and the eggs have the property of limiting gluten development. Gluten itself is not one thing, but rather a composite of two sorts of proteins that occur naturally in wheat. The more that a dough is kneaded after being mixed with water, the more that the two proteins that form gluten are brought together. This mixture including the high amount of oils from the olive oil and the egg yolks tends to limit gluten development, making the process of rolling out the pasta dough much easier. You can find Doppio zero flours on Amazon as well, if you want to give the authentic original a shot. Expect to pay around $4.50 a pound though.
From a health point-of-view, I’d say that going with the Wheat Montana Prairie Gold flour is going to do more for you than the highly refined, if authentic, stuff.
We keep our own chickens and so we get about 18 fresh eggs a day. Lucky us, maybe not so lucky you. Select only the best organic grade eggs for your version.
Use a good sea salt.
Use a high quality extra virgin olive oil, both for the pasta and in any sauces.