I’m going to tell you that the greatest hoax in town is packaged spaghetti. The real stuff is so easy to make and so much more delicious that you will never want the packaged stuff again. Italian mamas knock this stuff out without blinking an eye. The big secret is that anyone can do it.
Here are the complex and arcane ingredients:
|flour per person (4/5 Cup)
||large egg per person
That’s all folks!
Some discussion about the flour. You can use all-purpose or Semolina (made from Durham wheat), or a mixture of the two. I like 50 g of each per person.
Adding Semolina flour to AP flour. Note processor container on scale, which has been tared.
Mixing is no big deal: the traditional is to make a bit of a mound of the flour on your counter, put a well in the middle, put the eggs in the well, and scramble with a fork. As you stir in more and more of the flour it will get to the point that it is too stiff for the fork and you should switch to your hands, kneading until all the flour is mixing in and the dough is smooth. An easier way for the lazy or old or puny (I’m getting to be all three): put the flour into a food processor and pulse a couple of times. This mixes and sifts the flour the easy way.
Add eggs – in this case, 2 – to the flours. Pulse to mix.
Add in the eggs and pulse around five or six times or until all is mixed together. You will have a crumbly sort of mixture which you dump onto the counter and knead a few times until the dough is formed.
There is argument here. Some favor making a ball, wrapping it in plastic wrap and refrigerating for a half hour. I don’t bother, I just get on to the rolling stage.
Knead until the dough holds together
Rolling it out: You can use your favorite rolling pin or whatever technology you like to get a nice thin, pliable, dry dough. It will take you a bit of work to get the dough down to the 1/16” that you need. A test: with the dough rolled out near the edge of the counter put your mouth at the edge and blow air between the dough and the counter surface. If it flutters you have achieved thinness. Almost all Italian mamas seem to say that they do it this way. However, they sell a ton of pasta machines in Italy. As one commentator noted: The mamas say that they do it by hand, then hurry home to their machines. Look here – pasta machines go from $30 to thousands on Amazon. Then there are the powered machines. I got the $30 jobbie and it works just fine. The only caution is that your countertop must have enough of a lip to clamp the machine firmly. The Kitchenaid goes somewhere around $160 and, although I love Kitchenaid, I didn’t want to spend that much. A word of caution: do look on YouTube for various people using the rolling machines. Be aware that it takes a bit of practice before it is as easy as they make it look. You will probably cuss right salty the first time you try to use one.
[Herself Sez: more photos and a movie coming later.]
After you get the dough thin enough you can cut it up into strips. First off, whack the dough into reasonable lengths, a foot or so will do. If you are doing the hand thing or don’t have a cutter of the width you want, no big deal. Just roll up the dough or fold it loosely and cut strips with your knife. If you have a machine you probably have at least a spaghetti cutter and a linguini cutter. The more expensive jobs have all sorts of widths available. Be sure that you have the output going into a bowl or onto the counter and not the floor.
Sprinkle the strands with a bit of cornmeal and separate any strands that are sticking together. Cornmeal is used because when you cook it will drop to the bottom of the pot. If you use flour it will make a sticky mess when cooked.
There is no big secret to drying it. You can buy fancy drying racks or trees. No need. The mamas just have little mounds of pasta around the countertop drying for an hour or two.
When ready to cook use a big pot and lots of water – you already knew that. Use at least twice the salt you normally use. Like a heaping tablespoon or more. The water should be like seawater. Don’t add the salt until the water is really boiling, just before adding the pasta. This is not like the dry stuff out of the box; it only takes a couple of minutes. Test at 1 minute intervals after coming back to the full boil. Drain thoroughly, and do not wash. Don’t add butter or oil to pasta if you are going to want a sauce to stick to it.
There are those who add salt to the dough. There are also those who add oil to the dough. I don’t, but try them sometime. About a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of oil per serving for starters. Adjust to your liking from there.
I did a marinara gravy/sauce recipe somewhere previously. But here are a couple of simple ones:
Drizzle olive oil over the pasta, add some finely minced garlic and some shredded Parmesan. Get good Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can afford it. This is kind of a traditional Italian snack.
Another way: Sorta’ depends on what’s in the fridge and your mood.
Cook the spaghetti somewhere in here so that it is ready before the last step.
Some trinity: onion, celery, carrot, chopped. Mushrooms, rough chopped. Ham or beef or chicken or shrimp or scallops or whatever you’ve got, thin cut or rough cut, depending. Anchovy – be sure to get good stuff – a couple mushed up in their olive oil. Remove bones as needed.
We use the King Oscar anchovies, packed in olive oil. Heat the olive oil, mush them with the back of a spoon in the hot olive oil, then rub through a fine strainer with your fingers (carefully), which will leave the bones behind. A wonderful treat: take a nice cracker (I’ll teach you to make crackers another time), spread a bit of Philly Cheese and put just a dot of this anchovy paste. Much goodness. It may take a time or two before you know how you want the proportions. Too much of this or too little of that and they are terrible. Get it right and they are heavenly.
Lessee – back to the spaghetti. Sauté the trinity and the mushroom slowly and gently until nicely softened, but not brown. Toss in the garlic and, when it smells good – about 30 seconds or so, add the meat and anchovy. Stir gently or toss if you can. I’ve lost too much wrist strength to do the one handed jerk, toss and roll anymore, so I stir. When everything smells right add the previously cooked spaghetti and stir in some more olive oil or butter. Butter gives a smooth, sweet taste. Finish with salt and pepper as needed. You don’t always need either.
Someone who knows how can make spaghetti in less than ten minutes. Closer to 5 minutes after practice.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention macaroni, rigatoni, and such. These are formed by extruding. Made with pretty much the same dough, and extruded through a machine with the proper forming plate. There are attachments for Kitchenaid and Cuisinart, but they are kind of pricey. There are also some manual machines that look (and work) a lot like a meat grinder. I get the sense that they are more trouble than they are worth, but you can check them out on Amazon and YouTube if you are interested. Mostly what I see on YouTube is industrial stuff.
It has been said that some of the poorest people in the world have some of the best food. This can be true. What can be cheaper and simpler than flour and an egg? Topped with olive oil, garlic, and a good local cheese this is about as cheap as it gets. Remember, no matter how expensive or status-y a cheese is – somewhere in the world it is just everyday cow, sheep, or goat juice that has gone bad.