Competition for Casoli…

I mentioned the other day that Husband gave me lots of amazing gifts for Christmas.  What I forgot to mention, was that he also gave me the pasta making attachments for my Kitchenaide.  I have wanted a pasta machine of some sort since 2004; seven years is better than never.

I have a personal history with pasta, real pasta.  During college, I studied abroad in Rome, for 4 months, and nearly three of those months were spent, every evening, inside a local pasta shop called Casoli.  After classes, I didn’t have much to do, and the men at the pasta shop were kind enough to allow me to simply stand in their store.  Now that I write it all out, it sounds crazy, and dull, but it was an amazing experience.  I would talk to the owner, who spoke English, and make gestures and smile with the clerk who did not.  I tried some of my preschool level Italian, but most days I just stood there.  On one day, I got to put price stickers on all the chicken bullion.  Exciting, I know.  What the men didn’t know, was that I would have gladly worked for free, just to get to hang out there.  I still can’t really explain it.

When I came back to the U.S., I longed for true pasta.  Pasta that is made from eggs, and dough, pasta that is soft and supple, but all we have in my area is the standard box variety.  Its not even a shadow of what real pasta is. Five years ago, I decided enough was enough, and made my own pasta.  I didn’t have the semolina, so I found a recipe that didn’t ask for it.  The recipe also didn’t ask for eggs.  The pasta was terrible.  You can’t even call it pasta, but more of a dumpling, and not the good kind you eat with chicken.

I resigned myself to boxed pasta for another three years, and decided to give it another go.  This time, I bought some semolina, and found a recipe that asked for eggs.  I had all these grand ideas, but I didn’t have a pasta roller.  I kneaded the dough by hand, which with semolina is no easy task, and then rolled it out with a rolling pin.  The first night, everything was great.  I cut the dough with a knife, and made a quick sauce.  The second night, I wanted to make tortellini with Texas twist — chorizo and cheddar.  I left my dough on the counter to warm up, just to make it easy to roll out, and after 30 minutes to an hour, began to roll, fill, and shape.  Everything tasted great, and we were pretty happy, until 11 o’clock that night.  I guess you just don’t leave raw eggs out on the counter to warm, chill, and warm again.  Whoops.

Since the “incident,” I hadn’t made any pasta.  Would you?  But I still missed it terribly.  On Christmas morning, when I saw the pasta rollers, I knew that Husband had forgiven me for trying to kill him, and that I should try again.

First, I covered my shiny new iPad with a ziplock bag, in case of accidents.  Then I found another recipe, and cut it down to a more manageable amount; I didn’t want any left-overs this time.

The recipe called for 1 cup each of regular flour, and semolina, 3 eggs, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and a dash of salt.

I mixed the flours and salt together in a bowl, and then I was brave.  I poured the flour out onto the counter, and made “the well.”  

Yeah, I didn’t make my well quite big, and the eggs began to escape.  Next time, I’ll make the whole thing wider.

I beat the eggs and oil with a fork, and slowly began to incorporate the flour.

This really is the genius of the well method.  Only the flour that is needed actually gets used, and the rest simply never mixes in — that and fewer dishes.  I had a bit of flour left over on the counter once I had a nice dough.

Then came the tough part.  I had to knead the dough by hand.  Semolina is a hard flour, so hard that I’ve heard the copper dies have to be replaced every few years in pasta plants due to wear.  Hard flour means that more gluten forms, and that means the dough is tougher and stronger.  I suppose I could’ve used the mixer to knead the dough, but that would’ve meant more dirty dishes, and I like the feel, the connection, of a hand made product.  Besides, if I make pasta this way, even just once a week, I’ll have strong Kelly Rippa arms, or maybe even Popeye ones, all without having to go to the actual gym!

I kneaded the dough for a full 10 minutes, even though my arms will tell you it was longer.  In the end, I had a smooth, hard ball of dough.

I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap, and left it on the counter for 30 minutes to rest.  Resting helps with gluten formation, making the dough even stronger.   I wasn’t worried.  I wasn’t going to have to knead it by hand again.

After the dough’s little nap, I broke out my new rollers.  I started with the plain, flat roller first.  With the spacing set to one, one being the largest, and the mixer speed set to 2, I began to feed the dough through.  I imedeately ran into trouble.  The dough was falling apart.  It would start off nice, then begin to resemble lace, only to end up coming out in pieces.

No good.  (Ignore the poor photos) I felt I was letting my pasta-pals down, even though they live in Italy, and had no idea I was making pasta.  Still, after 3 months of standing around in a pasta shop, I should have absorbed some sort of magic, right?  Then it struck.  It was if the Gods of Pasta heard my cries, and sent me a little tip.  I had an idea.  What if my machine was too small for amount I was trying to shove in?  I cut the dough ball in half, and tried it all over.  It worked!  The pasta came out perfect!

I folded my strip into thirds, and sent it through again.

I repeated this process 3-4 times, and then turned the spacing down a level, or up, whichever way you want to look at it, I made it thinner.  The rolling process not only thins the dough, but also kneads it more, so it’s important to repeat each size at least twice.

After a while, the dough would begin to get that lacy look, and I’d cut my strip smaller, and go at it again.  I went all the way to level 4 before deciding that was thin enough.  I like my pasta with some body.  I want to know it’s there.  The roller goes all the way to 8, so I guess some people like their pasta Kate Moss style.

Finally, the fun part, and the part that I had experience with — cutting.  A large order came into the pasta shop one day, and I got to catch the pasta coming out of the cutter; I know, I’m easily amused.  Since I had everything on hand to make a fettuccine Alfredo, I went with the wider cutting wheel.  I even let Son help feed the pasta through.

Once all the pasta was cut, I tossed it with all my leftover flour, from the dough-making part.

Again, forgive the terrible colour.  My flash batteries were dead.  Sad, I know.

The recipe was supposed to make enough for 4 people, but I think it was more like a serving for 6.

I sat the pasta aside, and made my sauce.  I melted nearly a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, then added 4 cloves of crushed garlic.  I browned it on medium heat, and then turned my burner to low.  I added another 3-4 tablespoons of butter, and let it melt.  Then I poured in about half a cup of heavy cream, and stirred to combine.  I let it warm on the stove while I finely shredded some parmegiano.  Ok, so it was really Grano Padano, but it’s a but sweater, and I like it better.  It’s also what was in the fridge.

I added the cheese to the pan, and stirred vigorously until it was smooth.  Problem was that it was now too thick.  No worries, I just added some 2% milk.  Again it was what was in the fridge, and no ones going to complain about the lower calories.  It is January after all, and everyone and their mother has made a resolution to lose weight, right?

Just as the sauce was finishing up, I added my pasta to a humongous pot of boiling water.  It takes mere seconds to cook fresh pasta; it was nearly finished when it hit the water.  As soon as it floated, I did a quick taste test, and found that it was chewy, delicious, and not mushy, which can happen quickly with fresh pasta.  Yuck.  I pulled the pasta out of the water with tongs, and added it to my pan of sauce.  I tossed to coat it all evenly, added salt and pepper, then served.

Son loved it.  He actually ate all that I put on his plate.  Husband loved it, also eating all that was put on his plate, and threatening to eat the what was left on the stove.  I loved that I had finally succeeded in making real pasta that my Romans would be proud of.  And of course, we all loved that we made it through the night unscathed.

Egg Pasta aka: Real Pasta

Ingredients:

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

1 Cup Semolina Flour

3 Eggs

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Pinch of Salt (I use a heaping 1/8 Teaspoon)

________________________________________________________

Mix flours and salt together in a bowl.

Pour flour out onto counter, making a mound with a wide well in the center.

Add oil and eggs to the well, and beat with a fork, or your fingers.

Slowly begin to incorporate flour into mixture from the walls of the well.  Begin to use your hands once it’s too thick.

Once dough comes together, knead dough in the flour for 8-10 minutes.  Dough will be smooth, and nearly soft when finished.

Wrap dough in plastic, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Cut dough into quarters, and begin to feed through straight roller, on largest setting.

With each rolling, fold dough into thirds, and send back through the machine.  Repeat this 2-4 times per size.

To cook, simply add to boiling water for a few minutes until floating or cooked to desired texture.

Enjoy!

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2 Comments

Filed under Cooking, Home Making

2 responses to “Competition for Casoli…

  1. how are you
    My name is peter severino and my parents learned to make pasta from Umberto Casoli in 1971. they came to the states and started a pasta company with Umberto’s help. Today, we owe everything we have to Umberto and his kindness. I am still very close with his son Alessandro who runs the co, Umberto and his wife Olga have since pasted away. Not sure where you live but my Co is Severino Pasta Co. and we are located in New Jersey.
    Please reach out to me, I would love to hear more about your time at Casoli
    Thanks
    Pete
    609-929-7677

    • Pete,
      Small world, really. Alessandro told me about Severino while I was in Rome, and I actually came to your shop while I studied in Philadelphia. You gave me and my roommate free ravioli. It was delicious. I gave pieces to all my friends, calling them pillows of heaven. I still think about your pasta. I am in Dallas now, and we definitely don’t have pasta like yours or Casoli’s. There was a woman still at Casoli back in 2004 that I assumed was Alessandro’s mother. She asked me how to say zucchini in English one day. If she was Olga, then I am sad to hear of her passing. I was always too scared to hang out while she was there, but she seemed nice.

      So do you have any pasta-making tips for me? Since you’re the expert, how did I do? Feel free to email me.

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