Yesterday, I made fresh pasta for the first time. Ever.
It was a big deal. I’m pretty proud of this accomplishment.
It seems almost foolish, in this day of prepackaged convenience, to actually take the extra time to mix ingredients and make something like pasta from scratch. Why would anyone want to do this? I can buy a boxed pound of pasta in any shape, from around a dozen local stores, for a mere dollar or two. That box can sit on a pantry shelf for months, even years, without going bad, so I can cook it up at my convenience. Trust me, I have at least eight or nine boxes of spaghetti, rotini, farfalle, and macaronis in my house at this moment.
So why would I decide to go the homemade route with this staple?
Well, one reason is that I have three sisters-in-law who have Julia Child and Martha Stewart pretty well channeled. They use fresh, organic ingredients. They grow their own vegetables and herbs In backyard gardens. They make their own almond milk, tortillas, pizza sauce, and Popsicles. Every meal I’ve ever had that was made by one of these ladies is amazing, and they do all of this while somehow also managing households and raising awesome children. I am under no illusions that I may ever catch up to them in their super-cook (and super-mom) skills, but they inspire me to attempt a fraction of these things nonetheless.
Reason number two is this cookbook I have. It’s entitled The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. Author Alana Chernila paints such idyllic images of her whipping up mozzarella, granola, and golden-brown bread in her country kitchen that it makes me want to pack up and move to a farm. I love her personal anecdotes of how and why she came to love making most of her family’s food. (It’s a great cookbook–you should give it a look if this interests you, too.)
Besides these reasons, I’ve just been really wanting to adopt a more natural lifestyle, with fewer processed foods and more whole, real foods in my diet. Being fairly attached (addicted?) to cheese and bread, I don’t envision myself ever following the Paleo diet; however, I can definitely see a lot of merit in its precepts. The more I think about the umpteen chemicals, dyes, and overall fake food-like items found in much of what Americans consume these days, the more it disgusts and frightens me.
All that being said, returning to a more natural way of eating is not easy. Life is busy. We all know that. Saving time by purchasing quick groceries is hardly shameful (heck, I count it a victory just to make “semi-homemade” meals, instead of just buying fast food or a complete frozen meal that goes straight into the oven).
Fortunately for me, I have two full weeks off work this Christmas, so I was able to carve out some time for homemade cooking today. My son also cooperated with this moment of motivation by napping for nearly two hours.
I turn to the recipe for basic pasta, and how wonderful is this? Only two ingredients! Flour and eggs! That’s it. Okay, that sounds about as simple as it gets. I don’t even require a mixing bowl, Alana says–all I do is mix everything right on the clean countertop. Sweet! Not what I’m used to, but all right.
Make a volcano with the flour. Ooh, that’s neat. I never did build a faux volcano for an elementary-school science project, so this will make up for it. I mix my eggs into the flour slowly, and lo and behold, the pasta dough does begin to come together. Yay! It’s working!
After I’ve divided the dough into six little pieces and let them sit for half an hour, it’s time to roll the dough. Not possessing a pasta roller, I know I will be using the good old-fashioned rolling pin.
First mistake: using a sharp knife to cut out the dough directly on my dining table. Oops. It’s no family heirloom or anything, and it’s already scuffed in many places, but those scratches I added today hardly improve its appearance.
Switching to a cutting board helps. The dough is still sticking to the board after I cut it into strips, though, so with a light dusting of flour on the board, I am back in business! I use a knife to cut the pasta, and only the next morning does it occur to me that a pizza slicer would be perfect for this task. Oh well!
The question of where to lay out the pasta to dry is easily solved. I find a little plastic slotted rack in a cabinet, which works just fine. I leave the last two dough bunches for later use, as Alana says it can be wrapped and refrigerated up to two days.
A couple of hours later (you can cook the pasta after just five minutes or so, but I needed to wait until dinner time), my beautiful, homemade, irregularly shaped noodles go into the chicken soup that’s been simmering all day.
I feel like a little pioneer woman or something. Homemade chicken noodle soup, with REAL noodles made from scratch! I know it’s a small thing, but wow, did that pasta taste delicious…