Hand-Cut Pasta with Semolina

My third week of pasta-making, and I wanted to pull out another one of my flours that has been siting in the cabinet…probably wondering why I had ever bought it in the first place if it was just going to sit on the shelf, watching the usual go-to’s defaulted to! Oh, if flours could speak!pasta 1 6.30.13

I reached for the semolina.

From the quick reading I did on semolina, to learn a few of its properties, I thought if I used all semolina I’d end up with such a dry, brittle dough that it might crumble to dust even as I rolled it into a ball! I may be exaggerating, but, still, the cautions were enough that I did a half and half: half all-purpose and half semolina.

What I read was that semolina makes a  stiff dough and can be difficult to handle on its own because it is ground more coarsely and so can dry more quickly (qualities which, along with its high gluten content, make it a great flour for dried pastas), and that a beginner might want to combine with a softer flour if making fresh pasta.

Was I a beginner? Not quite. And yet, neither did going years between pasta-making sessions qualify me as a pasta-making guru. I took the Zen route of Beginner’s Mind.

I could go full-on semolina now, but if I was willing to be a beginner and only bring in some, then later, when I made a pasta dough with all semolina, I’d experience the difference myself and understand what the other writers were alluding to.

So I pulled out my two flours, two eggs, a little salt. Attached my pasta machine to the counter. And, instead of dish towels laid out on my table to transfer pasta to, I set out two baking trays.

I made my well, and proceeded as last week and the week before, from dough to pasta sheets.

The semolina flour is very fine, but still grainy, like fine sand or corn flour, while the all-purpose flour is a soft powder. The dough was different from my last two doughs, as were the sheets as I rolled them out. I would say pliable, rather than soft. Maybe silky.

I cut the sheets in half at the next-to-last setting on my pasta machine, because they were getting long and unwieldy. And, then at the last setting, as the sheets got long again, I cut in half again to get the length I wanted for the tagliatelle.

Tagliatelle just refers to hand-cut, and is, basically, a fettuccine-width.

Instead of using the machine to cut the sheets, I dusted them with some of the flour, rolled up and cut into half-inch widths. Then unrolled and separated the lengths, and made nests on the trays, which I’d also dusted with the flour, to prevent sticking. I had wet and then wrung out two dish towels to drape over the trays.

I was making the pasta in the morning, and wanted it to hang in there til I cooked it at dinnertime. Thanks to a Jamie Oliver blurb in a cookbook of his that I have, he had suggested trays (which is why I had pulled out trays this time), covered with damp towels. It worked just fine, though I checked throughout the day, and once in a while ran my fingers through the noodles to be sure they were staying separate and not sticking to each other. Though I tossed them all with flour as I’d laid them on the trays, I didn’t know if the damp towels might counter all the good I’d done!

Now, I’ll tell you, I could’ve called my mother at any point on any of these weeks for guidance, and she would’ve been thrilled, but I intentionally did not. She is such a natural at this, and has so much to share, but I needed to play and explore on my own first.

When it was dinnertime, I put on a pot of water to boil, and preheated the oven to 450°.

pasta 2 6.30.13I decided to echo the shape of the pasta with zucchini and yellow squash. They were a medium size, and I slid them lengthwise on a mandoline to get long wide slices. Then cut those slices into half-inch vertical lengths. I tossed them with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven for about 20 minutes, til they were soft, golden, and browning.

The pasta took no more than three minutes. When it came out, the half-inch tagliatelle I had cut had grown to one-inch pappardelle. I tossed the noodles into the pan with the zucchini and squash, added more oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it together to coat it all. A handful of chopped parsley for color.

I came across chef/food writer David Lebovitz’s blog while scanning for information about semolina and pasta. He refers to semolina giving some French baguettes a creamy richness. I’m glad I came across that little snippet, because I wasn’t sure how to describe the difference in texture from my pasta variations of the previous two weeks.

pasta 3 6.30.13Yes, this pasta had a creaminess. Which turned out to be a wonderful complement to the roasted zucchini and yellow squash.



Stuffing Pasta

ravioli 2 6.22.13Last week I made pasta, and cut it into fettuccine.

I knew this week I wanted to make ravioli.

A friend had given me beet greens she’d gotten from her CSA, which seemed a perfect filling. And I also wanted to make a ricotta filling.

I have many flours in my cabinet. Chick pea, peanut, 00, semolina. Some have been used. Some are still waiting to be used. And some are so low, it’s time to use them up, and get a fresh bag. In that category…whole wheat pastry flour.

In fact, I had low amounts of two brands of whole wheat pastry flour: Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill. I think when I’d originally bought them, I had thought they were a little different, that one was a mixed grain. But they’re both whole wheat pastry flours (soft, lower-protein wheat, with the germ and bran still intact) that I’ve apparently alternated between.

Without checking, just knowing they were both low, I assumed I easily had two cups’ worth of flour between them. I didn’t. So I added a cup of all-purpose white, mixed in a teaspoon of salt, and made my flour well on the counter.

To that I added two beautifully deep-orange-yolked eggs I’d gotten at the farmers market.

And then proceeded as last week, from eggs and flour, to dough ball, to sheets of pasta.

Last week I cut my dough ball in half to put through the rollers of my pasta machine, This week I cut it into four. I thought I would simply not get as long a sheet.

Instead I still got a very long sheet per each dough quarter, but, as I rolled it through, from widest to thinnest setting, I got a narrower sheet.

As I worked, I kept whatever dough I wasn’t using wrapped in plastic wrap, and I covered the rolled-out sheets that I’d spread on the dish towels with plastic wrap also, to keep them from drying out.

That width decided the shape and size of my ravioli. Rather than small squares or circles, or maybe a larger half moon, I simply spaced spoonfuls of filling down one half, brushed with water along the edges and between the fillings, and then draped the other half over, gently pressing between filling mounds and then down each edge, using a knife to cut them apart. Then using fork tines along the edges to secure the closing.

Where edges seemed dry, I sprinkled water. Where a filling looked too close to peeking out, I patched. Because sheets of pasta are not perfectly rectangular unless you cut them that way, the sizes varied from large to small.

Oh, the informal beauty of homemade.

While the pasta dough rested, I had made the fillings.

ravioli 1 6.22.13I cleaned and destemmed the beet greens, chopped them into small shred, and sautéed with four cloves of minced garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Four cups of chopped greens cooked down to about one cup. I transferred to a bowl and stirred in a tablespoon or so of grated cheese. This amount of beet-green filling made six ravioli, which was one sheet of pasta.

The others were filled with a ricotta cheese filling. I emptied a 16-ounce container of ricotta cheese into a bowl, added a half-cup of grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. I added the zest of one lemon, and a quarter-cup of chopped parsley. Half of this turned out to be enough for the remaining ravioli.

I was making these on the first day of summer, and lemon seemed a summery addition.

I used a shallower pot to cook these in a few at a time, and, after three minutes, scooping them out with a spider-style strainer onto a plate, where I drizzled with oil, sprinkled with cheese and parsley. I had thought I’d have a few casualties (the patched ones!), and I wanted to be able to scoop them out quickly and easily. But they held together fine.

I spent an afternoon on these, going step to step, still feeling my way.

It was worth it.

There is something compelling about this involvement with the dough, the alchemy from eggs and flour to something delicious that melts in your mouth. Maybe it’s the physical connection to the food. Maybe it’s the connection to my family and background. At one moment, as I rolled the sheets of pasta, dusting with flour when needed, I recognized my grandmother’s hand in the same motion.ravioli 3 6.22.13

As far as using whole wheat pastry flour, I thought the texture of the dough was a little different when I rolled out the sheets. Still soft and pliable, maybe a little denser, a little sturdier.

Cooked, it was light and soft, maybe a little toothier, and balanced the fillings. The tender beet-green filling had a good, garlicky bite. And the ricotta filling was lemony and bright.

Welcome, summer.

Making Pasta

I made my own pasta this week, something I haven’t done in a long time.

pasta 1 6.17.13My sister and I have gotten together occasionally to make fettuccine or ravioli, and we’ve made pasta with our mom. When we were younger, we’d sometimes be part of our grandmother’s and mother’s cappelletti-making session…where Grandma would allow a coffee break, and then back to work!

Cappelletti are like tortellini, but, where my grandmother and mother are from in Italy, they’re called cappelletti, little hats.

I grew up in a family where the women make pasta. Certainly for holidays and large family gatherings, and sometimes just because.

I was talking with a friend at work recently who’s on the verge of giving it a go herself. She has a beautiful book on making artisanal pastas, and is looking forward to a free day where she can play with it at her leisure. Soon after our conversation, I bought homemade ravioli at the farmers market. Stuffed with an asparagus-cheese filling, it was very good.

And I began thinking maybe it was time for me to get back to this pasta-making thing. The ingredients are basic. I have the pasta machine.

So I pulled out flour, salt, and two eggs. I attached my pasta machine to the counter, draped a clean dish towel on the table. And I made fettuccine.

Proportions and directions abound on making pasta, so I’ll just do a recap here. I used two cups of flour, to which I’d added some salt. I shaped it into a well on my counter, and broke two eggs into that well. I used a fork to scramble them, and to begin pulling the flour in from around the edges until I could form the dough into a ball. At which time I used my hands to knead the dough for about ten minutes, using some of the remaining flour to dust the counter so the dough wouldn’t stick.

After ten minutes, when the dough was elastic and smoother, I shaped it into a ball and let it rest for about 30 minutes, wrapped in plastic wrap. Which gave me time to put on a pot of water to boil, and also to sauté, separately, collard greens and sugar snap peas (it’s farmers market time) for side dishes.

Back to my dough. I cut it in half, keeping one half under the plastic wrap, to keep it from drying out. I flattened the first half enough to fit into the widest setting of my machine, rolled it through three times, and then continued doing that through all the settings of the machine, from thickest to thinnest, putting the dough through two or three times, dusting with flour as needed. If it’s too sticky or you’re putting it through a setting it’s still too thick for, it may tear, or it may gather and kind of ribbon. I know this, because I experienced this! And when the sheet got too long, I took a knife, cut it in half, and kept going.

I know it’s as thin as I like it when I can hold my hand under it, and make out the shape of my hand  through the dough.

As each sheet was complete, I draped it on the dish towel, and repeated all the above with the second half of the dough ball.

At this point, the sheets could be cut for lasagna, or they could be rolled up, and, by hand, cut into fettuccine or linguine. But since I have an attachment for my machine that cuts fettuccine, I used that. As each sheet of pasta I ran through became a nest of fettuccine, I transferred that nest to the dish towel, tossing with some flour to keep them from sticking, while I finished the rest.

When they were all done, I tossed them into the boiling water. They only take a few minutes. I heated up extra virgin olive in a pan with minced garlic, to which I added the fettuccine, adding more oil to coat, and salt and pepper to taste. Then slid that onto a serving plate, and sprinkled with grated cheese.

pasta 2 6.17.13It was light, fluffy, and delicious.

Cooking, in general, is a hands-on thing, and making pasta, I think, even more so. You are literally using your hands to shape something, and also to feel the dough, to read it. Is it sticky? Is it elastic? Is it too dry? Too wet?

And because of that, it was particularly satisfying to sit down to dinner and have fettuccine I’d made just minutes before.

And to be one of the women in my family who makes pasta.

Tahini Sauce and Kale

tahini 1 6.8.13I’ve enjoyed the combo of tahini with lemon the past couple weeks, and continue it again with this sautéed kale dish. I came across the idea of a tahini sauce stirred into sautéed kale while browsing online. I so enjoy greens, that this seemed a perfect place to try tahini in another way.

Four simple ingredients. To a quarter-cup of tahini, I added a tablespoon and a half of fresh lemon juice, three tablespoons of water to thin it out, and a couple grinds of black pepper. This versatile sauce could be easily stirred in with sautéed spinach, sautéed green beans or drizzled on roasted peppers.

I had a beautiful bunch of kale from the farmers market, so I used that.

I heated olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Added half an onion, thinly sliced, allowed that to cook a few minutes. Then added thin slices of about five garlic cloves.

While they began to soften, I trimmed away the ends from the stalks of the kale, then thinly sliced the remaining stalks up the length as far as the green leafy part, at an angle into thin ovals, and tossed them in with the onions and garlic, along with a little salt and pepper.

I chopped the kale Ieaves into bite-sized pieces, added to the pan, and allowed the heaping pile of firm olive-green pieces to cook down into a softer, dark green. I checked for seasoning, turned off the heat.

Stirred in the tahini sauce. Because I was going to take a picture, I held a little of the sauce back, so that I could add drops of it onto the cooked kale dish. Don’t know if you can tell in the picture. (Oh, well.)

As soon as I added the tahini sauce, the whole dish took on a nice creaminess. When I spooned it onto the serving plate, I also drizzled it with sesame oil and sprinkled sesame seeds on top, just to emphasize the sesame-ness. Then used a microplane to zest a little lemon over it all.

We had it as a side to spinach-pesto pizza (which I also got at the farmers market). My daughter was raving about the pizza. I realized I hadn’t even touched mine yet. I was just eating the kale.

I liked it.

A lot.

Tahini with Eggplant

tahini 6.2.13I’ve had baba ghanoush in the past, but not recently. And had, I realized, never made it. But with my now-started jar of tahini in the fridge, and an eggplant begging to be used, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

Between when I had the thought to make it and when I knew I’d actually be able to, I bought another eggplant, just in case that first one faded out.

But it hung in there. So I had two medium eggplants to use. Because the skin of the first one was getting soft in spots, I peeled it. The flesh was a nice healthy white. I left the other intact. Pierced the eggplants a few times with a knife. Poured a little oil on a sheet pan, and rubbed both eggplants all around in it, then slid them into a 425° oven to roast for 35 minutes.

When I took them out, they were soft and sagging. The peeled one had also browned. The unpeeled one had sunk like a beanbag chair.

I let them cool, then sliced the unpeeled eggplant in half, and pulled the softened flesh from the skin, adding it to the peeled one already in a bowl. Since I’ve been without a food processor for some time now, I used my hands to mash the eggplant. A food processor could easily take it to a more puréed texture. Mine was a mix of smooth and small bites of eggplant.

The balance of eggplant, tahini and lemon juice is key, so I tasted between additions, adjusting. I added a quarter-cup of tahini to the mashed eggplant to start. It gave it a creamy texture, and the taste of tahini coming through. Then I added half the juice I’d squeezed from two lemons (the two lemons made about a quarter-cup of juice). I could just make out lemon when I tasted, and thought it could use the rest, so I added it. Then I added an additional eighth of a cup of tahini to balance the additional lemon (for a total of three-eighths of a cup of tahini, if you’re keeping track). Stirred it all in, tasted, and stopped. Flavors balanced.

To season, I added three minced garlic cloves and one scallion that I’d cut lengthwise, and then into thin slices. If I’d had parsley, I might’ve chopped that in, and then used another garlic clove or two. But I had beautiful scallions from the farmers market, and that gave a little bite, plus fresh green color to stir in. Salt, to taste.

This could be a spread in a sandwich with roasted peppers and chopped lettuce. Of course, it is also a wonderful dip. My husband and I had it as sort-of both. I heated up a couple flat naan breads I had in the freezer, and sliced a cucumber. We dipped bread and cucumbers into the dip, as well as spread the baba ghanoush on top of the cucumbers and breads. Either way, it was great. The flavors blended well together, but you could make out the taste of the eggplant, tahini, and lemon. They weren’t lost to each other. They complemented each other.

With the hot day ahead, this light, lemony dip became one of the first of this summer’s go-to dishes for cool eating on hot days.