I secretly wish that I was Italian (I also secretly wish I was Jewish because I'm jealous of the food they serve at holidays, but we'll save that discussion for a different post). My Italian family would be large, boisterous, and pf course, amazing cooks. Uncle Fabio would make the wine, Uncle Antonio would make the sopressata, Aunt Angela would press the olives, and grandma would make the pasta. Our Sunday afternoons would be spent shucking fava beans, drinking wine and stewing tomatoes. We would spend hours around the table telling stories of the mother land and all of our meals would be eaten in courses. I mean, who wouldn't want this? Flash back to reality, my family is small and we are all German/Irish/English mutts. Yes we love to eat, and drink wine, and we are pretty awesome cooks, but I couldn't help but think that my only hope is to marry into an Italian family. My married name is Wojtowicz, so you can see how that worked out for me.
I've decided to take it upon myself to become a self-declared Italian grandma. First order of business, master handmade pasta. I am lucky to have two good friends (Kevin and Shari) who love to master all things culinary. In fact, has there been a post where they haven't been mentioned? They showed me the basics of pasta making about five years ago through the lens of ravioli: butternut squash with brown butter, and, braised oxtail with sauteed wild mushrooms. I still dream about this meal.
My pasta making has evolved over the last five years from something that we made on special occasions to a quick weeknight meal that shows up on our table at least twice a week. As I got better at making the dough, we began to realize that in the time it takes to boil water you can have fresh pasta rolled out. And, since the cooking time of fresh pasta is about half that of its dried counter part, it's actually quicker and easier? OK, that might be a stretch, but honestly the taste of fresh pasta is so freaking good, I would trade that extra 30-45 minutes that it may take to make your own over a box of dried spaghetti any day.
The recipe below is our standard weeknight pasta meal. It sounds to boring to be delicious, only tomatoes, onions and butter? Where is the basil and garlic? But seriously, you need to make this tonight. I was also dubious at first. But, after reading several blogs post about this sauce, I caved, made it, and have never looked back. The onions release a sweetness that counteracts the acidic tomatoes, and the butter melts into the sauce to create a creaminess but without making the sauce feel heavy. You are three ingredients (6 if you decide to make the pasta) and 45 minutes away from the best pasta you've ever tasted. Better than that lemon cream linguine you had along the Amalfi coast, I promise.
Note: Yes, to roll out pasta you need some sort of a pasta maker. We use the Pasta Queen that Travis bought on ebay for about $30, it works great. My parents use the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment and love it. Also, like any proper Italian grandma, it is very difficult to describe in words exactly how the dough should feel when it is the perfect texture. You really should just come over for dinner at our house and apprentice me while I make it, because it has taken several years to really understand the feel of when the dough is the perfect ratio of flour:egg. It seems to vary day by day, depending on the freshness of the eggs (we are spoiled, this usually means the eggs are either 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week old), and the level of humidity. I gave you the recipe for the standard pasta dough that Kevin and Shari gave me which as written should be good enough. If the dough feels to sticky as you are rolling it out then simply sprinkle it with more flour. Oh and it is worth noting that sometimes I substitute whole wheat for the all-purpose flour, depending on my mood - so feel free to add more fiber to your diet.
Tomato Sauce with onions and butter
32 ounces whole tomatoes (we use 1 quart jar from our homegrown San Marzano tomatoes)
5 Tablespoons Butter (I use salted butter, because well it's delicious)
1 medium onion ( I use whatever I have on hand, red, yellow or any color in between), peeled and quartered
Salt and Pepper to taste (If you use salted butter it shouldn't need any salt)
For the sauce: Place tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy bottomed dutch oven or sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Sometimes I reduce the tomatoes to much and then I add a ladle or two of the pasta cooking water. Dilute the sauce as necessary.
Add cooked pasta to the pot, toss with tongs until every noodle is coated in the sauce. Load it into a bowl, top with freshly grated parmesan, pour a glass of Barbera and dream of sitting on a patio in view of the Colosseum while you eat.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina flour
2 Tablespoons water
Mix both flours in a bowl. Dump onto the counter and make a well in the center (as pictured). Alternatively, you can keep the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center keeping everything contained. Crack three eggs into the well and add 2 tablespoons water. Whisk the eggs and water together in the well with a fork, slowly pulling in flour as you whisk. Continue whisking until all of the flour is incorporated into the eggs and flour. Form the shaggy dough into a ball and knead on a well floured counter for about 10 minutes. I add flour as I am kneading so that the dough is not too sticky. This is where you need to come to my house and watch me do it, because the amount of flour I have to add varies every time I make the pasta and I knead the dough until I achieve the desired texture, which is usually when I can pull on the dough and it will spring back into place. Wrap the dough in a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let it rest at least 20 minutes. Ideally, you will make the dough in the morning before work, wrap it in plastic and stick it in your fridge to be rolled out right before dinner. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. With a knife or dough scrapper, cut the dough ball into 4 equal pieces. Flatten each quarter of dough into a rectangular shape about 1/2 inch thick (as pictured). Working with one piece at a time, roll the pasta rectangle through your pasta maker starting with the '1' setting and moving up to the '4' or '5' depending on how thick you want your pasta. Travis is in charge of this process, and he usually rolls the pasta through each setting twice, flouring each piece as needed to prevent sticking to the machine. Repeat with remaining 3 pieces of dough. Tip: do not skip a number during the rolling process to speed things up. Choose how you would like your pasta to be cut (our machine has both spaghetti and linguine settings). Roll the pasta sheets through the noodle cutter, laying the noodles out on a well floured surface. At this point your water should be boiling, add all of the noodles to the boiling water. Do not fret if the noodles are sticking together, after you add them to the water you can use a pasta spoon or tongs to separate the noodles as they cook. Again, you should come over an apprentice me. I usually cook the pasta for about 4 minutes. Sometimes longer. I taste them as they are cooking until they have reached the perfect al dente texture. Drain pasta, add to sauce.