Mar 23, 2020
Amy Drew Thompson | Orlando Sentinel
The Dow has plunged. The theme parks have closed. The bars are shuttered. The movie theaters are dark. It’s the same in Italy, only there, the entire nation has been on mandatory lockdown for weeks. And yet, I see videos of jovial Italians singing in concert from their apartment windows like the Whos on Christmas morning, dancing up and down stairs in Tik Toks, leading exercise classes from rooftops — unshakable positive. It’s inspiring.
I can’t answer that with any authority whatsoever, but the foodie in me wants to jump to the only reasonable conclusion: It’s the pasta.
Carbs = love, after all. And math doesn’t lie.
So, as #socialdistancing makes the natural evolution from exciting, new hashtag to done-to-death meme (and we have more time on our hands than we did a week ago), let’s take a page from the Italians’ way of dealing with lockdown lemons and turn them into limoncello. Let’s make homemade pasta.
This is a good time to expand your kitchen repertoire. Or dust off long-dormant culinary skills. It’s also a great time to get away from the Twittersphere or cable news, put on some music and connect with the other involuntary shut-ins in your household.
My kids were game.
“Pasta making is one of those things that’s easy to learn and impossible to master,” says Eliot Hillis, chef/owner of Orlando Meats, which has a house-made noodle dish on the menu more often than it doesn’t. (And by the way, they’re still open, offering online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup.).
“There’s no end to how refined your skills can be. Once you get to the point where you’re comfortable and you like your results, you’re probably going to want to make it better. Or more interesting.”
I just wanted mine to be edible. First-timers set the bar low.
Making pasta sans appliances — why not do it like Nonna? — is physical. Kneading takes a half hour. More time for meaningful conversation while enjoying a light workout for your triceps, shoulders and chest.
“You have to build the gluten,” Hillis explains. It’s a process that requires a firm hand, yes, but hands you 30 minutes during which you can talk about that — or anything else in the world — with your kids, your roommate, your significant other, your mom…
If you’re alone, you can simply Zen out.
“It’s therapeutic…. You can turn your mind off and let it wander while your body does the work,” says Hillis, who taught a class a couple of years back. “People were surprised about how much physical labor is involved in the process.”
Once ready, the dough can be formed into a ball and should rest at least 30 minutes. An hour’s even better. Refrigeration isn’t necessary if you’re planning to cut and cook it right away.
I went simple, choosing to roll it out and create my own brand of pappardelle, a ribbon-like pasta — like wide fettuccine. I had no rolling pin (I thought, anyway) and so took a tip from Hillis and used a wine bottle — a mandatory pandemic panacea in my house.
As it was midday on a Tuesday, I opted to leave the cork in, but you could just as easily decant. My boss is reading this, but I won’t tell yours.
Rolling, too, is physical. And I’m short. Leverage — like hand sanitizer — was scarce. The first batch was beautifully sliced, but tough — even after extra boiling — the ribbons turned stiff in the water. Decidedly un-noodly.
I moved to the table — it was lower than the counters — and magically found a real rolling pin (I still didn’t open the wine). Steadily, my youngest daughter and I made small batch after small batch, each rolled thinner and cut more delicately than the next. My oldest was happy to taste-test. Buttered noodles are never not a comfort food — even if they’re a little too toothy.
By the last batch, they were genuinely good. Not perfect, but the improvement from 1.0 was impressive. We’d made something like five bowls of pasta with one small batch of dough and this one was worthy of the toss I’d made ahead of time — an amalgam of sliced mushrooms, half a box of a tri-color cherry tomato medley, some leftover roasted broccoli and three cloves of fresh garlic — chopped — tossed in olive oil with a little salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.
Speaking of salt, Hillis says to salt your pasta water like the sea for optimal flavor.
That last bowl was powerfully good. And tasted better for all the effort — something the chef says isn’t uncommon.
Some of you suburban survivalists might have a Costco pallet of pasta in your garage. You’re thinking, “Why make it? I can buy it. Heck, I can probably even go grab the fresh kind via curbside delivery…”
Because appreciation. That’s why.
“Even if you’re not taking the self-reliance route or the quality route,” Hillis says, “the appreciation for knowing the steps necessary to make something so seemingly simply, understanding what goes into it — is powerful.”
Making pasta isn’t quite butchering your own meat or making your own kimchi, but it’s a step toward food autonomy and understanding.
“Learning the depth of it helps you appreciate the thing so much more.”
Basic Pappardelle Recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- In a bowl, mix together flour and salt, making a well. Combine eggs and oil and pour into well, slowly working the liquid into the dough with a fork until it comes together enough to use your hands. Knead and work dough for 30 minutes — pushing, rolling, turning — dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Wrap dough ball (it should be smooth) in plastic and set aside for at least 30 minutes. FYI: Both dough balls and cut, fresh pasta are freezable.
- To roll, place ball on floured surface and dust with flour. Starting in the middle, roll dough away from you with rolling pin (or wine bottle!), turning as necessary, until close to translucent.
- Using sharp knife tip, cut pasta into 3/4-inch ribbons (place damp towel atop pasta until ready to cook).
- Place tester piece of pasta into boiling salty water for about 2-3 minutes, until al dente. The thicker the ribbon, the longer the cook time. Toss with your favorite sauce. Serve.