We are always looking for interesting new cookbooks. I saw a reference to a book called “The Frankies Spuntino: Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual,” and knew Dan would like it. The authors have a couple of restaurants in Brooklyn, and their book includes all kinds of useful cooking tips. We were particularly inspired by their suggestion that making fresh pasta if you have a stand mixer “is practically painless and almost entirely automatic.” So, on a recent weekend when we had family in town, we decided to try homemade pasta using the mixer. To go along with the pasta, we cooked two different quick pan sauces — one with pancetta, white wine and tomato sauce, and the other with pecorino cheese and pepper. Everything was amazing.
You can purchase “fresh pasta” in the refrigerated section in your grocery store, and we buy that stuff all the time. But fresh pasta made at home from scratch really does taste better, and it’s well worth the extra time on a weekend. Our homemade pasta contains just a few simple ingredients — unbleached wheat flour, a pinch of salt, an egg, an egg yolk and a half cup of water. To separate the egg yolk from the egg white, use half of the egg shell to pour out the white part and save the yolk.
Making homemade pasta using a stand mixer is simple because the mixer does all the work. A stand mixer is no slight investment for your kitchen, but they’re well worth it if you cook often, and probably a necessity if you bake often.
Add all of the pasta ingredients to the well of your stand mixer, replace the whisk of the mixer with the dough hook, and slowly mix to knead all of the pasta ingredients together.
The mixer does all the kneading for you. At the end of the 8-10 minutes that it typically takes to knead the dough, it helps to keep a hand on the top of the mixer because as the dough becomes more dense, the mixer bucks quite a bit — as if it’s going to jump off the counter. (Any picture of Dan on the weekends during football season will likely feature the logo of his favorite team. Go Steelers!)
You’ll know when the dough is fully kneaded because it will come together into a firm ball and there will be no (or very little) leftover flour in the mixer bowl.
The dough should rest a bit before you roll it into pasta. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for an hour or so.
There are several more steps to making homemade pasta. First, cut off a small piece of dough to knead a bit more in the pasta machine. Then roll the pasta to the desired thickness in the machine. Finally, cut the pasta into the final shape using the machine. Above, Dan cut the first piece of dough to start the process.
Dan has owned this pasta machine since before we knew each other. It clamps onto the kitchen counter and performs triple duty: (1) kneads the dough a few more times; (2) flattens the dough into the correct thickness for the ultimate pasta dish; and (3) cuts the dough into the correct pasta width and shape — spaghetti, fettucini, etc. In the above picture, Dan is working on step 1 — roll the piece of dough through the pasta machine at the widest setting.
After you roll the pasta out, fold it in half . . .
. . . then re-roll it through the widest setting again.
Rinse and repeat about 7 seven times to knead the dough until it is ready to be rolled thin and cut into the proper pasta size. Before you start flattening the dough into the desired size, dust the dough very lightly with flour on both sides. This keeps it from sticking to the pasta machine and to itself.
Flattening the pasta dough. On the left side of this photo, you can see the dial used to set the thickness of the pasta. Turn the dial one click each pass to make the pasta thinner until you get the size you want. As shown above, roll the floured dough through the machine with one hand underneath in order to catch it with your hand (and arm) to keep the pasta from bunching up under the machine.
Once the dough is at the desired thickness, use the machine to cut the pasta. On this night, we cut it into a simple spaghetti.
Put a tray or plate that has been lightly dusted with flour under the end of the machine to catch the freshly-cut pasta and prevent it from sticking.
After you finish each batch, dust the pasta very lightly with flour to keep it from sticking to the previous batches. When you have finished rolling and cutting all of your pasta, drape a slightly damp towel over the tray of fresh pasta until it is time to cook it. This keeps your (and the mixer’s) hard work from drying out.
While the pasta rests, make the first pasta sauce — a new pancetta-tomato sauce, inspired by a dish we saw on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations,” filmed in Rome. Chop up some pancetta and saute it in a pan over medium heat. (You can use bacon if you can’t find pancetta).
Saute the pancetta until it just starts to brown and begins to render some of its fat. To make the sauce a bit more healthy, spoon off a teaspoon or two of the fat.
Add a generous pour of white wine to the pan with the pancetta and cook until the wine has reduced a bit, approximately 4-5 minutes.
Add about 1/2 a can of tomato sauce.
We like a bit of spice in our red sauce, so Dan added some crushed red pepper. Stir well and cook for approximately 5 more minutes.
The homemade pasta cooks very quickly — about 1-2 minutes. Remember to keep some of the pasta water when you drain the cooked pasta, to be used as needed in the pasta sauce. Add the cooked pasta directly to the sauce in the pan.
Stir the pasta in the sauce, adding the pasta water as necessary to maintain the proper consistency of the sauce. Because basil is pretty much our only garden survivor from this brutal summer, we garnished the pasta with some basil chiffonade before serving.
The second pasta sauce this night was Cacio e Pepe — a classic Italian sauce very popular in Rome (also inspired by the Rome episode of “No Reservations”). The name translates loosely to mean pasta with “cheese and pepper.” Pecorino cheese is the star in this simple sauce, and we started with about a cup of freshly shredded cheese. (As convenient as pre-shredded cheese may be, we don’t recommend it. Freshly-shredded cheese is much better tasting, and cheese keeps longer in the fridge in non-shredded form.)
This isn’t the most healthy sauce, as it starts with a generous amount of butter melted in a pan.
Add about 3/4 of a cup of the reserved pasta water to the melting butter in the pan.
Add the pecorino cheese to the pasta water and butter.
Our Cacio e Pepe also uses a generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper. Add the pepper to the cheese/pasta water/butter mixture in the pan.
Add the cooked fresh pasta to the pan and stir it all together. If necessary, add more of the reserved pasta water to reach the correct consistency.
Continue gently stirring the pasta into the sauce until it is well mixed together, then add salt & more pepper to taste. Shred a bit more of the pecorino cheese on top of the pasta and serve.
On this night, we served the pasta with a simple salad and some baked fish. Because we shared this delicious Italian feast with my parents, we actually sat at the nicely-set table like grownups, instead of eating at the coffee table in front of the TV like we usually do. (Hi Mom and Dad!)