Monday, January 16, 2017

Fresh Pasta Dough ~ Fresh Pasta Sheets

     Making Fresh Pasta!
     Reorganizing and editing the old original recipes has taken more than one year and the project still has a way to go.  Deciding the best course of action when editing the old recipes usually involves making the project more user friendly.  One way to enhance the experience is to make use of hyperlinks.  For example, instead of printing a recipe for Pasta Dough every time that it is needed in individual pasta recipes, it is best to publish a Pasta Dough article that can be accessed by clicking on a hyperlink.  Those readers who already know how to make Pasta Dough can skip over the hyperlink, while those who are still learning can easily access the page.  
     I have a lot of fresh pasta making experience as a professional restaurant chef.  I first learned how to make fresh pasta while apprenticing with a great Sicilian chef in an Italian restaurant.  After the initial learning experience, I was making pasta like a seasoned pro.  Practice makes perfect!  The more fresh pasta that one makes, the more adept one will be at making fresh pasta!
     When I attended a four year BA degree culinary arts program at Le Cordon Bleu, I already had 30 years of restaurant experience.  On the day that the college culinary arts instructor had to teach the students how to make Italian pasta, many students lagged behind and the teacher became so frustrated that he yelled across the room to me and said, "Will you please teach those students how to make pasta the right way!"  
     I just went into action mode, just like teaching a line cook how to make pasta for the first time in a restaurant.  It was then that the students had an inkling of what laid in store for them in a professional environment.  Pro chefs have no time to fool around, so they get straight to the point and drive the point home in as little time as possible.  I used the same teaching techniques that the great Sicilian chef instilled upon me, when I made fresh pasta the first time.  Talking about the techniques, while the hands never let the pasta sit still, is the best way to teach pasta making.  Teaching pasta making is basically like developing interest first, then focusing the attention on the techniques, which in turn will develop a knack for the procedure with repetition.  With practice, a novice can make fresh pasta blindfolded.
     Oddly enough, making the pasta dough is not always the best place to start when teaching how to make fresh pasta.  It is better to let someone get the feel of the dough first while actively making pasta.  A learner will feel the texture and elasticity of the dough while running the dough through a pasta rolling machine.  When making pasta shapes, a learner will become familiar with how the dough reacts to stretching, pressure, etcetera.  In other words, shaping pasta is the best way to become familiar with pasta dough and this will make it easier to make a perfect batch of pasta dough from scratch on the first attempt.
    When making pasta dough, the proportion of flour to egg nearly always remains the same, no matter what kind of flour is used.  The basic proportion for Italian Pasta Dough is 1 cup of flour per large egg.  
     For certain pastas, only Semolina Flour (Durham Wheat Flour) is needed.  For pasta that benefits from more elasticity or a more refined texture, a combination of Somolina and High Gluten Flour is a good choice.  When making basic Egg Noodles, only Refined Bread Flour is used and no Semolina is needed.
     A very tiny amount of olive oil is added to Italian Pasta Dough.  Olive Oil acts as a buffering cushion and it helps to elongate the gluten strands, so the pasta dough becomes more elastic.  A little bit of salt is sometimes added to pasta dough recipe.  Salt adds flavor and it actually helps to prevent yeast contamination.  A tiny amount of water is also added.  Water helps to make the dough more pliable.  
     Pasta Dough can be started in a heavy duty steel gear driven mixer with a dough hook attachment.  This saves a little bit of time, but a word of caution must be mentioned.  Once the ingredients are combined, continuing to use a mixer to knead the pasta dough is not a good idea, because pasta dough is so stiff that it will wear out the electric motor in a mixer.  Therefore, it is best to just mix till the ingredients combine, then turn the stiff dough out of the electric mixer onto a countertop where it can be kneaded by hand.
     Pasta dough can be rolled into thin sheets with a rolling pin.  The rolling pin technique does take practice to master.  The problem is that sometimes there will be thin spots on a sheet of pasta when a rolling pin is used.  
     A simple hand turned pasta sheet rolling machine does make life easier.  A hand cranked pasta sheet rolling machine is a good investment.  Some are better than others, so it pays to do a little bit of research before purchasing a hand turned pasta sheet rolling machine.  
     After learning how use a hand turned pasta sheet rolling machine, a cook can turn out plenty of pasta sheets in very little time.  The pasta sheet thickness is adjustable and there will be no thin spots.  Pasta sheet rolling machines also have optional attachments for making Linguine, Fettuccine and other fancy pasta shapes.  All of the pasta shapes in the photos above were made with pasta dough that was run through a hand turned pasta sheet machine.              
     On a side note, there is a difference between pasta dough for hand rolling machines and pasta dough for machines that make extruded pasta.  Extrusion machines use pressure to force the pasta dough through a shaping plate.  Tube shaped pastas, like Ziti, are made with an extrusion machine.  Pasta dough for an extrusion machine is usually only made with Semolina and water, with no egg or oil.  The techniques used to make pasta with an extrusion machine are different too.  The extrusion pasta making topic is best left for another recipe article.                                

     Italian Pasta Dough:
     This recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups in volume.  (Enough for 3 or 4 portions of pasta, depending on the application.)
     Step 1:  Place 1 1/2 cups of semolina in a large mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.  
     Mix the dry ingredients together.
     Step 2:  Mound the dry ingredients on the center of the mixing bowl.
     Form a shallow well on the center of the mound.
     Add 2 whisked large eggs to the well.  
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.
     Step 3:  Use a fork to gentle stir the eggs in the shallow well on the mound of flour.  
     As you stir the eggs, allow the eggs to gradually gather the surrounding flour.
     Stir till a dough starts to form.
     Scrape the ingredients that are stuck to the fork back into the mixing bowl.
     Step 4:  Start using your fingers to gradually incorporate the remaining dry flour mixture in the bowl into the wet dough mixture.
     Step 5:  *At this stage, the dough may become dry and crumbly.  If this happens, then add 1/4 teaspoon of water at a time while kneading, till cracks no longer appear on the surface of the dough when the dough is firmly pressed.  It may take somewhere between 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons to give the dough a smooth firm texture.  Be careful not to add too much water!  The goal is to only make the stiff dough pliable     
     Step 6:  Start kneading the dough with this method.  Flatten the dough, then fold the dough and flatten the dough again.  The dough should be pressed with the heels of your palms.  
     Continue to knead the dough till it is thoroughly blended.
     Step 7:  Check the texture of the dough.  Press the dough with 1 finger with enough pressure to make a dent in the dough.  The dough should only partially spring back when it has the correct texture. 
     *If the dough springs all the way back to its original shape, then it is too stiff.  The extra stiff texture can be corrected by adding a sprinkle of water while kneading.  If the dent in the dough remains without bouncing back, then the dough is too wet.  A wet dough can be corrected by kneading the dough on a flour dusted surface, till it becomes the correct texture.
     Step 8:  Form the finished dough into a thick rectangular block shape.
     Place the pasta dough block in a sealed container.
     Refrigerate the dough for 3 to 4 hours, so any coarse semolina in the dough becomes smooth.  
     Pasta Sheet Rolling Machine Techniques:
     Follow these instructions and tips for rolling out sheets of pasta!
     *A very light dusting of flour on the work surface is best, when rolling sheet pasta.  Sometimes I do not dust with any flour at all if the room temperature is chilly.
     *When running sheets of pasta through a pasta sheet rolling machine, the pasta will pile up like an accordion and stick together, so pause while running a pasta sheet through the roller and gently use the backs of your fingers to carry the pasta sheet out from under the machine and over the work surface, so the pasta sheet does not wrinkle.
     *For the start, set the rollers to the widest setting, then run the pasta through several times, till it becomes smooth and till it starts to become wide.  
     *If the pasta sheet has rough edges after being run through the first few times, then fold the sheet in half lengthwise and keep running it through till the pasta sheet has smooth edges.  This is only done at the widest setting on the pasta rolling machine.
     Step 1:  Cut or press a 1/2" x 3" x 10" rectangular slab of pasta dough.  
     Step 2:  Gently feed the thick slab of dough through the rolling machine at the widest setting to start the process.  
     *The first past through will usually result in a rough broken pasta sheet.  Fold and press the sheet and pieces together, before running the dough through a second time.  On the second pass through the pasta roller, the dough will hold together and start to look like a thick sheet.
     Step 3:  Continue to run the thick dough sheet through the pasta rolling machine at the widest setting several times, till the surface of dough is smooth and the edges are even.  
     *If the edges are rough, fold the thick dough sheet lengthwise and run the sheet through till the edges are smooth.   
     Step 4:  Set the pasta rollers on the machine to the next narrow setting.   
     Run the sheet of pasta through once.
     Step 5:  Continue setting the rollers narrower and rolling the sheet of pasta through with one pass each time, till the pasta sheet is the desired thickness.  (The finished pasta sheet should be about 1/16" to 3/32" thick.)  
    The finished pasta sheet can now be cut into shapes!

     *Descriptions of how to make specific pasta shapes, like Ravioli and Fettuccine, will be part of the upcoming fresh pasta recipes.  An easy shape to start with is Pappardelle.  For Pappardelle, all that needs to be done is to cut the sheet of pasta into long ribbons that are about 3/8" to 1/2" wide!      

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