Fresh pasta is so tender. It's not stringy or tough. Best of all, it cooks in a fraction of the time of dried pasta - one to two minutes and it's ready to put on your plate.
You can buy fresh pasta from the refrigerated section of the supermarket and it can last four days refrigerated. Or you can make your own with the help of a pasta machine.
Thanks to two local chefs who showed how they make their own, we have two recipes and two methods of making delicious fresh pasta.
Chef David DuFresne of the Pinnacle in Maumee makes a traditional dough with all-purpose flour and eggs for the Spinach Cheese Ravioli that he served at this year's Sapphire Ball. "I do raviolis for special parties of 10 to 20 people and for wine-tasting events," says the chef.
He began by mounding the flour into a hill on his countertop. He then created a hole in the middle into which he broke the eggs, and added water and salt. Using his fingertips, he worked the eggs into the flour from the outer walls of the mound, then continued mixing to form a ball. He kneaded the dough until it was smooth and silky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent it from getting sticky. Next, he divided the dough in half, rolled each portion into a ball, pressed it into a flat disk, covered it, and refrigerated it.
To prepare the dough for ravioli, he rolled it out into a long, thin strip and passed it through his pasta machine's rollers, moving the dial one notch narrower after each pass and lightly flouring the dough if needed. When it was thin enough (about level 6 on his pasta machine), he divided it into sections for easier handling. He placed a tablespoon of spinach filling every three inches down half of the strip, painted egg wash around each dollop of filling, and folded over the other half of the strip, gently pressing the top and bottom around where the egg wash was to help seal the top dough to the bottom dough.
Then, using a special two-part biscuit cutter, he laid the smaller bottom piece down over the filling followed by the top piece, which neatly cut out each ravioli. (Another option is using a ravioli press). To avoid trapped air in this little pasta parcel, he pinched the top and bottom edges. "You want to get all the air out so when it is cooked, the ravioli doesn't burst in the boiling water," says Mr. DuFresne.
After cooking the ravioli for two minutes in a pan of boiling water until the pasta floats, the chef serves the ravioli with a Wild Mushroom Sauce as a pasta course. Chef DuFresne also makes other meat, seafood, and vegetable fillings such as shrimp with a seafood sauce, scallops with dill buerre blanc sauce, and the classic ricotta cheese filling with tomato sauce.
Chef Tim Coonan of the Hathaway House in Blissfield, Mich., makes fresh semolina pasta by using a mixer with a dough attachment. "Pasta-making is not an exact science," he says. "I've learned from experience. If it's more humid weather, you don't add as much water."
Mr. Coonan has combined his experiences working in the Piedmontese area of Italy and his stint as a chef at Spiaggia in Chicago to create his recipe made with semolina flour (from durum wheat) and cake flour. He serves it with scallops and shrimp in a lightly spicy tomato (marinara) sauce.
"The semolina is a coarse grain that gives structure and gluten. The cake flour is softer and gives tenderness," says the graduate of Johnson & Wales University. "Making pasta is almost like making bread. You can't say exactly how much flour you will use."
Mr. Coonan makes fresh pasta nightly, often with as many as 60 egg yolks. But he downsized his recipe for 12 egg yolks to yield six good-sized portions. He also uses a mixer to make the dough into a courselike pastry until it balls up. He estimates that he mixes it for eight minutes.
The result is a very yellow dough (from the semolina color and the eggs). "I usually let it rest 15 minutes. There's moisture from the yolks and the water," says the native of Fort Wayne, Ind. He uses all-purpose flour to knead, pat, and fold the dough until it is ready to run through the pasta machine. "If you don't work it long enough, it will rip," he says. "But it is quite durable and if it gets damp, add a little more flour."
When it has reached the desired thinness and elasticity to cut into fettuccine, Chef Coonan switches the die cutter to one for fettuccine and cuts the pasta into ribbons.
When cut, it comes out dry with the strands separating and falling into a billowy, pillowlike nest. "You can freeze it like this," he says. Or, cook it immediately for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling salted water and serve with his shrimp and scallops and a light marinara sauce.
If you don't have time to make fresh pasta, don't hesitate to try dried pastas paired with homemade sauce. Tomato and Arugula Pasta is as simple as fresh tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Serve with orecchiette (little ears) pasta, arugula or spinach, and riccotta cheese or fresh parmesan.
For more information on pasta making and pasta recipes, there are two new cookbooks on topic.
Williams-Sonoma Mastering Pasta Noodles & Dumplings (Free Press, $19.95) has key techniques plus recipes for fresh pasta and dried pasta, noodles and dumplings including gnocchi, soba noodles, pot stickers, and Vietnamese rice noodles.
100 Ways to Be Pasta: Perfect Pasta Recipes from Gangivecchio by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene with Carolynn Carreno (Knopf, $24.95) has a Sicilian flavor with Quick Tagliatelle with Fried Zucchini and Parsley and Rigatoni with Swordfish Ragu. There are also recipes for cannelloni, lasagna, ravioli, and timballo, a baked pastry filled with pasta and other ingredients like veal and eggplant. The mother and daughter authors run a restaurant in a 13th-century Sicilian abbey.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
Contact her at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.