It’s tough to beat the level of perfection and satisfaction achieved by a simple, well-made bowl of pasta. Really tough.
The two of us would say it’s pretty damn near impossible. (And apparently, Italy agrees—not shockingly—given the fact that this exists: http://www.museodellapasta.it/
And while it’s difficult to improve when it comes to the noodle, if you’ve ever had homemade pasta, you’ll know that it’s something else altogether: delicate and uniquely incredible with a texture and flavor all its own—perfectly imperfect in all the little variations that come courtesy of handmaking.
A good bowl of pasta is as close to a hug-in-a-bowl as you can get. It’s filled with big family Sunday dinners and small suppers made no less carefully—the perfect backdrop for whatever fresh things find their way to our table during one season or another, an easy meal that always feels prepared and purposeful.
But if it’s homemade pasta? That’s as good as love.
A beautiful, crafted meal doesn’t have to take hours. But if you’ve got a little extra time—really, it’s not even much at all—you can make something spectacular.
Here are two recipes perfectly paired from us to you—each easy but spectacular on its own and together, the perfect, complementary combinations of flavor, color, & texture. How much better does it get than that?:
*A seriously delicious Broccoli Rabe Pesto
*Perfect Homemade Pasta
* * * *
Broccoli Rabe Pesto
Makes about 2 cups
(You’ll need only 1 cup of pesto for a pound of pasta, which feeds 4 people)
Classically made with basil and pine nuts, pesto can also be made with just about any green vegetable and a variety of nuts—pistachio, pecans, pine nuts, etc. We chose walnuts for this recipe because their flavor compliments broccoli rabe’s sharpness but stands up to it (and the garlic and cheese), too. Walnuts bring a rounder, more mellow flavor but also enhance the wonderful nuttiness of the broccoli rabe itself. When you change up the vegetable in a pesto, think about what type of nut would go well and highlight the flavors you want to bring out in the pesto.
While a fantastic bowl of pasta is reason enough to make pesto—and seriously, the store-bought stuff just does not compare with the homemade version, which is so much brighter and more flavorful—it has so many other uses, too. Here’s a list to start you off: spread it on your turkey sandwich (game-changer), add it to your meatballs (major flavor boost) or cooked vegetables (just see what it does to some regular old cooked-up vegetables—POP— then taste it—done), drizzle it in your vinaigrette (gorgeous color and flavor), top your baked potatoes with it (the least boring potatoes you’ll ever eat), or use it in your potato, egg, or chicken salads (you know they need a little zip). And THAT is why we always make a double batch. It’s no harder to add twice as many ingredients to your blender and seriously, you’ll thank yourself later.
Notes: We like our pesto to taste garlicky, so we use a lot of garlic. Feel free to use more or less. This recipe makes twice as much pesto as you’ll need for a pound of pasta. And.. *this last part is important!* store leftovers in the fridge or freezer: Place the pesto in a container with a good fitting lid and add olive oil to cover the top. (You can add more olive oil as you use it up.) It keep it fresh this way.
A food processor
– Two bunches of broccoli rabe, washed and stems trimmed
– 10 cloves of garlic, chopped
– 1 cup grated Pecorino cheese
– 1 cup walnuts, checked over shell remnants
– Zest of half a lemon
– 1-1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil (you want the good stuff for a recipe like this where you’ll really taste the flavor of the oil)
– Black pepper and kosher or sea salt to taste
* Roughly chop the broccoli rabe and blanch in boiling water for a few minutes.
* Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water or run under very cold water to preserve the vegetable’s bright green color.
* With the metal blade in place, add the broccoli rabe, garlic, and walnuts to the bowl of your processor and process until smooth.
* Add the cheese, lemon zest, and black pepper and process to mix.
* With the motor running, stream in the oil slowly through the top tube and blend until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the processor with a spatula.
* Use what you need and store extra in an airtight container with a layer of same olive oil you used on top. Keep in the fridge or freezer between uses.
* * * *
Notes: While the basic rule of thumb for making pasta is generally 1 cup of flour to 1 large egg (simple enough!), we changed it a bit by adding some semolina flour to the unbleached all-purpose flour for texture, using an additional egg and a little olive oil for elasticity and easy handling.
Many Italian chefs use only eggs and flour. Some let the dough rest, others don’t. The important thing is to make sure the dough is kneaded well to develop the gluten. Pass the dough through the first set of rollers 5 or more times to ensure this. It will give you an amazing, chewy-yet-delicate pasta.
Letting the dough rest relaxes the gluten for easier rolling. If you are using a pasta machine, as opposed to rolling by hand, you may not need to let it rest. If we have the time to let it rest for half an hour, we do.
To keep things going smoothly, flour your board but add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to itself. If you like, square off the end of the dough before feeding it into the pasta machine. Another really helpful tip: keep the dough narrower than the width of the pasta machine. This will prevent shredding and folding along the edges.
We’ll admit: We do still love seeing just how long our pasta sheet can get. But for easier, less ridiculous handling, we cut it in half when it’s ready for the second set of rollers and repeat as needed. Think of the length you want in terms lifting the pasta onto a fork after it’s cooked—how long do you want each strand of pasta to be?
Remember these tips and you’ll be a pasta making wiz in no time, no problem.
A food processor
– 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup semolina flour
– 3 large eggs at room temperature
– 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
* With the metal blade in place, add the flours to the bowl of your food processor and process for a few seconds to mix.
* Break the eggs into a small bowl. Add the olive oil and beat with a fork just enough to marry the yolks and their whites.
* With the motor on the food processor running, slowly add the eggs and mix until incorporated. The dough should start to ball up on the blade. If the dough sits on top of the blades, turn it off, remove the lid, and with a spoon, push the dough to the bottom of the bowl so the blades will catch it. Turn the machine back on and give it a whirl or two. You may need to do this a couple of times. Then, let the machine knead the dough until it looks smooth. If it seems a bit dry and crumbly, dribble in a little water or beaten egg and process again. If it seems too wet, add some flour in small increments. The dough should to be pliable and smooth enough so that it holds together with just a little effort.
* Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead for a couple of turns and form into a ball.
* Wrap the dough well with plastic wrap and let it rest for half an hour or so right on your counter. Don’t refrigerate.
* While the dough is resting, set up your pasta machine and work space. Have additional flour handy for dusting the dough as you work.
* Unwrap the dough, place on a floured board, and cut in quarters. Set aside one quarter on your board and wrap the rest back up.
* Working on your board, flatten the quarter a bit and cut it in half.
* Lightly flouring the dough, pass it through the first rollers with the biggest space between them five or more times, folding the pasta dough in thirds and giving it a quarter turn before each pass. Once you’ve got the first piece nicely kneaded and smooth, no further folding is necessary.
* Pass the sheet though each of the remaining rollers, adjusting the settings between each pass so that the pasta becomes thinner. (You’ll need to work your way down the setting sequentially—don’t skip any!)
* After the last set of rollers, pass your beautiful sheet of pasta through the cutting rollers, making wide strands of pasta. You can also cut the dough sheet by hand, which lets you to make the pasta wider than the machine allows. To do this, lightly flour the sheet, then loosely roll it up and slice it into ribbons as wide as you like. Uncoil the rolls and: pasta!
* After the pasta is cut, lay the strands flat on a floured towel, baking sheet, or board. You can also hang them on a pasta rack or a clean broom handle suspended between two chairs. Don’t bunch the strands together though—air needs to circulate between them so they dry correctly and don’t get stuck to each other.
* Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Once you get into a rhythm, the process will go very fast.
* When you are ready, bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and add your pasta. Carefully stir and cook until al dente. Don’t walk away! The pasta will literally cook in about 2 or 3 minutes. (Another wonderful thing about fresh pasta: It cooks in no time!) Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid.
* Gently toss with about a cup of broccoli rabe pesto (or sauce of your choice) and a cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid (probably less if you’re using tomato sauce or another sauce with a lot of liquid of its own).
* Serve and get out the pasta cheese!
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.