Most of us have a food or two we just love and often crave.
Usually, these foods are not necessarily the healthiest, but in moderation, I say all food is OK to enjoy. Especially because when you love a food, and tell yourself you can’t eat it, that becomes all you ever think about.
One of my all-time favorite foods is pasta. Oh, pasta. It is so funny to me that so many people like pasta, but don’t love it. My husband is one such person, and I know many others.
Most of us probably think pasta originated in Italy. Historians, on the other hand, say pasta was likely brought over by Marco Polo when he made his famous trip to China.
The Chinese used rice flour for their pasta, whereas the Italians used wheat flour. Whoever thought that mixing flour, water, or eggs together and then boiling various shapes of the dough, could turn out to be so delicious.
Thomas Jefferson first ate pasta in Paris, France while he was there from 1784-1789. He loved it so much, he brought lots back to America.
But it wasn’t until the late 19th century when Italian immigrants migrated to America that pasta became a staple in American life. Most of us cannot even imagine our childhood without macaroni and cheese, and of course, the iconic spaghetti and meatballs.
There are so many shapes of pasta, and you might not know they all have Italian names.
Acini di pepe means “peppercorns” and are tiny, rice-shaped pasta. Capelli d’angelo means “angel hair” and are long, fine strands of pasta. Cavatappi, meaning “corkscrew” are short, thin ridged spiral shaped pasta. Ditali, or “thimbles” are small, very short tubes of macaroni. Farfalle, meaning “butterflies” are bow shaped pasta.
Fettuccine, “little ribbons” are thin, flat egg noodles. Gamelli, meaning “twins” are short, twisted pasta shapes. Orecchiette, “little ears” are tiny disk-shaped pasta.
Pastina, “tiny dough” is tiny, shaped pasta. Penne, or “pens” are diagonally cut pasta. Pappardelle (one of my favorites) mean “gulp down” and are long, flat, wide shaped pasta. Orzo, “barley” looks like rice, but is actually a rice-shaped pasta.
Have you ever tried bucatini? It means, “little holes,” and while it looks like spaghetti, it is a little bit thicker than spaghetti and has a hollow inside — making it the perfect vessel for absorbing sauces. You can find it in most grocery stores nowadays, as you can most of the many pasta shapes.
Probably the most famous pasta, spaghetti, means “little strings.”
Spaghetti comes from the word “spago,” which translates to “string” or “twine.” Chefs always recommend you cook spaghetti al dente, or “to the tooth.” This simply means, you want your pasta to have a little bite to it and not be completely mushy.
All of the different shapes of pasta are designed to accommodate different types of sauces. So, sturdier pastas, such as rigatoni, can handle heavier sauces, like a meaty tomato sauce. Delicate pastas, such as angel hair, need a lighter sauce, so as not to overwhelm the thin strands of noodles.
For many years I was intimidated about making fresh pasta. I even had a pasta machine my mother gave me, but for the longest time I just let it gather dust.
Then, one rainy, cold winter weekend, I dusted that machine off and got busy making pasta. It is definitely a job that works best if you have a helper.
One person to thread the dough into the machine, and the other person to crank the handheld device.
Another helpful tool is a wooden pasta drying rack, but you can totally improvise if you don’t have one. I didn’t have one that first time and used propped up baking sheets to drape the pasta over.
Cooking fresh pasta only takes a few minutes, so you will want to have your sauce ready to go before cooking the pasta.
You can also freeze the fresh pasta, so don’t worry if you have more than you need for dinner. Pasta dough is very forgiving — just use the following recipe and don’t forget to let the dough rest before you roll it out and cut your pasta.
Once you get comfortable with the basic formula, you can get fancy and add things like cooked and pureed spinach, or pureed beets and make dazzling colorful pastas.
I promise, once you get the hang of making fresh pasta, you might still cook the dried variety, but you will have a new appreciation and love for the fresh kind.
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
Place flour and salt on a work surface. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into it. With a fork, whisk together the eggs, and slowly draw in the flour, mixing with the eggs. When the eggs are completely combined, roll into a ball.
Clean off your surface and sprinkle with some flour. Knead the dough for a full 10 minutes, even though the dough will at first be stiff and seem impossible to knead.
When you are done, form into a ball, cover with a clean kitchen towel and rest for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours — the latter being optimal.
Divide into four parts, flatten and then roll according to your pasta machine's directions.
For most recipes, you will want to keep threading the dough through the machine, changing the setting after each roll to make the dough thinner and thinner.
Adlen Robinson is an award-winning columnist and author of “Organic Food and Kitchen Matters.” You can email her at email@example.com.