Sunday, February 17, 2013

Helpers in the Kitchen (Noodle day!)

Basic Pasta

Over the holidays I spent some high quality time with my sister's family and we had a great time making homemade pasta. We aren't Italian, but that doesn't mean you can't make great pasta and enjoy doing it.  My sister raises chickens, so we had the privilege of using her fresh delicious eggs which impart a nice colour and flavour.  See below for this easy recipe and with the Kitchen-Aid pasta maker attachment, rolling and cutting are a snap.

My older sister and my nephew Alec helping make pasta. 

Pasta is a classic staple in many of our homes.  Fresh pasta is a delicious alternative to the standard noodles both in taste and texture.

To Make
- Combine in the mixer bowl:  4 large eggs, 1/2 c. water, 3 1/2 c. sifted flour, and 1/2 tsp salt
-  Use the flat beater (also known as a paddle beater, or the one that looks a bit like a spade) and mix for 30 seconds on speed 2 (medium).
 - Now, put on the dough hook
- Turn back to speed 2 and let the dough knead for 2 minutes. Remove dough and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, or until the dough is firm and smooth.
- Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This is very important - do not skip this step!

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GLUTEN (science time!)
In this step what you are doing is allowing the gluten that you just developed to relax.  Let me back up one step further - within the wheat kernal (the grain) you have the outer later (the bran), the oil sac (the germ), and the starch endosperm (what gets ground up and becomes what you think of when I say flour).  Whole wheat flour contains all of these components and goes rancid much faster due to the oil oxidation (oil exposed to oxygen).  Keep it in the freezer to reduce the enzyme activity for spoilage.  But - back to the gluten -> within wheat, you have several types of proteins, I will not go into all of the different types. However, there are 2 that really make the difference: Gliaden and Glutenin.  When you combine both of these proteins (though mixing) with the presence of water then you are able to create a strong and elastic protein matrix called "Gluten"!!   The proteins give strength and support to your pasta while also having a nice elastic rebound. Think about it like a stretchy elastic cord.

Whole grain flour normally makes for a heavier/ more dense bread - because the cellulosic bran layer (no gliaden or glutenin) and the oily germ layer prevent the gluten from stretching. Think about this like adding a plastic crimp in your elastic cord - it doesn't stretch very well in that spot - hence, becoming tougher.

This is also the reason that different flours are found in the grocery store - they are all specified by their respective protein content.  For bread, you want to have a strong crumb structure and develop a lot of gluten and you will find that the standard of identity for bread flour is 13% whereas a cake is much softer (also aided by the addition of sugar), but cake flour typically contains around 9% protein.  An "all-purpose flour" typically contains around 11% protein.

I have made basic egg-pasta with both all-purpose and bread flour and both turned out great. However, if you do want to substitute some of your flour for whole wheat flour, I would recommend using bread flour for the white flour in your recipe to boost the available proteins.

After you have mixed together the dough, the proteins will be tight. Allowing the dough some time to rest will relax the proteins (decreasing the tension in the matrix) and give you better stretching with less rebound.

- After your pasta has rested (and now you know why) - divide it into 4 pieces.
-You may need to use a little flour at this point, but refrain from adding too much. You don't want them to taste like flour.
- Pass this through the pasta maker (smooth rollers) to the desired thickness.
-Do this 1 piece at a time and place on a floured towel after you've rolled it out.
-I like to start at the larger setting and then reduce the thickness gradually so that it becomes more even. If you set it on the smallest setting first, it will clog the top of your machine and has a tendency to tear because you are putting a lot of shear stress (stretching in the direction of travel) on the dough.

- You can use the sheets you have made to assemble ravioli or you can change attachments like we did and add the linguine attachment. Roll your sheet through one more time and  - "Ta-Da!" you have perfect linguine.

The sheets get longer and longer - use the back of your hand to support the draping pasta as it goes through the machine. 
-Allow to dry draped over a clean rod (yardstick), or on a towel. If you use the towel, it will take longer and you might have to turn them.

Once they are dry, store in an airtight bag.  If you want to store them before they are dry, simply allow to dry for 1 hour and then place into a freezer container.

A fun activity for a cold winter day when we are all stuck inside. 

As you can see, any rods will work - this is about being creative and using what you have!

Drape the pasta over rods or place on a floured towel to allow the strands to dry. 

 - Fresh pasta cooks much faster than commercial dry pasta.
- Place in boiling, salted water and cook for 4-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pasta.

My 2-year old niece doing some 'quality control' on the finished product - I think it's a hit! 

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