PASTA, NOODLES, AND DUMPLINGS
One of the simplest preparations of cereal flour gave us one of the most popular foods in the world: pasta. The word is Italian for “paste” or “dough,”and pasta is nothing more than wheat flour and water combined to make a clay-like mass, formed into small pieces, and boiled in water until cooked through—not baked, as are nearly all other doughs. Noodle comes from the German word for the same preparation, and generally refers to pasta-like preparations made outside the Italian tradition. The keys to pasta’s appeal are its moist, fine, satisfyingly substantial texture and its neutral flavor, which makes it a good partner for a broad range of other ingredients. Two cultures in the world have thoroughly explored the possibilities of boiled grain paste: Italy and China. Their discoveries were different, and complementary. In Italy, the availability of high-gluten durum wheat led to the development of a sturdy, protein-rich pasta, one that can be dried and stored indefinitely, one that readily lent itself to industrial manufacturing, and that can be formed into hundreds of fanciful shapes. The Italians also refined the art of making fresh pastas from soft wheat flours, and evolved an entire branch of cooking based on pasta as the principal ingredient, its combination of substance and tenderness providing the foundation for flavorful sauces—usually just enough to coat the surfaces—and fillings. In China, which had soft, low-gluten wheats, cooks concentrated on simple long noodles and thin wrappers, prepared them fresh and by hand, sometimes with great panache and just moments before cooking, and served the soft, slippery results almost exclusively in large amounts of thin broth. More remarkably, Chinese cooks found ways to make noodles from many different materials, including other grains and even pure, protein-free starch from beans and root vegetables.
Homemade Pasta Recipe
11-1/4 oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (about 2 1/2 cups, more as needed)
4 large eggs, room temperature
Mound flour on a clean work surface. Using the bottom of a 1 cup measuring cup, make a high-walled well in the center of the flour. You can also use your hand, but the measuring cup makes a perfect well.
Crack the eggs directly into the well. It is important to use temperature eggs because they better absorb the flour. Using a fork, beat the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. Continue until soft, clumpy dough begins to form. Don’t stress if it’s messy, because it will.
When the dough becomes difficult to work with the fork, use your hands to pull in the remaining flour, kneading gently until the dough comes together. Do not worry if there is still flour remaining on the work surface.
Set the dough off to the side and, using a bench knife/pastry scraper, scrape up and throw away any bits of dough remaining on the work surface. Clean your hands. Lightly dust the surface and your hands with flour and knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed. It should be smooth, elastic, and just a bit tacky. Cover the dough with a clean towel or plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Line a sheet pan with plastic wrap. Cut the dough into six pieces and cover with a towel. With your hands, flatten one piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick.
Dust it lightly with flour and pass it through setting #1, the widest setting, on the pasta machine.
Fold it in thirds, like a letter, and flatten to 1/2 inch thick. Pass it through the widest setting (#1) again with the seam of the letter perpendicular to the rollers. Repeat this folding and rolling step 5 to 8 times, dusting the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.
Without folding the dough, pass the pasta dough through the next setting (#2) four times. Again reduce the rollers to the next setting (#3) pass pasta through another four times, lightly dusting the pasta with flour on both sides as needed.
Reduce the rollers to the next and final setting (#4) pass pasta through 4 times, again flour each side as needed. Pasta should be about 1/16 inch thick and 3 inches wide.
Lay the rolled-out dough on the lined sheet pan, loosely lay plastic wrap over the top to keep from drying. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner. Cut each strip of dough in half, about 11-inch lengths. Lightly flour each strip lay on a sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap. At this point, you can keep it in sheets, or you can cut into whichever kind of noodle you like.
At this point, you can store the fresh pasta or move on to cooking the homemade pasta.