It’s frigid and gross outside, and I don’t want to go to the store. I’ve managed to do one load of laundry, poorly, and it’s in the wash for a second time because I didn’t load it with enough water.

I don’t want to go outside. It has been raining for the last few days, and just going out to the mailbox depresses me. What can I do to occupy my time? Looking in the fridge, there’s a little bit of food. I made a nice tomato sauce a few days ago. There’s still plenty of cheese. I think that there’s an egg or two. Capers are in the cupboard, and I have a few nice sardines and some breadcrumbs. I think tonight will be a pasta night.

***

Back in school, making pasta was a regular thing. There would be a couple of dishes on the daily menu that were beef, maybe a chicken, a fish or two, a nice green salad, and a few sides. There was almost always a pasta dish. Our instructor, being from New York, and one of the most Italian-American individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, most often insisted that we learn how to make pasta ourselves, so that we were better able to assert ourselves in the kitchen when it came time to forge our creative path. With little more than salt, flour, and egg, we were able to create and stretch the canvas for limitless possibilities to expand our culinary horizons.

With each week, we went over different recipes that were indicative of the regions of Italy. There was a cream sauce in the north served alongside the bread of the week, a cracker-like grissini, a Bolognese, a thick, meat sauce that filled you up and could have been served alongside a boeuf bourgignon as a main course, and a lightly dressed Southern style with lemon, oregano, breadcrumbs, and golden raisins. Through our weekly endeavors, we learned about how the sauce for a carbonara, when whisked properly, blended the fat from rendered bacon with a lightly coddled egg to create a proper emulsion when finished with a flourish of cheese. We learned that Agnolotti, Tortellini, and Ravioli were all different regional takes on the same basic structure. Agnolotti al Plin, or Agnolotti with a Pinch, was in reference to not only the shape of the pasta, a filled pillow with a crimped edge, but was also a sly nod to their inventor, who had a fondness for pinching the pillowy bottoms of his female kitchen staff as they prepared the dish. They can be made with a meat, cheese, or vegetable filling, but from region to region, depending on what herbs, spices, or proteins were available, the recipe as well as the shape will differ.

Since I have a bunch of different items in the fridge, I think I’m going to do a mishmash of all the different regions with my pasta. Capers and sardines are decent bedfellows, and you could even throw a tomato in there for flavor, as they all come from the same region, but since there’s basil, onion, and garlic in the sauce, that makes it a little tricky to adhere to strict regional laws of cuisine.

Moreover, and don’t tell anyone this, I used a Rex Goliath Merlot in the sauce. A (gasp!) French (double gasp!!) blended wine flavored drink made in (triple gasp!!!) California! It’s definitely not my favorite, but it’s palatable, affordable, and it was the closest bottle I could reach when I was making the sauce.  If I can gulp down a glass while the sauce is simmering, it’s fine and dandy for me as a usable wine.

Anyhow, the sauce? It’s taken care of. Just a quick reheat, maybe a bit of a reduction, and it’ll be ready to serve with the pasta.

Ah yes, the pasta. Down at the market, there’s a nice pasta stand called Pappardelle’s. If you’ve ever been down there, you’ve probably heard them in your periphery as you walk by, trying to sell you on their product by offering the all-too-unfortunately-concocted mess they call “chocolate pasta”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I usually like it if they lead with their strength.

They’ve got a lot of awesome pastas there. Flavors abound, from a Lemon Trenette to a Basil and Parsley Mafaldine, to Harissa linguine, and a Red Onion Pappardelle, those really wide noodles that I just find fantastic for enjoying every last morsel of sauce.

The one thing that bothers me about it is that they charge $10/lb for it. For flour and water and a few dry spices. Maybe for the Saffron or the Portabella Pasta, I could see charging a premium, but this always got me thinking if I could make my own at home.

I knew I could, what with the years of pasta making experience I had already been so quick to forget. How hard could it be? I’d seen Molto Mario enough to figure out that you needed to make a well, put some eggs down in the center, and whisk it all together for a few minutes, roll it out, and, MIRACLE OF MIRACLES! You would look down and there would be pasta.

Easy.

So a while back, I had received some farm fresh eggs from a local vendor at the market. Six of em. Some brown, some green, all of them exciting. I went to the Italian store up the way to get some 00 flour, just like Mario Batali used. I didn’t have a rolling pin, but I wasn’t about to get one. I had all these empty wine bottles lying around that had worked just as well for me over the years.

Got them home and found a recipe online. Simple enough. 2 cups of flour and four egg yolks. Started off with two cups of 00 on the board, made the little well in the center, and separated the yolks, one by one, into the well. I whisked them together, breaking them up and incorporating a little bit of flour at a time. The directions told me that it would start coming together, and when it did, to knead it for about 15 minutes until it became elastic.

My dough was flaky, like a bad pie crust. I turned it out onto the board, and started kneading, hoping that it would come together.

Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. My arms started to burn. Fifteen minutes. I took a break. My abs hurt. It was like doing an exercise on a CPR dummy that wasn’t responding. Somewhere, my instructor was laughing. The dough was not stretchy, nor was it elastic. It was a rock. The instructions said to cover it with Saran Wrap and place it in the fridge for twenty minutes. I really didn’t think that it was going to help.

It didn’t. Twenty minutes later, it was harder than before I put it in. There was only one thing I knew about how this pasta would turn out. I knew the sound it would make when it hit the bottom of the garbage can.

Thud.

Crap. Those nice eggs, too. Didn’t cost me anything, but it was a waste of beautiful product. I ended up using the dried pasta we had in the cupboard, and it seemed to turn out alright. Sadly, it wasn’t the fresh dinner I’d hoped for.

***

The next time I made fresh noodles, I wanted to get it right. I used the Mario Batali recipe. 3 3/4 c. of flour, 5 whole eggs. Ah. Whole eggs. I’d run into the problem earlier with my mayonnaise, where I used the whole egg instead of the yolk, yielding a broken, sloppy mess on my hands. Alright. Problem number one was solved.

I got to mixing, doing the well-method, and luckily, I only had to knead it for two to three minutes, according to the recipe. Fantastic. Wrapped it in plastic, let it sit on the counter for twenty minutes at room temperature, and it was ready to go.

Already, I could see that the texture was like what the first recipe said it should have been. You could pull it with your finger like a dough hook, and it would snap and spring back when it reached its breaking point. Much better.

I cut off a small hunk, and floured the board. I rolled it out as thin as I could, taking great pains to keep it well floured so as not to stick. When I simply could not roll it any more, I took my sort of thin sheet, rolled it up, and sliced it, tagliatelle-style.

When you roll up a pasta, and you don’t get the cut just right, as it unfurls, it becomes a zigzag of curiousity that really never quite resembles what you see in the pictures. Still, it was better. It was edible, and I was able to put it in a boiling pot of water and serve it with all the zest of a semi proud home cook.

***

I saw all those fancy pasta machines at the Italian Market. They were about $150. I don’t have that kind of scratch laying around. What could I do?

I forgot about making my own fresh pasta for a couple of weeks, until I picked up a copy of The Stranger, and saw that, right by my bus stop, at Ross Dress for Less, in the housewares section, they had pasta machines for $20!

20 bucks? Joy of Joys! I did a little dance, and then I drank a little water, for what I had, I had to get and put it in the pasta machine, and I had to do it soon.

After work one night, I went in, and I got that pasta machine. For twenty dollars, it was the best investment. I brought it home, used my Mario Batali recipe for pasta, and cranked it out. I cranked out all kinds of pastas. Thin sheets for lasagna, thinner sheets for wild mushroom and leek tortellini, and all manner of thin fettuccine for dinners on cold nights such as this.

What it came down to, though, was this: How was I going to ensure that my fresh pasta would make it from the pasta machine to the pot without sticking? Sure, there was a lot of flour on the board, but I always had a clothes drying rack or something similar on which to hang the pasta to dry before cooking it. What to do?

I learned something important that day, in addition to the restated fact that necessity is the mother of all invention. If I want to make a fresh pasta, I can do it myself, but with an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, a better sense of satisfaction comes about with the end product. More than that, sometimes an answer to your query is right in front of you. As we were cranking the noodles out one evening, we needed a spot to hang the noodles. I usually plopped them in a pile, shook them loose from one another, and threw them in the pot, hoping that they would turn out delicious if not only somewhat edible. My better half, the one who somehow got the looks and the brains in our relationship equation, ran into the other room, and came back with the answer. It was so simple, and I was and continue to be impressed by her novel solution to my problem.

Could it be that it was all so simple?

***

So, tonight, it is Pasta. The stars are aligned. The MOON IS IN THE SEVENTH HOUSE! JUPITER IS ALIGNED WITH PLUTO!

Tonight’s dinner will be like a big cable knit sweater that someone keeps knitting, and knitting, and knitting. *

*Except that instead of yarn, it will be a long string of pasta. Um…Yeah.

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