Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Great Pasta Project: Attempt One

When making pasta, be sure to have plenty of booze on hand.
For those who are wondering, being half Italian does not automatically confer pasta making skills upon you.  My first couple of tries at fresh homemade pasta resulted in thick lumps of chewy dough with sweet potato in the middle that I euphemistically called "ravioli."  The problem wasn't necessarily the recipe, but rather that I couldn't get the dough thin enough by hand, not even with a tapered rolling pin, so the texture was off.

I'm a perfectionist, so this failure to make good pasta by hand really irked me.  I determined that the fault was not mine, but rather my inferior tools, so I hinted at Hubby that I would like a pasta making attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.  This was my Christmas present:

Yes, he likes pasta, too.

Rather than start with something easy like long noodles, I decided to dive right in with butternut squash ravioli based on this recipe from Cooking Light.  Instead of using wonton wrappers, I made my own pasta dough.

So, first step, make the dough itself.  The Kitchenaid recipe that comes with the ravioli maker is simple enough with just four ingredients:  flour, eggs, water, and salt.  Mix for a bit with one attachment, then for a while longer with the dough hook.  The pasta dough, not being in an agreeable mood, attacked the dough hook like sentient swamp ooze on a tourist:

Um, yeah, I know what that kinda looks like.  A geoduck!
It's resting...and plotting.

I rescued the dough hook and took over the kneading by hand.  The dough took a lot of flour before it became tacky rather than sticky, or so I thought.  I let it rest and made the ravioli filling, then grabbed the pasta rolling attachment.  I fitted it to the Kitchenaid on the first try.  My first roll was a bit short, but okay.  The second one came out perfect:  long, lovely, and silky.  I put it on the cutting board, which I thought had enough flour on it, and covered it with plastic wrap.  Then I did the third and fourth sheets, also pretty, but not quite so much.

I let the sheets rest for the requisite ten minutes, switched out Kitchenaid attachments for the ravioli one, and read the directions twice.  This is where the dough really started messing with me.  The first step is to take a sheet of dough, fold it in half, put the folded end in the ravioli maker, turn it a little to catch the dough, and then allow the two ends to drape gracefully over the sides.  I did that with the pretty second sheet and got as far as folding it in half and anchoring it in the ravioli maker.  Then it wouldn't unfold.  Crap.  Lesson learned:  when they say to dust the dough with flour, they're not kidding.

This is supposed to make it easy.

That sheet ended up being rolled out again.  I attempted the ravioli with an adequately dusted pasta sheet, which anchored and draped as it should have.  I started cranking, and the dough started laughing at me.  Okay, not literally.  The directions say to make sure the ravioli are coming through but don't have any tips as to what to do if they don't.  The attachment should make a ravioli sheet of three across, but only one came out, and I swear it looked at me like a good kid with two naughty siblings:  "See?  I'm doing what I'm supposed to do."  I figured out that the ravioli had stuck to the roller closest to me and gently released them.  They didn't turn out pretty, but they did have stuff in them.

So those were the first ravioli.  I managed to fix that sheet before it got too messed up, and then, overconfident, I proceeded with the second.  This is where I really screwed up, or maybe the dough got smart.  I watched the roller closest to me, but unbeknownst to me, the ravioli got sneaky and decided to stick to the other side.  By that point, I was in pasta-making denial:  "I can't really be screwing this up that badly."  But I was.  Half of that sheet turned into a squashy, doughy mess before I figured out that you have to gently fondle the dough as it comes out of the machine to make sure it's passing through and dangling as it should.  If I can offer a euphemism to my romance writing colleagues, you could refer to…  Never mind.
At least they're tasty.

I salvaged enough dough to roll another sheet and ended up with about sixty little ravioli.  Approximately a quarter of the dough and a fifth of the filling were a loss.  By the time I finished fighting the dough, cooking it, and making the pesto, four hours had passed from my initial optimistic mixing of the dough to dinner.  Hubby, being the wise man that he is, didn't say anything other than it tasted good.

So, here's what I learned:

Use flour liberally on the pasta, on the ravioli maker, and pretty much on anything that doesn't move fast enough in the kitchen.  Okay, maybe not the cat.

Watch the pasta dough at every step.  It's sneaky and defiant.

The ravioli attachment has plastic guides for the ravioli that open for cleaning.  Watch out, they bite.

Choose and pour cooking wine ahead of time.  Yes, I did all this without wine.  Maybe that was my problem.

I think I'll make pappardelle next time.