Saturday, September 3, 2011

Angel Hair Pasta

pasta face
I have always enjoyed making fresh and dried pasta. The first time making pasta it is even without a pasta maker or machine, but after that first time the thrill fades and cutting tiny pieces of dough that stick together easily isn't much fun anymore. I would suggest making pasta without a pasta maker that will flatten and cut your dough for you at least once before investing in a machine. They can become quite costly, but if you are going to use it, completely worth it. However angel hair pasta strands are two thin to cut without some sort of machine. If you do not have a machine to work with make your strands much wider. The width is up to you. Even though it will no longer be angel hair pasta, it will taste the same.

The recipe is very basic:
  • 2 3/4 cups of flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt

You have probably heard of a certain kind of pasta flour and I do admit that your average unbleached or bleached flour doesn't yield the pristine pasta you may find in Italy, but it does the trick.  For this recipe I used regular unbleached flour and it worked perfectly. To start combine the flour and salt. Mix. Next pour your flour mixture on a flat, clean surface. Make a sort of flour mound that is taller than it is wide. Now make a hole in the middle of the mound, this is for the eggs. You want the wall around this hole to be tall so the eggs don't spill over, but you don't want it too thin either. Once you have a nice sturdy wall around your hole add your eggs. If you are lucky the eggs didn't spill over or break through your flower wall. Start adding flour from the edges of your wall to the eggs, mixing and smashing it with the bottom of your fork. Continue mixing the mixture until it is no longer liquid. This process usually takes a while to get right. 

Once the mixture is no longer liquid begin to knead the dough. You want all of the mixture to combine into one solid piece. Feel free to add more flour if the mixture is too sticky or more water if it is too dry. If you are having a hard time, don't give up! Keep on kneading the dough. Although if it has been a half an hour and you are sure its not working, your probably right. Once you are satisfied with the consistency of the dough break it into two even pieces.  I usually use one piece and save the rest for later. Then work the dough with your hands, pounding and stretching, until you make a rectangle. 

From here on out your method will depend on whether or not you have a pasta maker. My methods reflect the use of a pasta maker. Now you want to roll out your rectangle to make a long and thin sheet. You want the sides to be as straight as possible. To achieve this I make my original rectangle as wide as my pasta maker, as pictured. This keeps a nice straight edge. Start on the widest setting and work your way back. My pasta machine had 9 different thicknesses. I went from 1 to 7.  The picture on the left is about the second round through the pasta maker and the picture on the left is the second to last round through the pasta maker.

After you have finished creating your sheet it should feel just about paper thin. Cut the short edges of your sheet so they are nice and straight as well. Now feed the sheet through the part of machine that cuts the pasta. This is usually an attachment. You want the attachment that will cut your pasta as thin as possible. As the pasta come out of the machine be careful not to tangle the little pieces.  It is easier if you have to people (one person to feed and the other to catch).

Once you have cut your pasta you may either cook it fresh or let it dry. If you have never tasted fresh pasta I would recommend cooking at least some of your pasta the same day. The cooking time for fresh pasta is very short, usually around 2-5 minutes. However since the cooking time often depends on the thickness and different kinds of flour and eggs used it is best to try a piece every minute or so. If you want to dry your pasta it is easiest to let it hang dry. You can buy a pasta drying rack, but you can also make one out of house hold items. If you have a towel drying rack then use that. Otherwise grab some hangers. You can find more ideas via the internet. Just make sure your rack isn't too thick or dirty.  However I disliked hung dry pasta because it crimps. If you want pure straight pasta it is going to take longer, but it is possible. 

To achieve straight pasta I covered a flat surface with flour and placed my fresh pasta on the floured surface. To prevent sticking you need to make sure that there is some amount of flour in between each strand. To do this you may have to lay out each piece individually, depending on how tangled you strands have become. Once you have your pasta laid out cut them into the size of the container you wish to store them in. Now simply let the pasta sit overnight. I do not know the specific time it takes to dry the pasta, but it has always been dry by mourning. 

Another way to dry the pasta is to coat it with flour and not try to fight the tangles. This is best if your tangles are beyond repair. For this method simply lay the pasta on a flour covered surface allowing it to crimp as it wishes. It may be best to create some artificial crimps as well to ensure air pockets so the pasta does not mold. However keep in mind that once it is dry it is very fragile and hard to move in this form. Keep in mind how you will store this pasta. Do not dry your pasta in a closed container. You want it to air out as much as possible. 

This method can be quite pretty if done correctly. Here, separate your pasta into small sections and twirl them into small circles, or bird nests. Don't forget to coat the strands with flour before hand, though. This method can be troublesome if there is too much pasta in one circle. If this is the case the bottom strands  sometimes do not dry completely. But you can make many small circles the size of your container and stack them. But once again be careful, pieces brake off easily. 

I do not know how long the pasta will keep, because I usually cook it within a day or two. If it is completely dry it should keep for a week or longer. But if you are worried, there is no harm in storing the pasta in the fridge.
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