Sunday, October 19, 2008

Deliciously Unnecessary

Here's the thing about homemade pasta: I know it's not necessary. I live between two excellent shops that carry perfectly respectable dried pasta and pretty delicious fresh pasta. So I'm not going to get all "Homemade pasta is the only option; you simply must make your own, to hell with Barilla!" on you. But. Homemade pasta is really, really good. And the satisfaction of knowing that you (and your pasta machine) spun magnificent fettucine noodles out of flour, eggs and olive oil is not to be underestimated.

Fork and I received the Kitchen Aid pasta roller and cutter attachment as a shower gift. Alas, he was on a fishing trip in Montauk this weekend and missed its debut (but he'll no doubt enjoy the leftovers). So Kate and I gave it a try, and were quite impressed. We followed Lidia Bastianich's recipe for fettucine, using all-purpose flour, eggs, egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil and ice water. The food processor turned out a soft, stretchy ball of dough in less than a minute, and after it rested for a half-hour, we revved up the stand mixer. Recalling what I'd learned from my mom about making pasta, we began feeding the dough through on the widest setting. We kept running it through, gradually adjusting the thickness setting to four, which resulted in an almost see-through sheet of pasta. Then we ran the sheet through the fettucine cutter, keeping the dough well-floured throughout. We separated the strands and laid them in nests (oh, how I loved those beautiful nests) on floured trays. And so it went for 1 1/2 lbs of pasta dough. The process was easy and fun.

So what to do with all this lovely fresh pasta? We went with Lidia's Fettucine with Squash and Cauliflower, a delicious seasonal dish. Using butternut squash and cauliflower from the greenmarket, plus capers, canned San Marzano plum tomatoes, garlic, onion and hot pepper flakes, we (er, Kate--I had done all the prep work and let her do the cooking!) prepared a warm, cozy, chunky vegetable sauce. The pasta cooked in boiling water for about two minutes, and we tossed it with the sauce, adding lots of pecorino cheese.

The pasta was tender and perfectly cooked, with some little clumps--truth be told, our favorite parts--where we hadn't used enough flour. The squash and cauliflower florets were softened, and the tomatoes strewn throughout added color and texture. We both had seconds, and still barely made a dent in the massive bowl. And this morning I woke up and considered reheating some for breakfast. I held off until lunch, and am digging in right now.--S

Fettucine with Squash and Cauliflower

1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
3 plump garlic cloves, crushed, peeled
1 small onion, thinly sliced (1 c slices)
3 c butternut squash, cut in 1/2" cubes
3 c cauliflower, cut in small florets (about 1")
4 T small capers, drained
1 t coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste, plus more for cooking pasta
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 c canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 lb pound fettuccine
1 c freshly grated pecorino

1. Pour the olive oil into the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic and let it start sizzling. Stir in the onion slices and cook for a couple of minutes to wilt. Spill in all the cut squash and cauliflower pieces, scatter the capers, salt and peperoncino on top and with tongs toss all together for a minute or so. Pour a cup of water into the skillet, cover tightly and steam the vegetables for 2 or 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
2. Pour in the crushed tomatoes along with a cup of water sloshed in the tomato containers. Stir well and cover. When the tomato juices are boiling, adjust the heat to keep them bubbling gently. Cook covered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are softened, uncover and continue cooking to reduce the pan juices to a good consistency for dressing the pasta, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and keep at a low simmer.
3. While the sauce is cooking, heat the salted pasta cooking water to a rolling boil (at least 6 quarts water and a tablespoon salt). Drop in the fettuccine and cook until barely al dente. Lift them from the water, drain for a moment, then drop onto the simmering vegetables. Toss and cook all together for a couple of minutes, over moderate heat. Moisten the dish with pasta water if it seems dry; cook rapidly to reduce the juices if they're splashing in the skillet.
4. When the pasta is perfectly cooked and robed with sauce, turn off the heat. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, toss into the pasta and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

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