July 1, 2011 • Posted by Jennifer Perillo
One perk of my job as a food editor is getting a sneak peek at cookbooks before they hit shelves. While browsing through a new Italian one scheduled for release this fall, I was reminded there’s more than one way to make pasta at home. We often rely on eggs to make pasta at home, but there’s good news if you’re allergic to eggs. Next time you’re in the supermarket, read one of the labels and you’ll see most boxed pasta are made with semolina flour and water, not an egg in site. You can make this at home too.
Rustic Italian Cooking by Marc Vetri reminded about that other world of pasta-making. The jury is still out on the book as a whole. It’s clear there’s a professional chef in the driver’s seat, and that’s not always a good thing. Chefs tend to speak in definitives, like saying there’s only one way or ingredient that can be used to execute a recipe. Having worked in many high-end restaurants myself, but now a mother of two young children, I know it’s possible to cook up an elegant-sounding meal with out it being fussy in preparation.
I did take away some inspiration, though, and perhaps that is what this book is meant to do. Moments after reading his recipe for extruded pasta, I found myself pulling flours off the shelf and setting up the pasta making attachment on my Cuisinart stand mixer. Extruded what, you’re thinking, right? It simply means pasta that has been forced through a machine and cut into shapes using a die or cutting discs. This was obvious to figure out by reading Vetri’s directions, but he never stopped to explain that important bit of information—chef’s sometimes overlook the very simple instructions that are vital to translating restaurant food into everyday meals for the homecook.
The ratios of flour to water produced a too-wet dough, but since this was an uncorrected proof, it’s possible the recipes are still being edited. So I went back to the drawing board and had to create my own recipe—I was far too invested at this point to just pack up my equipment. I adjusted the liquid to flour ratio and added some spelt to give my pasta a healthier boost. When all was done, I’d invited my girlfriend over for a glorious lunch before we picked our kids up from school. We both agreed it was a restaurant-worthy meal without the stunning price tag.
Spelt Semolina Pasta with Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce
Making pasta at home during the summer can be a tricky process. Humidity will cause the flours to absorb water differently, so if your dough is too wet, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches the proper consistency. Likewise, if your dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to soften it up. Before feeding the dough through the tube, it should be smooth and elastic, almost like a fresh-opened package of playdough.
1 cup spelt flour
2 cups semolina, plus more for sprinkling
3/4 cup water
2 cups slow roasted tomatoes (see recipe below)
Handful of fresh basil, roughly torn, to serve
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, to serve
- Add the flours to the bowl of your Cuisinart Stand Mixer. Mix them together on low speed to combine. Pour in the water and start mixing on low speed until water is absorbed. Increase speed to medium and mix for another minute or two until the pasta forms a smooth dough (it’s okay if it’s a little tacky).
- Set your pasta attachment up with the desired cutting disc, and secure the attachment to your stand mixer. Place a rimmed sheet pan dusted with semolina under the attachment so it can “catch” the shaped pasta as it comes out.
- Drop grape-sized bits of dough into the feed tube. Using a sharp knife, cut the pasta when it reaches your desired length. As the pasta comes out, toss it lightly with semolina and gently move it to the side (if the pasta piles too much on top of one another, it will stick and lose its shape). Continue this until all the dough has been used up.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water, then add the pasta and cook until desired doneness, 2 to 3 minutes for al dente. Reserve one cup of the cooking water before straining the pasta. Return the pasta back to the pot, stir in the tomatoes and enough water to form a thick sauce to coat the pasta—you may not need all the water. Stir in the basil.
- To serve, ladle pasta into four bowls and top with Pecorino Romano.
Makes 2 cups
2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 250ºF.
- Line the bottom and sides of a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Add the tomatoes, drizzle the oil over them and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the tomatoes are wilted and limp. Store the tomatoes with their juices in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.