It’s nice to be kneaded

There are a lot of kids who will eat nothing but pasta. Imagine if they helped you manufacture the pasta themselves, watched the strands appear, then saw those same strands on their plates for dinner? Wouldn’t they feel special, knowing that their own little hands created their dinner? Wouldn’t they feel — I don’t know — needed?

Well pasta dough relishes some kneading too. So let’s get to it.

You might have heard of semolina flour. It is yellower than the flour used for bread, and coarser. This is the official flour used for making pasta. What is so special about it that makes it suitable for pasta, where the regular bread wheat is not?

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Durum wheat image from Purcell Mountain farms

Semolina is made out of durum wheat, a different species than bread wheat. This one has a somewhat different gluten. It is very strong (stronger than bread wheat) but not as elastic. When I first heard that it was a revelation to me. One can see that in the substance of pasta itself. It can definitely hold its shape, but doesn’t expand — can you imagine a spongy spaghetti filled with air bubbles? I can’t. There’s your durum. Strong gluten, but not elastic.

Much as I would love it if it were so, semolina is not whole grain. In fact the word ‘semolina’ describes a certain kind of grind of wheat:

– it is coarse,

– it doesn’t include the bran (the fibrous outer covering, think egg shell)

– it doesn’t include the germ (the new baby wheat plant in utero, think egg yolk)

– it is entirely composed of endosperm, which in any seed is the starchy part that would form the food of the new plant, if it were to germinate (think egg white).

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pasta machine

Although you could make pasta with a simple rolling pin, it is so much easier, if you are in the mood to splurge, to go buy a hand-cranked pasta machine. Plus that means a kid can crank the handle, feed the dough in, choose shapes, and have a great time. My kid certainly did and she doesn’t even like pasta.

Homemade pasta — the dough:

Put in a bowl: one and three-quarters cup semolina flour for four dinner portions; half a teaspoon salt, and stir with a fork. Make a well in the center and break three eggs into it.

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Semolina with eggs

Stir the eggs to break the yolks, and gradually start pulling in the dry semolina. When the middle part of the semolina is more or less moistened, and quite wet, it is time to use your fingers and upper body strength. You might want to put the dough out onto the counter as well.

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This dough comes together relatively easily. Could it be the strong gluten? Keep pushing the dry bits into the center of the dough to integrate them; if you need to add a few drops of olive oil to add moisture, you can; or add a spoon or two of extra dry flour if too sticky. The dough should be integrated, smooth, and only a little tacky.

Leave it aside for about half an hour, covered.

Homemade pasta — the sheets or shapes:

Divide up the dough into even sized pieces. Flatten each piece and send it through the pasta machine while cranking it. You will start with size 1 (where the rollers are at their widest). What comes out will be a thick sheet approximately rectangular in shape. Send it through again with the next size up: 2.

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Sometimes you will see that the sheet comes out with a few rips in it. My guess is that the gluten wasn’t developed enough. Perhaps not enough kneading, or not enough waiting after kneading. This happened to me, but I solved it by folding over one of the rectangles two or three times, and then sending it through, thus kneading again, by means of the pasta machine.

Get it as thin as you like, I went up to size 5 and thought that was enough. Most machines come with some shapes too for you to experiment with. I did plain rectangular sheets to make raviolis with below:

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pasta sheets for ravioli

Oh — and dust with dry flour once in a while, so the sheets or noodles don’t stick together!


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