Saturday, March 2, 2013

Onward with the March of Technology

You may recall, a few posts ago, I made some homemade pasta using a rolling pin. As much as that kind of workout does my body good, I felt it was time to move on. I have acquired a proper, made-in-Italy pasta machine; an instant 'must have' in my kitchen. How on earth did I live without this?

Along with the machine itself (with crank and the rollers), this particular device came with two pasta cutters, a tagliatelle and a spaghetti size. For my first pasta attempt, I went the tagliatelle route and accompanied it with an ox tongue ragu. I'm not going to go into great detail about the sauce (given the brine, the tongue was actually a seven day procedure - to be discussed on another day). I am more interested in discussing the pasta, and perhaps a few reflections on cooking in general.

There is a BBC cooking show called Simply Italian that I have been watching on youtube. This program is hosted by a lovely and chirpy young Welsh-Italian lass who makes homemade pasta look a cinch. One bit of advice that she shares, which I love for its simplicity, is the ratio of 100 g of flour to one egg to one pinch of salt: her recipe for pasta (or at least the pasta made in Northern Italy; in the south they often use only flour and water).

If there is one lesson I have learned in all the years that I have been cooking, it is that if something looks simple on television, it probably is very difficult to replicate in ones kitchen. There is the old saying that in order to make something look effortless, one must first do it about one million times. As it is with making pasta. Case in point: the dough won't catch in the rollers very well at first. Moreover, despite a hefty steel clamp, the pasta machine is hard to anchor to your work surface and will clunk around a bit. The crank handle has a habit of swinging into said clamp and getting stuck there if you don't angle things correctly. That same crank handle will often fall out of its mooring at the most pivotal moment of rolling (this of course, is not a commentary on the quality of the machine - it is top notch, but that there is a learning curve in its correct use). Your pasta may also seem way too dry (although this didn't alarm me because I have made hand-rolled pasta before). These are things that no one tells you when they are giving a cooking demo. No one thinks to write it in a cook book and certainly it won't be evident with a pretty Welsh girl bangs out the perfect pasta in thirty seconds flat on the BBC. Yet, there is another lesson to be learned here, and it actually gladdens me very deeply. The lesson is this: the longer you cook, the more dishes you test and the more practice attempts you make, the better you get at trying something  for the first time. You develop an instinct. 

When I first tried to feed my slightly too dry pasta dough into this machine, it didn't catch properly, and when it finally did, it rode right over to the side and started gumming up in the edges of the machine and resulted in tearing the dough. I felt that familiar welling up of frustration when something that appears dead easy, turns out to require a million minute nuances that were previously unknown to me. And yet, I soldiered on. I knew my ingredient ratios were correct; however, what was fast becoming evident, was the many tiny adjustments and corrections that one has to learn whilst executing the process. So the next roll through was better. Then my own cooking instincts started to kick in and things were starting to flow, and in the end my first attempt at machine-made pasta was complete and the results were above adequate. In fact, the pasta was absolutely gorgeous.

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