Monday, October 12, 2009

Making Pasta with Nana

Nana sits down with the family
for a big bowl of pasta

Meet Nana.

Isn’t she fierce?

Yes, women young and old wish they were as fabulous as my 94 (you read that number correctly) 94-year-old paternal grandmother.

Listen, I’ve worked hard at being a cooking and style goddess. But let’s be real, it’s in my genes.

Nana worked up until a few years ago at J.C. Penney. She was the company’s oldest employee. She worked in the children’s department, which is so appropriate because Nana has always been young at heart. She’s got amazing jewels and shoes (natch) and can outcook and outclean just about all of us. She’s also one of the most kind and giving people who I’ve ever known. Seriously.

This past weekend Nana agreed to teach yours truly and my cousin Blair the ins and outs of pasta making. When we were kids, Nana would make homemade pasta pretty frequently. She took the dough and rolled it out and wrapped it around wires made from the spokes of an umbrella. This wire contraption was designed by my Poppop John. He was quite handy in his day. He also was fantastic at growing a garden (a trait I definitely did not pick up.) Nana’s pasta is similar to cavatelli, but it’s longer and doesn’t have ricotta in it. The dough is pretty basic: Flour, salt, eggs, water.

That’s it.

My cuz and I are among the few who love to cook in mia familia. I mean we really LOVE to cook. Like, we’d probably rather cook on the weekend than anything else. ….. OK. Blair driving around in the latest BMW and me buying shoes would probably come in at a close second, but you get the picture.

So, on the day of our Pasta Making Extravaganza, the weather was way humid. I think it rained. For those of you new to the world of pasta-making, rain and humidity are not welcome here.

The Nana School of Pasta Making is under way.
From left: Blair, Nana, Susan (the author) and Jason.

Our team made three batches of pasta. The second batch worked the best. The dough was a bit drier. Also, you can only roll out small portions of the dough at one time, so we realized keeping the dough in the refrigerator made it easier to roll out. Nana said keeping a bowl of water nearby to wet your fingertips also helps the process.

You can make a pasta roller wire by cutting the spokes of an umbrella with a wire cutter. (The pasta wire is shown at left with a pasta cutter). This pasta dough can also be used to make your basic spaghetti or linguini with a pasta maker, which is way less time-consuming. Our pasta is made one noodle at a time. It is for the patient. But is so delish. That’s why I really really wanted to learn how to make it.

Blair’s mom, Aunt Karen, and Blair’s husband, Jason, joined in on the pasta-making party. My husband stopped by to shoot some pics. And my cousin Chris was on hand for moral support. Later that night, my parents and Aunt Karen’s husband, Ron, joined us for an amazing dinner.

Champagne was popped (Nana loves the bubbly), delish wine was shared and good food was served.

Blair made an awesome Caesar salad; Aunt Karen rocked out her famous apple pie; and I whipped up my old-timey cream puffs.

Below is the recipe for the pasta and some step-by-step pictures. You may notice a recipe for meatballs and sauce is MIA. Listen, I love all y’all, but the meatball recipes stay in the family. You could possibly marry in. You are also more than welcome to come to Hammonton and bribe me with shoes, jewelry, J. Crew gift cards, really good wine and sushi, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim, I’m sure. So, you have my apologies.

Super thanks to Nana for showing us how it’s done.

Nana oversees Blair's  handiwork.

Pasta – Nana Style
4 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
4 extra large eggs
6 Tbsp. water (more or less may be needed)

Combine flour and salt. Dump mixture onto your work surface. Make a well in the flour mixture.

Place four eggs into the center of the well of flour.

Mix mixture with a fork or your fingers.

Add a few Tbsp. water and continue to work dough with your hands. The mixture will be sticky.

Once the dough comes together into a ball, knead until smooth.

You knead dough, by pushing the low end of your palm into the dough away from your body. Then, rotate the dough and repeat. The ball of dough should be smooth when it is ready.

Cut off a portion of the dough. The piece should be about the size of a deck of cards.

Roll the dough with your fingers into a cord about one-quarter of an inch wide.

With a knife or pasta cutter, cut the cord of dough into pieces about an inch or inch and one-half long.
Take one portion of cut dough and press the wire into the middle of the dough. Using your fingers, roll the dough back and forth so that it coils around the wire.

Shimmy the dough off the wire. There should be a hole in the center of the pasta.

If the dough is sticking to the wire, place reserved dough in the refrigerator so that it cools down. In addition, wet fingertips help control the dough as you are working it around the coil.

Once your pasta noodle is made, lay on kitchen towels or a sheet pan. You may keep the finished pasta out until you are ready to cook them.

Or, you can place the sheet pan in the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, store in a plastic bag.

We made three batches of pasta for nine people. There were plenty of leftovers.

To cook the pasta: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. The pasta takes 20 minutes to cook.  Serve with your fav sauce. I think they work best with a red sauce or a bolognese.

My mom, Nana and Aunt Karen at dinner.


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