Homemade pasta is not much more difficult to make than it is to make your own pizza dough or pie crust, but that’s if you have a machine.
I unearthed my own hand-cranked, Italian pasta machine recently after I cleared out kitchen cupboards to clean and reorganize.
Its history goes back nearly 30 years. It was given to me by a long-ago boyfriend. It broke once a few years later and was repaired by the next boyfriend. (He rebuilt Porsche engines for a living so a busted pasta machine presented no problem.)
My husband of 21 years and I couldn’t remember the last time we’d used the machine to make fresh pasta.
Not that it mattered. I decided pumpkin pasta would be good for the fall season, and it was. I can’t say it really tasted of pumpkin. I think vegetable pasta generally tastes more like pasta rather than vegetable. But the green color of spinach pasta or the soft orange of pumpkin pasta makes them especially appetizing.
As I measured out the flour and pumpkin (packed, from a can) I recalled previous pasta-making experiences. In a class with Anna Teresa Callen, the Italian cookbook author, historian and owner of the New York City cooking school that bears her name, I learned that one never can anticipate exactly how how much egg or moisture any particular pasta dough would need. “Sometimes,” she explained, “it just wants more eggs.” I think it had something to do with the amount of humidity — in the flour, in the air or both.
I also remembered when I made spinach pasta for the first time I used a jar of spinach baby food. That was recommended by whomever had written the recipe. Actually, using finely puréed baby food veggies is a good, quick solution.
For the pumpkin dough I followed a recipe for spinach pasta from a favorite cookbook by Jack Bishop, “The Italian Vegetarian.” Fresh sage, sliced garlic and minced parsley, tossed quickly in browned butter, made a perfect sauce for the fettuccine (noodles a little wider than linguine). We served it with salad and a lemon- and herb-roasted chicken.
There was enough dough left to make a batch of half-circle ravioli (mezzaluna). The bit of extra labor was well worth it. I stuffed the pasta with ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese seasoned with nutmeg, salt, white pepper and a little cayenne pepper.
Unlike the 1980s, when I first had my machine, we can now find all colors and flavors of pasta dried or made fresh in stores. I even saw lavender pasta at the Shayne Sauce store in Artisan’s Alley, 555 W. Bitters Road, recently.
But I probably used 75 cents worth of flour, 60 cents worth of eggs and maybe 30 cents worth of pumpkin to make pasta for five or six meals. Compare that to the $8 one spends buying freshly made pasta at the grocery, or $5 for a batch of artisan-made dried pasta. A manual machine like mine can generally be found for under $40.
So, we added another chapter to the pasta machine’s history before cleaning it, packing it and putting it away. I changed its home in the kitchen, too. It is now much closer at hand than it was for so long, hidden in a cupboard over the refrigerator.
Photos by Bonnie Walker