In the course of this project, I’ve already had my ups (chili) and downs (6-hour pizza, burned stir-fry). If I had to rate “My Father’s Daughter” yesterday morning, I would have given it a 7 out of 10. Not bad, for a movie star’s cookbook! But if you had asked me again to rate the book last night, after a day spent in the kitchen, I would have attempted to shove the entire cookbook down your throat.
ACT I: Shopping
The first thing you need when making fresh pasta is, of course, a pasta machine. Which Gwyneth assumes I have, because, without any warning, she simply says in the second paragraph of the recipe, “Now take out your pasta machine.” You know, the pasta machine that everyone has laying around their kitchens! So, Saturday afternoon we headed to the store to go pasta machine shopping.
We went to Kitchen Kaboodle, due to two factors: Location, and its hilarious name. A salesperson (shoutout to Michael!) immediately led us back to the pasta machine section. “He has a blog!” my friend Sam proudly told Michael. Which made me think: Is there any less-impressive sentence in the English language than, “He has a blog?”
Seeing as Michael now realized I had that big-time blogger moolah, he immediately tried to sell me on the KitchenAid electric mixer and pasta attachment. Well, Gwyneth does recommend this type of pasta machine, so maybe I should buy it. Once I was informed we were looking at a $600 purchase, however, I managed to hold in all my barf and asked Michael to tell me about the cheap, hand-cranked varieties. There were two options: a $90 model made in Italy, and a $60 model made in China. Well, god bless China! I tried to convince Michael to get Kitchen Kaboodle to sponsor the Project and give me free supplies, but, surprisingly, had no luck. And yet here I am, giving out free advertising. Next time I’m in there, Michael, I expect at LEAST a free spatula.
Sunday I woke up with a fresh hangover and was greeted by pouring sheets of rain. (Related: Gwyneth says the perfect cure to a hangover is a cold shower, followed by a morning spent in the sauna. So now I just need to buy a sauna! Easy!) Not a good start to Pasta Day 2011. Eventually the rain slowed, and I headed out to Fred Meyer for supplies. Normally, Fred Meyer has proved extremely useful, with a fairly extensive organic section, as well as shelves filled with strange, “foreign” ingredients, of which Gwyneth is fond. But “00 pasta flour” was not to be found, nor was another ingredient (to be discussed in a later post).
So I reached another crossroads: Do I get regular flour, or do I stick to my guns and attempt to track down pasta flour? Once again, I settled for both: I bought a bag of unbleached all-purpose flour (we needed some, anyway), and then headed to Trader Joe’s for the aforementioned other missing ingredient, hoping TJ’s would also randomly have pasta flour. Of course, they didn’t. I looked up an Italian specialty store on my phone, halfway across town, and gave serious consideration to hopping on my bike and heading down there. But then the rain started again, and I decided I really just didn’t give a shit about pasta flour anymore.
Not a total failure, but definitely not starting off on the right foot.
Act II: Making Pasta
I have never made homemade pasta before in my life. Let’s just get that right out there. So to all you professional pasta-makers reading out there, please take it easy on me.
I started at 4:00. Gwyneth says it’ll take two hours of work to make the pasta, and then it’s pretty easy to make ravioli after that, so I figured we’d be eating by 7. Perfect! (SPOILER ALERT: Nope. Not even close.)
First, you mix up 2 whole eggs and 10 egg yolks. I doubled the recipe, since I was feeding a lot of people, so I was left with a giant bowl of egg yolks staring up at me like some sort of alien eye. Then, you pour some flour into a large bowl and make a divot in the top. Next, pour the whisked egg mixture into the center of the divot, like you’re making a volcano. (This is really entertaining for us simple people.) Using a fork, gently fold the flour into the yolks, and then, using your hands, knead the mixture until you’re left with a nice dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel for 10 minutes.
Heart attack in a bowl.
This was just the most fun ever.
Once the dough had sat, I flattened it a bit on the table and cut it up into 16 pieces. Since it was my first time using the pasta machine, I needed to run some dough through it to clean out any excess oil from the factory, to ensure I wasn’t feeding people Chinese lead-based factory grease, which is most likely not organic OR free range. Chinese oil is definitely not allowed in the Project. So my first-ever noodle ended up covered in oil and in a ball at the bottom of our garbage. Extremely anticlimactic stuff.
For those of you who, like me, have never made a noodle before, let me walk you through the process: My pasta machine has seven settings, from 1 to 7. Seven is the thickest, and one is the thinnest. So I would take a rectangle of dough and crank it through the machine on setting 7. Then I would fold the flattened dough in half, dust it with a little flour, and feed it through the machine again on 7. Then fold in half, dust with flour, and feed it through the machine on setting 6. I folded, dusted, and fed each sheet of pasta through the machine a total of 14 times, until I finally fed it through on setting 1 and, in a perfect world, I would get a nice, flat, smooth stretch of beautiful pasta.
At first, this was a lot of fun. I felt so productive! Here I was, cranking away in my kitchen, laying sheets of fresh pasta on the table and covering with damp towels and plastic wrap, just like an Italian grandmother probably does. I hit my snags at first, but I eventually got into a rhythm and really started to enjoy the process.
Before I knew what nightmares lay ahead.
I realized later Gwyneth and I get similarly excited about holding noodle sheets. Soulmates!
PRO TIP: When making noodles, always be sure to torture your dog.
And then it went on for two more hours, and I still had five rectangles of dough to press, and my back was sore, and I just wanted to die. All in all, the pasta-pressing took about three hours. Granted, I was making twice Gwyneth’s recipe, which she says will take two hours, so by that math I guess I came out ahead. But, Jesus. Who wants to make pasta for THREE HOURS? What kind of pasta is even worth that effort?
I was cranky and covered in flour and feeling a bit like Sisyphus. I just needed to keep pushing this boulder up the hill, even though I didn’t even know what the hell the point was anymore.
ACT III: Ravioli
We were nearing 8:00 when I finally peeled and cut two sweet potatoes and began steaming them for Sweet Potato Ravioli. I had a bunch of hungry friends who were anxious to start the Survivor finale, but they all pretended like they were patient and not starving half to death, as they could see my mood turning increasingly foul.
Once the potatoes were steamed, I mashed them up in a bowl with some freshly grated Parmesan and a couple tablespoons of mascarpone, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg (not freshly ground nutmeg as instructed, but fuck it at this point). I let the mixture cool as best as I could wait, and then began assembling ravioli by hand.
Which, it turns out, is an ENORMOUS PAIN IN THE ASS.
Lay a sheet of pasta on the table. Spoon small amounts of sweet potato filling onto the sheet, leaving two inches between each pile. Use a pastry brush (miraculously discovered by your roommate from the still-unpacked boxes upstairs that will remain unpacked until we move into yet another new house because the neighbors are so awful, but that’s beside the point) to paint some egg whites along the ravioli sheet, as if applying glue. Press a second pasta sheet on top of the first, and seal the edges with your finger. Use a knife or a pizza cutter to separate the ravioli into squares, and press the edges closed. Voila! Ravioli!
Sounds easy, if a bit time-consuming, right? Well, sometimes things go horribly wrong. For example, sometimes the pasta sheets you oh-so-carefully laid below damp towels and plastic wrap decide they no longer wish to be separated from their comfortable towels or plastic wrap, causing you to get frustrated and shout, “FUCK EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY,” until your ever-helpful friend Sam runs to your aid and carefully removes the sheets as best she can, leaving minimal holes in the dough, where you would have simply tossed it all the garbage and sat on the floor and cried until someone took pity on you and ordered a pizza. This is around the time when you realize you’ve forgotten to drink, so you remedy that immediately with some alcohol. The rest of your friends also stop looking in your direction at all, because you seem ready to chop someone’s head off if they so much as let their stomachs growl.
But you did the best you could, and you keep spooning sweet potatoes and brushing egg whites and trimming pasta edges like some sort of child laborer. And then, when you’re about halfway done, you realize that the recipe called for FAR too much pasta and FAR too little sweet potato filling, and now you have nothing left to put in your last remaining pasta sheets. This is when you start to worry about how much Gwyneth is feeding her children, and maybe they are malnourished, because this is not even close to enough food. “Seriously, somebody just go to Papa Murphy’s,” you snap at your friends, as if this is their fault in the slightest.
But Sam comes to your rescue again, and cuts up the remaining pasta sheets and makes some impromptu linguine. This is where you really start getting sad at the idea of Sam leaving Portland in a couple months.
Boil a big pot of water. You’ve almost hit the homestretch! Go to dump some ravioli in the water, only to discover that you didn’t let the filling cool all the way, and the heat has melted some of the dough and now the beautiful little ravioli squares have melded into an inseparable, massive ball of sweet potatoes, cheese, and dough (which actually sounds delicious in concept, but is incredibly frustrating to be faced with after 5 hours of labor).
Give serious consideration to crying, again. Give even more consideration to quitting this stupid project. Salvage what ravioli you can, and toss it into the pot. Meanwhile, Sam comes to your rescue for the hundredth time, and slices up the giant dough/filling ball and makeshifts little dumpling-type things. By this point, Sam has more or less taken over in the kitchen, because you’re too busy calling Gwyneth Paltrow unspeakably horrible names. (Which, really, this wasn’t even her fault, because she did tell me to let the filling cool completely. But someone needed to take the fall.) Toss everything in the boiling water. Melt some butter in another pan with some sliced fresh sage. Remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon after a mere couple of minutes, plate, and cover with the sage butter and some freshly grated Parmesan.
And that, five hours later, is some noodles with potatoes and melted butter. Worth it? God, no. I mean, it was delicious (because, let me remind you, it was homemade noodles, sweet potatoes with cheese, covered in MELTED BUTTER), but it was also insanely simple for how much effort went into it.
But, you know what? I did make my own noodles for the first time ever, and that is something to be proud of. The actual noodle-making didn’t even go that terribly, and I learned some very important lessons for next time. But I don’t think you’ll ever catch me making ravioli again. At least, not without Sam there.