Marie and I used to make homemade pasta often, to be used with her scratch recipe for pasta sauce with meatballs and sausages. As I think about it, that general time frame was 37 years ago. We made fettuccine, manually, from hand mixing the dough ingredients to rolling out the sheets of pasta with a rolling pin to cutting them into long thin strips with a sharp knife, and then hanging the strips over chair backs to partially dry them. The homemade pasta was so superior to the dry stuff in boxes at the supermarket that we limited the supermarket purchases to items like macaroni that we couldn't make at home. It was a quality of life decision and we loved the superior homemade pasta.
Years later we noticed the good stuff, relatively freshly made pasta, still moist, being sold in packages at the supermarket, at premium prices. We laughed, noting that the product was likely fine but the cost absurd. Now, so many years later, I make the homemade pasta, and I surely think of Marie when I do it. But the methods I use now are radically different and easier, thanks to thinking through the dough making process and also from acquiring pasta accessories for my Kitchen-Aid® stand mixer.
I recently looked up a number of homemade pasta recipes on the Internet and I found that none of them used an electric mixer as part of the dough preparation. They were all stuck in the past with entirely manual methods. The upshot is that I studied the various ingredient recommendations and selected a combination that appeared to me to be best. I then simply combined the ingredients, sequentially, starting with the liquid items, and used the electric mixer to do all the initial mixing, with a great saving of labor and time.
Yes, I still put flour on a granite surface and knead the dough manually for a few minutes, let it rest for 30 minutes, covered, then separate it into pieces that I can readily process through the electric mixer pasta accessories, first making sheets of pasta and then cutting them into long strips of fettuccine. Wow, it is so easy and so perfect!
This time around my sweetheart, Peggy, hung the strips of fettuccine on dish towels that had been placed over the backs of bar stools. This was to keep her dogs from stealing the fettuccine as fast as we could make it! Earlier, Peggy had made homemade meat balls and a homemade vodka sauce, and she put some Italian sausage links into the sauce along with the meatballs. What a fine combination!
After a brief time of drying, about fifteen minutes, we cooked the fettuccine in batches in boiling salted water. Freshly made pasta cooks a lot faster than the dried stuff in boxes, so each batch took only about two to three minutes to be cooked perfectly. You can tell it is done when it floats on the surface of the water. We removed each batch of the cooked pasta from the boiling water and drained the water from it, and we put the bowl of drained pasta, batch after batch, into a 200 degrees F warming oven, assuring that all of the pasta would be warm at serving time.
Oh, yeah ... What a fine meal! A bit of grated Parmesan cheese on top of the sauce and meat covered pasta and we chowed down with pleasure. Well, I simply had to make an addition to Food Nirvana to capture what we did so you can have fun and great enjoyment too. I put the needed recipes below and you can make any or all of them to suit yourself. If you can, make this a family meal preparation, where everyone has a part in creating dinner. It is both fun and educational, not to mention delicious at mealtime.
You may want to make a side salad with Italian dressing and possibly serve some warmed fresh Italian bread with butter. I also suggest serving one of the milder red wines, like merlot or pinot noir, as the vodka sauce is less intense in herb flavors than traditional red pasta sauce. The idea is you don't want to serve a robust Chianti when you serve a mild pasta sauce.
Okay ... have fun!
The Meatballs: (four servings)
1/2 lb. of 90% lean ground beef
1/2 lb. of ground pork
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp. of Italian seasoning
3/4 tsp. of dried oregano
3/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. of sea salt
1/2 tsp. of garlic salt
1 1/2 tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of plain or Italian bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Line a four-sided cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
Put all ingredients except the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs into an electric mixer bowl and mix on low to medium low speed until well combined.
Add the ricotta cheese and mix for one minute.
Add the parmesan cheese and the breadcrumbs and mix for two minutes.
Form meatballs 1 1/2 inches in diameter by hand and place each meatball on the cookie sheet.
Bake the meatballs until they are not pink in the center, about 20 to 25 minutes, turning them over after the first ten minutes.
Turn the oven off, open the oven door for a few minutes, then close it and let the meatballs stay warm in the oven.
The Sausages: (four servings)
We simply buy any good commercial brand of sweet Italian sausage links. For this recipe one pound of sausage links is the right amount to use.
You can bake room temperature sausage links along with the meatballs as described above. Stab each link two or three times with a fork prior to baking to allow fat to render out during baking. Turn the sausages over after the first ten minutes of baking.
Leave the baked sausage links in the oven with the meatballs ... but be sure you have turned the oven off.
The Vodka Sauce: (eight servings)
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 small sweet onion, diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1, 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1, 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1, 28 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 tsp. of sea salt
2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh basil or 2 tsp. of dried basil
1 cup of vodka
1 cup of heavy cream
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the diced onion and diced celery on medium heat until the onion is translucent. Then add the minced garlic and sauté for one more minute.
Stir in all the other ingredients except the vodka and the heavy cream and mix them together. Then transfer the mixture to a slow cooker.
Add the meatballs and sausage links to the sauce, mix gently and then cover the slow cooker.
Simmer the meat and sauce about two hours in the slow cooker on medium to high heat, covered.
Turn off the slow cooker, remove the lid and let the contents cool for 15 minutes.
If you used basil sprigs remove them now and discard them.
Add the vodka to the sauce and mix gently.
Add the heavy cream to the sauce and mix gently but thoroughly.
Set the slow cooker temperature to warm, or, the lowest slow cooker setting higher than off.
Keep the vodka sauce, meatballs and sausages warm in the slow cooker until meal time.
The Pasta: (four servings)
2 extra large eggs plus one egg yolk
1/4 cup of water
1 tbsp. of olive oil
1/4 tsp. of sea salt
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of Semolina flour (You can buy it in different amounts at www.bulkfoods.com or other Internet web sites)
The right time to eat the pasta is immediately after cooking it, so prepare any side dishes you intend to have at the meal now.
Turn on the oven to 200 degrees F. Then put a pasta serving bowl and dinner plates or wide shallow bowls into the oven to pre-warm them.
Put all the ingredients except the flours into the electric mixer bowl and mix on medium speed for two minutes.
Gradually add the semolina flour while mixing and then mix for two minutes.
Gradually add the all purpose flour and mix until a nice dough is formed.
Remove the somewhat sticky dough with floured hands and place it on a hard floured surface for kneading.
Knead the dough, letting the flour help eliminate sticky spots during kneading. Knead for about three minutes.
Let the dough rest, lightly floured and covered in plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
Tear or cut the dough into six equal parts, roll each part in your hands into a ball and if necessary use a bit of flour to eliminate stickiness.
Process each dough ball by flattening and lengthening it and either using the sheet pasta accessory for your electric mixer, or, use a rolling pin on a hard floured surface to roll the dough into a roughly 15 inch long sheet of pasta about 1/32 of an inch thick.
Process each sheet of pasta using the fettuccine pasta accessory for your mixer, or, simply cut long strands about 1/4 inch wide from each pasta sheet using a sharp knife.
Hang the strands of pasta on a dish towel that has been placed on a chair back and allow it to partially dry for 15 minutes.
If you are serving a loaf of Italian bread with the meal now is the time to put it into the warming oven.
Cook the pasta in a gallon of boiling, lightly salted water, in four batches, for about two to three minutes per batch. Then use a pasta scoop or tongs to remove the cooked pasta from the water, placing it in a spaghetti drainer that you hold partially over the pot of boiling water.
Put the drained pasta into the warmed serving bowl and put the bowl back into the 200 degrees F warming oven.
Repeat the steps above to cook and drain each batch of pasta until all of it is cooked.
Now you can serve the entire meal and enjoy the expressions of pleasure from your family and/or friends. And you have nice warm plates or wide shallow bowls to keep the warm food warm while you are eating it.
Be sure to serve some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.