I bustle about the kitchen and pantry to see what I can come up with for a special birthday dinner. Leftover salmon (that our generous neighbor caught) from last night, and a chunk of Parmesan wink at me enticingly from the refrigerator, and I think: Salmon Fettuccine. No pasta, though. But wait! I have flour, some semolina and eggs! I peer up onto the high shelves of the pantry where my dusty, forgotten kitchen helpers sleep, undisturbed, beside the big Halloween bowl I only use for passing out candy, and behold the Atlas pasta maker we got for a wedding gift nearly 23 years ago. The stainless steel of the heavy machine gleams with promise as I pull it out of its box. Fresh, homemade pasta is on the menu tonight!
I have a food processor I can throw the ingredients in, but I prefer to get my hands messy, give my forearms a 10-minute workout, to knead looooove into the dough. I turn on Pandora and create a Mambo Italiano station, and after mixing the flour into the crater of egg, oil and salt, I happily knead away to the accompaniment of the likes of Dean Martin, Sinatra, and Bobby Darin. “When that shark bites….” Palm pushes down on the dough, push, push, push. “With his teeth, babe.” Half-turn, push, push, push! When it’s elastic and smooth, I form it into a ball to rest, and I run to the store to get cream for the sauce, because all I have on hand is fat free half and half, and that simply will not do. I also get a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses to make a perky, shining trail to the bedroom. For dessert…
2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting (I use ½ semolina, ½ flour)
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp. salt
Make a well in the flour. Pour 2 cups of the flour into a mound on a clean work surface. With your fist, gently make a well large enough to hold the eggs in the center of the mound.
Pour the eggs into the well. Crack the eggs into the well, adding a teaspoon of olive oil and the salt, if you want a little more flavor to your pasta, and I know you do.
Whisk the eggs. Using a fork, carefully whisk the eggs in the well, without drawing in any flour, until they are just mixed together.
Draw in the flour. Move the fork in a circular motion to gradually draw the flour into the center and stir it together with the egg-oil mixture. Gently draw in more flour and mix it in this way until all of the flour is blended in (use your other hand to help reinforce your wall of flour), and you have a shaggy mess of dough.
Bring the dough together. Use your hands to bring the mass of dough into a ball. When all the flour is combined, if the dough is still sticky, sprinkle more flour over the dough, a little at a time, and mix it in.
Knead the dough. Use a scraper to clean the work surface, and dust the clean surface with flour. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and knead it by pushing down and away from you, give it a half-turn, and repeat until the dough feels smooth and satiny, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle on more flour if the dough becomes sticky or soft during kneading. Test by poking your finger in the dough; if it comes out clean, you're good, if it's sticky, add flour.
Let the dough rest. Clear away most of the excess flour on the work surface. Shape the dough into a ball by rolling it in a circle with both hands, applying pressure to the bottom so that the dough tucks under itself and the ball tightens up a little. Cover the ball with a large overturned bowl and let it rest for up half an hour up to 2 hours before rolling.
Makes about 1 pound.
If you don't have a hand-cranked pasta maker, simply roll out with a pin, or a wine bottle, until thin enough, let dry a bit, then cut our your lengths of fettuccine, or whatever shape, and let dry a bit before cooking. It only needs a couple minutes once it's but in the boiling water, so don't go away once you throw it in there! It will be firm, yet tender, to the bite when it's done.