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Culinary Spotlight: Pasta – The Art Of Simplicity

Pasta, to me, used to be intimidating. Now after studying and practicing my skills in pasta, it’s as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

Joe Brunner talks about pasta

Photos by Hillary Ehlen

If you’ve reached the point where you’re wondering why anyone would go through the trouble of making homemade pasta dough instead of going to the grocery store and buying a box of already made stuff, now is the time to get familiar with fresh pasta. The more tender, rich and silky big brother to dried pasta. Pasta, to me, used to be intimidating. Now after studying and practicing my skills in pasta, it’s as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

There’s something satisfying about making your own pasta. Whether it’s the feeling of making something so delicious from as little as two ingredients or the gratification of executing something that has been in the works for thousands of years. With there being so many different theories and opinions on pasta recipes, it’s hard to decide on what is the right or wrong recipe.

When making your pasta dough, there is a base ratio to follow to turn out a solid dough. The ratio is three parts flour to two parts whole egg. With this recipe, you can turn out a delicious dough without having to even open a recipe book. Starting with that ratio, you can add a plethora of ingredients to make it your own (i.e. chopped spinach, beet juice, squid ink, etc.)

Begin with adding salt to the dough. Some people will ask, “Should you salt your dough?” or, “Should you salt your water?” I say both. Salting your pot of water will bring your water to a boil faster, as well as ensure that your pasta will be seasoned correctly. Salting the dough will bring out the flavor of the eggs and flour, as well adding some flexibility with the taste of the final product.

After you have gathered the ingredients, now what? You mix them together. Is it as easy as just throwing everything together to create pasta? Yes. Just toss and mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add the wet ingredients and mix until the pasta dough is formed. Many people will tell you that the correct way is making a well on your table at home and slowly whisk the egg yolks into the dough to create a wet dough, and a mess that will take months to finally clean up. It doesn’t need to be as difficult and messy as that, all you need is a bowl and your hands or spatula. I’d rather dirty a bowl and utensil than make a huge mess on the counter (and even on the floor.) The key steps to a tender and delicious pasta are:

1. Incorporate your ingredients

2. Knead the dough until it’s a smoother, cohesive dough

3. Rest the dough completely until pliable

4. Roll the dough out to the proper thickness.

What is pasta without a proper sauce? Many home cooks think of pasta as two different things: pasta and sauce. However, the two must be thought of together, like a good marriage, with two items becoming one. There’s nothing more sad than a pile of over-cooked noodles on the plate with a scoop of any old sauce on top. When cooking fresh pasta, the pasta will cook fast, so you must be quick as to not overcook it. But once the noodle is just al dente, it should be transferred to the sauce, so it can finish cooking. Cooking the pasta in the sauce will ensure that the noodle soaks up all the flavor of the sauce. With an additional ladle of the starchy cooking water, it will ensure the sauce will stick to the noodle.

In the Midwest, fresh pasta isn’t always a regular dinner item for families. Across the pond in Italy, that’s a whole other story. There are so many ways to make pasta your own with making changes to some recipes. With still respecting the traditions, you can be open to take the dish somewhere new that it has never been before.

Chitarra alla Carbonara

Joe Brunner talks about pasta

Serves 4

Pasta Dough

Ingredients

  • 18 oz (2 1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 12 oz whole eggs (about 6 large eggs)
  • 1oz (2 tbsp) salt

Method

  • Combine the flour, salt and egg in a bowl. Mix together with hands until combined
  • When the dough has come together, knead it on a floured table, pressing it with the heel of your hand, folding it over, kneading again, repeating until the dough is smooth. It will take around 10 minutes
  • Form the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest on the table for around 15-30 minutes until it’s pliable.
  • Cut dough into quarters, flatten and roll down to desired thickness (using a pasta rolling machine or rolling pin)
  • I suggest using a Chitarra Board to cut the pasta, but a knife will do the trick just as well

Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3 oz (6 tbsp) fresh grated parmesan, plus more to garnish
  • ½ oz (1 tbsp) fresh cracked black pepper
  • 10-12 oz (1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cup) pancetta
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method

  • Put the eggs into a bowl, mix in parmesan and black pepper. Mix well with a fork and set aside.
  • Trim off any hard pieces of the pancetta, cut into 1/4 dice
  • Put the oil into a sauté pan at medium-high heat, add pancetta and slowly render until crisp.
  • While pancetta is rendering, cook your pasta to al dente in salted boiling water.
  • Once the pancetta is rendered, reserve some of the starchy pasta water and set aside. Strain pasta and add to the pan with pancetta. Toss pasta over heat to soak up the fat, then remove pan from the heat.
  • Add a splash of the pasta water to the pan and mix thoroughly, pour in egg mixture. The warm pan will help cook the eggs gently (careful not to scramble the eggs). Toss it well and add more pasta water until the sauce is creamy and glossy. Season with more black pepper.
  • Serve on a platter with the remaining parmesan.

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Joe Brunner

Written by Joe Brunner

South Fargo native Joe Brunner is the co-owner and executive chef at Fargo dining staple Mezzaluna.

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