Monday, March 31, 2008

Pasta Rollers - the Good, the Bad, and the Maltagliati

Encouraged by the Food Geek, a great guy I met on Twitter (follow me!), I bought myself a pasta roller the other day. It's an interesting device. It reminds me of a miniature laundry mangle, only for pasta. You can buy all kinds of attachments for cutting different sizes of pasta noodles, and it even has a motor you can buy to turn the crank for you.

As cool as this pasta roller is, it's also a pain in the flank steak. I used it for the fist time last Saturday. Two good things happened.

1. My son and I made great tasting fresh pasta.
2. I learned a lot about what not to do with a pasta roller.

Most of what I learned has to do with all the bad things that happened.

Fortunately, I still have all of my fingers, and they're the same shape they were before I started. My problem was one of assumed engineering, not potential finger mangling.

It turns out that pasta rollers have little built in c-clamps to attach it to your counter. Good idea. The pasta roller likes to try and move around when you're cranking that handle. The problem came in when I discovered that the lip on my kitchen counters isn't wide enough for the c-clamp. Oh, I can get it started, but then I can't tighten it up without the screw handle smacking up against the side of my counter.

Okay. I can't work on the counter so I'll just move it to my table and clamp it down, there.

No such luck. My table has a beveled edge on the underside and so there's nothing for the c-clamp to push against.


In a fit of misguided inspiration, I grabbed a large cutting board I've got. (It's not really a cutting board. It's the excess material left over when you cut a hole into a counter top to install a sink. It's a great board, though.) I'll clamp the roller to the cutting board! Brilliant Me didn't take into account that now the cutting board, and the pasta roller, would start moving all over the, scratching up my table, when I turned the crank.

Grumbling to myself (and using several words I had to repent of, later), I finally came up with this bizarre solution: First, I clamped the pasta roller to the cutting board. Next, I got a larger c-clamp, a 12 inch one I use to change the brake pads on my car, to clamp the cutting board to the table. Finally! A stable work surface!

Oh, but this was only half the fun.

In order to clean all the industrial grime left over from the manufacturing of my pasta roller, it's recommended that you clean the roller with a soft cloth, and then run a portion of pasta dough through the rollers several times. No problem. Not wanting to eat dirty petroleum I did just as the instructions recommended. I made up a bunch of pasta dough, cut a small section off of it, ran that section through the roller several times, and tossed the dirty thing in the garbage.

Hmmm. That wasn't too bad. I didn't see anything worth noting on the dough but, better safe than sorry.

Thinking myself safe, I cut a larger portion of pasta dough and started rolling. After a few passes I noticed thin black lines of industrial motor oil showing up in the dough. This didn't happen with the first piece. What's going on? It turns out (no pun intended) that it was coming off the sides of the rollers every time the pasta got wide enough to hit them. Rats! I'd have to throw this piece away, too!

After going through about a third of the pasta dough, I finally started getting results that looked clean enough that I dared to eat them.

Guess what? Rolling pasta isn't as easy as it looks. Oh, the roller does a great job pressing it out. Don't get me wrong. It gradually flattens the dough until it gets thin enough to almost see through. The trouble is that every time it makes the piece thinner, it also makes it longer. A lot longer. Very very much longer. So long that you have to call in a pack of cub scouts to help you. I had to start cutting the pieces in half, just to get the things to go through without getting all folded together. Then the dough started getting sticky. I had to dust it with flour a couple of times just to get it to quick sticking together and making me start over.

The third problem came when it was time to dry the pasta. You need to let it dry for a few minutes, but not too long, so that it will cut well. I had made enough dough to make six servings, or so the recipe said. I'd lost at least two of those servings cleaning the roller. Even when I was at the theoretical four servings, I ran out of counter space. I had no where to put the pasta I'd rolled out! I started hanging the pieces I'd rolled earlier on the backs of the dining room chairs. It was only then that it occurred to my why I kept seeing pictures of noodles hanging to dry from what amounted to clothes lines stretched across the rooms in commercial pasta making businesses.

I wonder if that's how pasta was first invented. Maybe it all came from a horrible laundry accident involving flour and eggs.

Even though my first experience making pasta was very frustrating, the results were phenomenal. My son helped me out by cutting the pasta into maltagliati. Maltagliati translates as "badly cut." It's just flat triangles of fresh pasta. We tossed it with some bacon, onions, garlic and peas that had been sautéed in olive oil. It was delicious.

It was also enough pasta to feed me, my wife and four children, and still have leftovers. So much for the "six servings" mentioned in the recipe.

Now that I've learned a few things, making fresh pasta shouldn't be so hard the next time - which will be very soon. It was a lot of work but, oh my. Like I said. It was delicious.

Maybe I'll make fettuccine, next time.


pate said...

If you have a ravioli cutter, let me recommend trying that as soon as you feel up to it. IF you don't, get one.

John Newman said...

I thought I'd let you know that some Anonymous Coward left a very nasty comment here. His(?) basic suggestion of using a rolling pin to roll out pasta was just fine and would have been quite welcome. The language and tone he chose to deliver that suggestion was crude and offensive, and will not be tolerated. I have deleted it.

I don't mind people disagreeing with me. It keeps me honest. What I won't do is tolerate people swearing at me and calling me names.

Don't like it? Too bad. Get your own blog.

This makes me think I need to post a commenting policy. (sigh)