Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Using your noodle to make pasta

I’ve always loved pasta. But now that I’ve started making my own from scratch, I’m convinced it’s the best food on earth.
I can’t get enough of it.
When I was little, my Italian grandmother served pasta of one sort or another with almost every meal — it came after the antipasto and before the meat and salad. It was the only part of dinner I really cared about.
I loved pasta so much, in fact, that my grandparents affectionately referred to me as a “spaghetti bender.” Isn’t that cute?
I thought so — until yesterday, when I checked Urban Dictionary. Turns out “spaghetti bender” is a derogatory term for an Italian person.
I’m hoping, in defense of my immigrant grandparents, the term only recently developed a pejorative connotation. Otherwise: not cool, Gramma and Papi.
My grandmother was a terrific cook — and a wonderful person, except for her possibly calling her only granddaughter an ethnic slur. But, although she cooked pasta all the time, she only made it from scratch once a year or so.
I lived for those meals. Her homemade noodles were extra flavorful, with a firm, slightly toothy texture that the sauce clung to — far better than the dried stuff out of a box.
But since Gramma’s homemade pasta was such a rare treat, I grew up thinking it was impossibly labor-intensive and complicated to make.
It’s not. And now that I know that, it’s all I can do to keep myself from making fresh noodles every night.
Basic pasta has just a few ingredients — eggs, flour and salt. You combine them, roll out the dough, cut the noodles and boil them. (I also like to dust the kitchen floor liberally with flour, but that’s just me; what started by accident due to my overzealousness now feels like an essential part of the pasta-making ritual.)
Don’t believe the lie propounded by Big Pasta that you can’t make noodles without a machine. I have one but never use it; I like my hand-cut results better. Plus brandishing a rolling pin and a sharp knife makes me feel like a warrior.
While making the dough is simple enough, proportions do matter. I always say that cooking is supposed to be fun, but sometimes the fussy kitchen habits I like to skip — such as measuring ingredients — do have their place.
One time, my devil-may-care approach gave me a dough that was too stiff to work with. Adding water just made the outside slippery. The dough felt like a wet medicine ball in my hands.
I managed to vanquish it by leaning hard into the rolling pin, at times kneeling on it, and grunting like a power lifter. The resulting noodles were delicious, but I strained a pec making them and couldn’t lift anything over five pounds for several days.
To me, the greater upfront effort of making dough without a machine is offset by the ease of cleanup: You just scrape flour off your cutting board. People who would rather invest their time rooting out the crevices of a pasta maker with a tiny brush are the kind, I assume, who avoid getting flour all over their kitchen floor.
Cooking is supposed to be fun, remember?
Even when the dough is the right consistency, rolling it out still takes 10 minutes or so. But it’s hardly skilled labor. You roll small chunks of dough to the desired thickness and then slice them into whatever width of noodle you want.
After a few months of working on my technique, I’ve concluded that flour labeled “00” — for the fine milling, not the number of calories in the final product — makes the smoothest dough. I’ve also found that thicker dough yields a better texture and means less rolling time (making noodles is fun, but I’m still fundamentally lazy).
Yes, it’s quicker to just open a 99-cent box of linguine. But the pleasure of eating isn’t in just stuffing your face the easiest way possible; it’s in stuffing your face with really tasty food, even if that means more work.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve used homemade noodles in marinara sauce, chicken soup, lo mein and casserole. I can’t help myself.
Call me an overachiever, a time waster, a pasta addict.
But it is 2020. So maybe don’t call me a spaghetti bender.

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