My 1st Creative Endeavour for 2015: Making Fresh Pasta

six rolls of long pastaMaking fresh pasta has been a dream of mine for about two years. I know it’s not easy when you start, but it does get easier with practice. And that was my plan: practice. I forget one crucial part of that plan: time.

We generally use spelt, not wheat, which already complicates things. The flour preference started out as an answer to one son who used to complain of tummy aches as a toddler. Although wheat doesn’t appear to bother him anymore, we simply continued cooking and baking with spelt. However, non-wheat pastas are incredibly expensive, and I was hoping to save money by using our bulk-bought spelt flour.

About two years ago or so, I bought myself a Marcato Atlas manual pasta maker. I was trying to cook less with motors and more with my own hands. Although I never gave up using a mixer for whipped cream or my food processor for crumb doughs (e.g., pie crusts), I now generally mix all my batters and other doughs by hand. I wanted to exercise my arms more and cut back – even if only marginally – on electricity. (See my post on the belief that every little bit counts.)

However, each individual strand has to be laid out flat on damp kitchen towels so they didn’t dry out or stick together. That takes longer than feeding the pasta through the machine. In addition, workbooks, cookbooks, activity books, reading books, basically anything made of paper, frequently clutter the longest counter we have. So in the end, the manual machine rarely got used.

This past Christmas, my husband bought me the Philips Pasta Maker. It promises to make you a nice bowl of fresh pasta in 15 minutes. I just gave it a shot on the weekend.

The recipe booklet claimed that you could use spelt flour with it, but there was a hitch: it didn’t stipulate whole or light. As much as recipes often claim that you can substitute whole flours for light/white flours 1:1, that’s not true. Light flours absorb liquid at a different rate, so you usually need more light flour to make the recipe work.

I assumed light spelt, because I didn’t think anyone would want to make whole spelt pasta. But I was wrong. The light spelt flour got too sticky, because there was too much water (or too little flour, depending on how you look at it). I pulled the dough out of the Philips, whipped out my Marcato Atlas, added more flour, and tried to rectify the situation. It didn’t work either.

Supper was already 40 minutes behind, and my kids are at an age where they’ll complain relentlessly about being hungry. So I pulled out a package of gross brown rice pasta (I’m sick of that stuff, but everyone else in my family likes it), cooked it, and served supper a good hour late. The kids didn’t complain, thankfully. Likely something to do with the grandparents being over.

That night, I watched YouTube videos. Namely, this one on the Philips, and this one on the Marcato Atlas. Now I’m inspired to use both.

Watching the Philips one, I saw the machine work well. However, just as with a bread machine, if you don’t have your ratios spot on, it won’t work, simply because a machine doesn’t have the flexibility of the human mind (go, human creativity!). However, once I switched to whole spelt flour and witnessed fresh pasta coming out and five minutes later landing in my boiling water, I fell in love. My kids don’t like packaged whole spelt pasta, but they did enjoy this one. So did my husband.

Watching the Marcato Atlas tutorial, I saw a couple of other useful products that would make the Marcato easier to use, including a stand with dowels that spread out and let you hang the individual fettuccine up so they didn’t stick together. This particular model also comes with a wand to hold under the pasta as it makes its way through the fettuccine roller. After you’ve finished rolling the pasta through the attachment, you lift the wand up to a dowel on the stand, slide it on, roll it to the side so the pasta is now on the branch, and slowly remove it. I ordered one from Amazon, and it arrived about two days later.

Experimenting with a hand pasta machine is most definitely easier. The whole spelt pasta that came out of the Philips tasted good and not too “grainy,” but it didn’t look super smooth. Given that it spent not even 10 minutes being mixed before being pushed through, this doesn’t surprise me. However, I’m sick of brown rice pasta, and any other non-wheat pastas are incredibly expensive. For example, whole spelt pasta costs around $5 Cdn/ 1 lb-bag, whereas we pay about $40 or so for 10 or 12-kg bags of organic flour.

Making my own pasta is also as close to package-less cooking as I can get. The flour comes in brown paper bags. After I empty the flour into large containers, I cut down the bags and shove them in a drawer. I use them later for peeling vegetables: just place a piece of the brown paper on my work surface, peel on to it, fold everything up, and put it all in the compost. No need to use paper towels or waste time picking your peelings up.

Eggs, of course, come in packaging. But if you buy eggs in a paper carton, you can either use the carton for crafts or you can recycle it. Some farmers will even take the paper cartons back and reuse them.

And now I have two options, which I’m sure I’ll use more frequently. I can get funky with the Marcato without worrying about the exact measurements needed for a motorized machine, but I can also churn out fresh pasta in 20 minutes. And neither requires plastic packaging.

I know it’s only been nine days, but have you tried anything creative for the first time this year yet?

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