Friday, February 21, 2014

More Adventures in Extruded Pasta

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’re probably aware that I’m obsessed with pasta, especially homemade extruded pasta. I searched for an affordable pasta extruder with bronze dies for many years. It took a trip to Bologna for me to find my prize, a manual model known in Italian as a torchietto per pasta.

Traveling half way around the world proved to be but a small fraction of the effort and determination required to produce my homemade bronze-extruded pasta. I can’t tell you how many times I tried my torchietto just to give up and switch back to my KitchenAid extruder, but eventually I persevered.

First there was the issue of where to mount the torchietto. Even as it gouges whatever surface it’s attached to, the clamp fails to hold the torchietto securely in place. The clamp ate through several dishcloths and even a silicone hot pad, which I used in a futile attempt to protect my marble work surface and to keep the torchietto from sliding around as my husband tried to crank the handle. Thin, cheap, and sturdy enough to withstand the jaws of the hungry little clamp, a small piece of a cedar grilling plank inserted between it and the bottom of the marble offered a workable solution.

Then there was the Goldilocks-like nature of the torchietto. If the dough is too soft and sticky, it won’t make its way down the hopper. If the dough is too dry, it’s nearly impossible to turn the crank. But while Goldilocks needed three tries, I lost count of how many it took me before I figured out the texture of dough that’s just right. And it’s pretty darned firm.

Finally, there was the feat of Herculean strength required. It’s an understatement to say that cranking the handle of the still-shimmying torchietto to force that firm dough into the form of pasta is hard work. One revolution of the crank produces only a couple of millimeters of pasta, so it takes a long, long time to make a single serving. Sustained brute force is required. I would usually enlist the help of my muscle-bound husband for attempts to make the torchietto work, but the day all the pieces came together I was on my own. It wasn’t long before my heart rate became elevated and I began to glisten. An hour into my two-portion batch of pasta workout, my arm, shoulder, and every other part of my upper body were on fire and crying for mercy, and I was nowhere near done.

Finally, much problem solving, physical exertion, and ibuprofen later…Success!

(I wonder if I expended more calories making this spaghetti or if I ingested more calories when I devoured it with a delicious gravy of finely diced pork butt braised in Basic Tomato Sauce?)

So was the torchietto with the bronze dies worth all the effort? Hell yeah! The texture and flavor of the pasta is superior and the shaggy-looking rough surface holds sauce beautifully. And then there’s something to be said for achieving a difficult goal and for the satisfaction of making beautiful pasta with nothing but water, flour, and elbow grease.

Before I get to the recipe, I’d like to take a moment to thank the Cooking Club of America for including my Chocolate Fondue for Two with Strawberries recipe in their newsletter.

Homemade Extruded Pasta
Printable Recipe

5 ounces semolina, plus more for dusting
5 ounces all-purpose flour
4 to 4 ½ ounces water

Combine the semolina and flour in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until blended. With the motor running on low, slowly trickle in the water. Continue to mix on low until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. The dough will seem very dry at this point, but resist the temptation to add more liquid. A dry dough—so dry that it won’t even come together into a single mass—will be easy to feed into the extruder, and the freshly extruded pasta will be less likely to stick together. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Pass the dough through a pasta extruder fitted with the desired die, adding only a small amount of dough at a time and moving it around in the hopper frequently to help it fall into the machine without binding. Cut the pasta to the desired length as it emerges from the die.

Makes 2 generous servings. Use the smaller quantity of water for a manual torchietto, the larger quantity for a KitchenAid extruder. Arrange short cut pasta in a single layer and dust long cut pasta generously with semolina and form loose nests on pasta screens, lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays, or towel-lined baking trays. Alternatively, hang long cut pasta on a pasta rack. Pasta may be left at room temperature like this to dry for up to several hours or cooked immediately. Cook in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Cooking time is usually only 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how wet the dough was and how long the pasta has been left to dry. To clean the extruder, disassemble, remove any large gobs of dough, and let the rest dry overnight before attempting to clean the parts. The dough will flick right off once it’s completely dry.

Previously: Adventures in Extruded Pasta.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Homemade Lemon Pepper

Since the Seasoned Salt seemed to turn out so well, I decided to try my hand at a homemade version of another spice pantry staple: lemon pepper. Now I know there are countless recipes for lemon pepper out there, but in my opinion most of them miss the boat. Lemons taste sour (duh) and so must lemon pepper. Yet none of the recipes floating around the web contain any sour component.

The solution seemed pretty obvious to me—why not include a bit of citric acid along with the pepper and lemon zest? I mean, it occurs naturally in lemons and limes, and it’s cheap, readily available, and something I have in my pantry anyway for making candy. So I did some research—that is to say I read the back of a jar. And you know that brand of lemon pepper with the big L on the label and the bright yellow cap? Citric acid is listed right there in the ingredient list. Obvious indeed! Citric acid not only provides the necessary tartness, but it comes as a powder, which just happens to be the perfect form for using in a spice mix.

So after a fair amount of tinkering, I came up with my own from-scratch recipe for Lemon Pepper. According to my completely impartial taste tester husband, it’s way better than the bottled kind, which he described as having a “chemically” taste. Let me know if you agree.

Lemon Pepper
Printable Recipe

Grated zest of 3 large lemons
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons citric acid
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon sugar

Spread the lemon zest on a parchment-lined cooling rack on a baking tray and let dry at room temperature for about 24 hours.

Combine the dried lemon zest, pepper, salt, citric acid, granulated garlic, onion powder, and sugar in a spice jar. Cover and shake until well blended.

Makes a generous 1/3 cup. Use a microplane for grating the lemon zest. Each large lemon will yield approximately 1 tablespoon of dried grated zest. This blend keeps for several months tightly sealed in the pantry.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Marinades Available for Preorder!

Here comes number three!

My third cookbook Marinades: The Quick-Fix Way to Turn Everyday Food into Exceptional Fare, with 400 Recipes is now available for preorder on Amazon. The official release date is April 15, just in time for grilling season. If you ever wanted easy ways to dress up dinner daily, this book has all the answers!
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