Friday, May 1, 2009

Noodle Noir, Part 1

It was a dark and stormy April Sunday. The newspapers and food magazines had declared asparagus the shining star of the moment. The Food Network website exclaimed that peas were at their peak of the season. This was all news to me. I live in Minnesota.

It could be another month before the lusty spring greens and other flirtatious fruits of the newly-awakened earth would dare to show their pretty faces around these parts. I couldn’t wait that long. I would be hungry by evening.

I had pretty good leads on this case: a hankering for fresh ravioli, a desire to bump up its WFQ*, and a pretty good idea of where I could find some homemade ricotta and maybe even a box of frozen spinach. It took some digging, but the spinach was there in the deepest, darkest, coldest corner of the freezer. Whether it knew it or not, I was rescuing it even as I was apprehending it.

Now that I had what I needed, I could do this. It would take time, but I had time. I had all the rainy Sunday I needed. And I had to eat something.

First, I tackled the dough for the noodle blanket for my savory filling. I adapted it from my most reliable source on the subject, The Ultimate Cookbook by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

Whole Wheat Pasta Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and stickiness
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Some would use a spoon, some a machine to do the work of mixing the dough. Maybe they’re smarter than me, but I had my own way. I got in up to my elbows and got my apron dirty. I made a crater in the middle of the mixed flours and salt right on my kitchen counter, in plain sight. Then, I beat the eggs well with the olive oil and poured that into the crater.
I mixed the whole mess together with my hands, coaxing a little flour at a time into the liquids until I had a rough dough that needed a bit of schooling. I showed it who’s boss by kneading it several times, forming it into a nice, disciplined disk and cutting it into four pieces. Divide and conquer. That dough would give me less trouble when separated, and I rolled each piece into a ball and covered them with a cloth. I let them sit that way, stewing in their own juices and thinking about their offenses for about 15 minutes.

I was getting tired, but I had to press on. I had just enough time while the dough rested to mix up the filling for the ravs. Luckily, this part proved as easy as I hoped. I just mixed these things together:

Spinach-Ricotta Pasta Filling

about 10 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
and squeezed as dry as possible
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
(and an optional spicy little number
– about 1/8 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg)

Now the hard part would begin: the grueling task of sending that dough through the wringer and getting something, anything I could use from it. I’d done this before, though. I knew I couldn’t be squeamish. I had to be tough, use rough language if necessary. I had to use The Roller Machine. It turned out to be a tougher noodle to grind than I had expected. Usually just 10 times through the ol’ #1 setting on The Roller and I had a smooth, pliable candidate for noodlensss. But this one was of wholer grain. It took more like twenty times, but I eventually managed to make a well-kneaded strip of dough ready for the next phase.

I then put on the real squeeze, rolling the noodle strip through thinner and thinner settings on The Machine until I reached the last one, #6 and had thin, raw noodles. Things were looking up, but I had to do this for all four balls of dough. It was hot and sweaty work.

At about this time, as I cranked and cranked the handle on The Roller, I began to hear “Pop! Goes the Weasel” and expected to see a clown head on a spring pop out of somewhere. I was losing it. I had to focus….

…to be continued in Part 2

* Whole Food Quotient

Final photo on this page by Harry Leckenby

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