Everyday Pasta Dough ("Pasta all Mane")
4 cups flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups water*
* Measurement is approximate
Step 1. To make home-made pasta the old-fashioned way you put the 4 cups or so of flour on a floured wooden board, gather it all up into a mound, make a well or hole in the center, then add water a little at a time, slowly mixing the water and flour.
Step 2. Form the mixture into a thick ball of dough. Continue mixing until the ball of dough cannot absorb any more water (if the dough is too dry add more water, if it's too wet, add more flour).
Step 3. Knead the dough on the well-floured wooden board for about ten minutes.
For those who have a Kitchen Aid or any other type of electric kneader, the process is ridiculously simple and no explanation is required.
Step 4. When you have a pasta dough that is smooth and malleable, form a ball and then place it under a container. Place a kitchen towel over the container (to keep it warm).
Step 5. Let the dough rest for an hour or two at room temperature.
Step 6. Knead the "rested" dough for four or five minutes.
Step 7. Let the "rested" and "re-kneaded" dough rest for another two to three hours (Of course, if you're in a hurry, you can avoid Step 7. In fact, you can also avoid Step 6. Letting the dough "rest" simply makes it easier to roll out. If you're going to use a pasta maker to roll out the dough (instead of a rolling pin), any dough, whether it's "rested" or not, will get get rolled out to the desired thickness, so it's not necessary to let the dough "rest." However, if the dough does rest, you will get a more malleable dough.
Step 8. Take a piece of "rested" dough (about 2" x 2"), flatten it with your hands, and then pass it through the pasta maker at the widest setting. If it doesn't come out nice and smooth, flour the pasta sheet and pass it through the pasta machine again (The process of passing the dough through the pasta machine, besides flattening it out, also "kneads" it).
Step 9. Adjust the pasta machine to a smaller setting, and pass the pasta sheet through the roller once again, until you get the desired thickness.
Step 10. Cut the pasta into the shape that is required for the dish.
Step 11. Let the pasta dry a little and cook immediately. Or, the pasta can be frozen.
Step 12. To freeze the cut pasta spread it on a cookie sheet and store in the freezer.
Step 13. When the cut pasta is completely frozen (wait at least two hours), then put it in a strainer, and strain out any excess flour still clinging to the pasta (The less excess flour you have, the easier it will be for them to cook later on in the boiling water.).
Step 14. Place the frozen pasta in a plastic bag (Now that the pasta pieces are nicely frozen they will not stick to each other). Place the cut frozen pasta in the freezer.
Step 15. When needed, take the cut pasta pieces out of the freezer and cook them in a large pot of boiling water. Let them cook for about five to six minutes (You can take them out when they rise up to the surface, but many people prefer to cook them a bit longer so that they'll be softer.).
Step 16. Toss the cut pasta with a favorite sauce.
Step 17. Serve warm.
Prior to World War II pasta dough made for everyday consumption was considered so low in the pasta hierarchy it didn't even have a name. Generally people just called it "pasta all mane" or "pasta e mane" -- meaning, pasta made with one's hands. The pasta made for special occasions was called "pasta all' uovo" -- "pasta with eggs." That pasta dough contained eggs and so cost more to make, and therefore it was rarely made (Except for Christmas, Easter and weddings etc.). For "everyday pasta" flour and water were all that were needed to make it -- salt was not added. Despite its humble ingredients "pasta all mane, pasta made by hand" or "pasta for everyday" tastes just as good as "pasta all' ouvo". In fact, some people might prefer it over "pasta all' ouvo." "Pasta for everyday" has a surprisingly sweet flavor -- a flavor which store-bought dried pasta lacks. Fresh home-made pasta is a hundred times -- No, a thousand times! -- better tasting than store-bought dried pastas. In fact, even the "fresh" pastas that are sold frozen in high-end Italian pastry shops don't measure up to the real thing. For a pasta to retain its full flavor, it has to be served the same day it is made. Labor-intensive? You bet it is. Is it worth the trouble? Hard to say. The fact is for most North American pasta dishes, the sauce is The thing. For those pasta dishes that are drowned in rich cream sauces or topped with expensive sea food, dried pasta is quite O.K. (Can't taste it anyway), but for the traditional Southern-style pasta dishes that are tossed with fresh garden vegetables, then home-made pasta makes a world of difference and so, is worth doing. Back in the old country (in the old days) children (and grown-ups!) had no problems eating their vegetables as they were served with home-made pasta -- a really nice combination. I suspect the sweet taste of the home-made pasta drowned the not-so-sweet taste of the vegetables, making everyone happy. Photo: Mary Melfi.