Here's a basis for a fun dinner party and Valentine's gift idea for your favorite cook
Story by Paul Thompson • Photos by Perry Piper
The bread of life begins as dough. Dough, made from wheat flour, is a huge part of our daily existence. It’s the basis of bread, pasta, pizza and even the hosts offered in churches as part of Communion.
As a child, it was always a fun day when my mom made noodle dough. I was a bit too young to create the dough, but I got to help slice it. She would roll out the dough until very thin on our newly cleaned tabletop with a little flour spread over it. We then cut the dough into thin strips, about 1/4” wide or less, but as uniform as the eye could make them.
That was the fun part. With only a small icebox in our little trailer to keep things cold, we ate noodles again and again over several days. The fun was gone. Modern refrigeration solved that problem.
Why make it at home?
Pasta dough is pretty inexpensive in our stores, so why make it at home? It’s fresher, for one thing. Homemade dough also has a refreshingly different taste to it. It has a softness to it, without being bloated by water like over-cooked pasta. And fresh-made-at-home pasta contains no preservatives.
There’s a social aspect, too.
I enjoy dinner parties, and shaping the dough for a group’s dinner becomes a fun, social part of the evening. Make the dough ahead of time, ready to shape. Then let your guests pitch in and take a turn at the crank. Store-bought pasta is made with semolina flour and without any egg. Semolina flour, because of its high, harder gluten content, keeps its form when made into dough, cut and dried. Pasta noodles made with other flours need the addition of an egg to maintain their shape.
Semolina flour is not in high demand for home use. I was unable to find it in stores, even specialty shops. I settled on “bread flour.” It was a satisfactory substitute. Avoid cake flours; they’re too soft, and will not keep their form when cooked. You could end up with a pan of hot wallpaper paste.
Pasta Dough (6 servings)
Combine 2 cups flour with 2 egg yolks. Add about 1/4 cup water, a tablespoon at a time, working to form dough into a ball. Cut into 2- or 3-inch cubes and process one at a time in the pasta “machine.” Run each sheet through several times, using progressively thinner settings until smooth and elastic. If dough appears too “sticky,” lightly dust with flour in between passes. On the final pass, cut the thin pasta sheets to desired width. Dry for one hour before cooking. I hung mine on a clean, dish towel-draped broomstick suspended between two chairs.
My pasta shaping machine is seldom used, but, while not absolutely essential, it makes the preparation easier and the evening more fun. They’re available in stores or online for $30–80. Give one as a Valentine’s Day gift, then borrow it.
Perfect Clam Sauce (6 servings)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup minced onion
2 - 6.5-oz. cans chopped clams (in juice)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Heat olive oil and butter in skillet. Add onion and cook until soft. Drain clams and add juice to skillet, reserving 1/2 cup. Separately blend reserved clam juice with 2 Tbl flour, then add to simmering skillet, stirring constantly to thicken sauce.
Add 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese; stir until smooth. Add clams. Pour over fresh-cooked pasta (drained) in serving bowl or platter; sprinkle top with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Have you ever made pasta at home? Would you like to?Tell us about the experience or your plans in the comments space below.
Paul Thompson grew up in Longview and after completing a speech and drama teaching career at Wright College near Chicago and enjoying retirement for 10 years in Sequim, Wash., he is making plans to move back to Longview.