May I share a little story with you about the first time I made my own pasta noodles?
Well, a few years ago, my baking assistant gifted me the pasta attachments for my Kitchenaid. I was pretty excited to make my own fresh noodles, so I quickly got to work online looking for recipes and advice on how to make it happen. One Sunday afternoon, I had my attachments, recipe, and new fancy flour all ready to go. From there, things got pretty discouraging. As I fed the dough through the machine, it was turning into a clumpy mess. My baking assistant was standing behind me and was just as excited to watch the pasta magic happen, but soon got scolded out of the kitchen. Soon after that, the mess was thrown out and we picked up a pizza for dinner.
I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of making my own pasta, so I kept looking, and soon found The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles from the experts at Cooks Illustrated. If only I’d known how easy it could be. I didn’t need fancy flour or other ingredients; I only needed flour and eggs. That was it. Since trying their formula of 2 cups flour to 3 eggs, I’ve turned out delicious noodles every time.
My favorite way to prepare the noodles is from another food expert, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, in her book How to Eat Supper from The Splendid Table. In this lovely cookbook, Lynne explains that to make fettuccine alfredo, there is no need to prepare a separate sauce to pour over the pasta. Instead, the cooked noodles are tossed in a large sauté pan with a few simple ingredients to create a sauce right in the pan. And that’s where the magic happens.
1 lb. fettuccine noodles (fresh, refrigerated, or dried)
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 ½ to 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper
Whatever optional mix-ins you like, such as grilled chicken or shrimp, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, or fresh herbs
Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil. It should taste like the ocean. Drop in the pasta and boil, stirring often, until it is slightly undercooked. Fresh pasta will take about 5-7 minutes. Just before draining the pasta, dip a heat-safe cup into the pot and remove about ½ cup of the cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta into a colander.
As soon as the pasta goes in the water, put the butter in a 12-inch sauté pan and place it over medium-low heat. When it’s just melted, turn off the heat.
Once the pasta is draining, reheat the butter over medium-high heat. Turn the pasta and cream (or half and half) and any mix-ins you are using into the sauté pan. Toss everything to thoroughly coat the noodles, 2-3 minutes. There should be very little cream remaining in the pan.
Turn off the heat and toss in the cheese, about ½ cup at a time. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved cooking water one tablespoon at a time and stir until it reaches the desired consistency.
Serve right away.
Fresh Fettuccine Noodles
2 cups flour
3 large eggs
Pulse the flour a few times in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the eggs, and process just barely until the dough forms a shaggy ball, about 30 seconds. If the dough continues to resemble small pebbles, add water ½-teaspoon at time. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. The measurements indicated have always worked perfectly for me.
Dump the dough ball and remaining pieces out onto a dry work surface that is lightly coated with flour. Knead until the dough is smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes and up to 2 hours to relax.
Tear off about 1/6 of the dough and flatten into a thin disk. Cover the remaining dough with the plastic wrap. Run the small piece of dough two or three times through the widest setting of a pasta machine. Bring the ends of the dough toward the middle (as though you’re preparing a letter for an envelope) and press to seal. Run the dough, with the short, open side first, through the widest setting again. Fold, seal, and roll through again. Now without folding, run the pasta through the widest setting about two more times, until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too sticky, dust it lightly with flour. Repeat running the dough through the machine two or three times on each setting (without folding) until the dough reaches your desired thickness. The outline of your hand should be visible through the dough sheet. Lay the sheet on a clean kitchen towel, and cover with another towel to keep it from drying out. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough.
Once all the sheets have been formed, switch to the fettuccine cutter. Turn on the machine and run a sheet of dough through the cutter. Separate the noodles and lay them on a kitchen towel covered with another towel. Repeat with the remaining sheets. The pasta is ready to cook. If you’re not ready, you can leave it between the towels for several hours.