The JOY of homemade pasta

Yeah, it’s gonna sound corny to you, I mean the JOY of pasta, the joy?! isn’t that just slightly over the top?

Mais non! If you’ve had homemade pasta, joy is the only word that comes close to describing how I feel about it.

I had been planning this for months. Yesterday was probably the best day of the month that is yet to come. It worked!

I bought my pasta maker (the one with a crank handle), oh, about 16 years ago (yeah, grad school days) and the same year a friend gave me my first pasta cookbook on my birthday. It’s still my favorite pasta book. It also gets extra points because when I met my future husband, Jamie, I found that he had a copy of the same book (only his was hardcover, excusez-moi!) and loved it as much. So, my pasta maker has come out on a regular (once every two years?) basis since then and has filled many a friend’s belly and cured many depressed souls.

The story actually dates further back to 1992 when I did a one-year stint as a full-time instructor at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. I was having a hard time in grad school and needed money to go on. So, I took a year off to work full-time and save up for the rest of my coursework. I landed this job at UGA, home of the DAWGS, I know, I know, but I never attended a single game, but I never did @ Penn State either, so there. Anyway, full-time instructors are cheap labor, and many inhabited the department including a young girl from Ecuador about to be married, a feisty woman from the Dominican Republic, and this 70-year old Italian man who had been a journalist and now taught part-time so he could make ends meet. We were all friends instantly. One day, the Italian friend, who always did things spontaneously, invited us to his home for lunch. We piled into the back of his old pick-up (he usually rode his bicycle to work) and arrived at this place that had a sort of wild look about it.

When I say wild I mean earthy, real. He poured us white wine, turned on some music and then announced that he was going to make us lunch. He made pasta for us, from scratch, while we watched, and while I don’t have words to describe how that afternoon went, I have kept that moment alive by making his pasta dish to this day. It’s simple and divine.

It’s also magical, because of where it came from and how it connects everyone who tastes it. If you try it, do write back.

The Italian had basil in his backyard, used canned tomatoes–whole ones that he squeezed with his hands into the oil, and used a ton of garlic that he hand chopped (no garlic press!). The other ingredients were olive oil, salt and red chili pepper flakes.  For the pasta, he scooped out some flour onto his countertop and made a little mound, then broke a whole egg into a dent he made in the mound. With a fork, he started whisking gently to incorporate the flour into the egg. Soon he had a sticky mess that he patted down with some dry flour and then kneaded it all for about five minutes. Kneading well is really important for smooth and silky pasta.

What you see above is basil from my garden (imported from the Trader Joe’s in Torrance) that is still doing well. What you see below are tomatoes we bought at Sam’s when we were in Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta last weekend.  I had flour in my pantry and my spice cabinet is pretty well stocked for most basic things. Certainly red pepper flakes!

By now you also know that my pasta maker has been in storage for too long and was so happy to be out and in use again. One of these days I have to invest in a couple of different cutters-currently I have the spaghetti and the fettucine cutter. I could learn to cut with a knife, though, and see what bliss that brings.

I bought this pasta drying rack many years ago and used it for the first time yesterday. Before that my pasta always dried on the backs of chairs, etc. The rack is lovely. Jamie helped hold the dowel in place as I cranked out the pasta.  Once your sauce is ready, your pasta will only take 2 minutes to cook, not 20. You can have three helpings of it and not feel the food coma one feels after one good serving of machine made pasta.

Here’s what it looked like.

Oops! forgot the garnish!  Buon appetito!

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