It seems that I've had my head buried in books too long to notice that fall has officially arrived. All of the sudden, the temperature warrants sweaters and most of the leaves are turning that cozy, familiar mix of orange and yellow. I happen to love fall, with its colorful leaves and its colder weather, partly because summer heat gets tiring, and partly because my overgrown collection of scarves has been abandoned for far too long come October. I also happen to love scarves. I'm glad I realized it's here before it was too late, and I missed out on all of the good things about fall, especially the apples.
But, since I've been nose-deep in piles of books lately, instead of much better things like tarte tatins and hot apple cider laced with cinnamon, I have not made it to an orchard yet. Soon, though, fingers crossed.
Speaking of books, today I wanted to tell you about one of my all time favorites. It was the very first food related gift I ever got, and it was given to me not too long ago. Of course, an Easy Bake oven was the object of my affection for many years and I'm sure made it onto the Christmas list more than once, but much to my chagrin, my parents never thought it would be a worthwhile investment. They gave me a Barbie car instead, in which I rode in style, with my hair blowing as much as hair can blow in 2 mph winds, far away from my culinary aspirations.
As you know, these aspirations returned in full force once I started working at the Still River Café. Soon after my inner food nerd had begun to develop, Pete gave me Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas that year. And although the Easy Bake will always have a special place in my heart, this gift was a few steps up, you could say, from the pink plastic oven of Christmas past. The inscription on the title page began “For my aspiring chef.” Best. Present. Ever. (Besides the pasta maker, and the Wusthof knife, and…)
This book is truly amazing, and if you don't own it yet, I suggest you pick yourself up a copy before I hoard them all to give as presents. It's worth the splurge, I promise. It's as much a piece of art as it is a cookbook; I often pick it back up just to look through all of the photos. For the longest time, I was afraid to put in on the counter. This is the kind of book so pretty that you want to put it in a frame instead of next to a bubbling pot on the stove. But that would be a mistake. A big, big mistake, because there is so much to learn in there, like how to make French-Laundry-perfect pasta.
This is all a very round about way of saying that the pasta maker is officially up and running. I'm sorry, I know, I could have just led with that.
I made the pasta dough a few days ago, mostly as a dry run. I practiced kneading, rolling, and cutting fresh pasta, and I'm quite certain that it might be my new favorite thing to make if I have a whole afternoon to burn, or a paper to procrastinate. And get this: according to Thomas Keller, you can't over-knead pasta dough. I'm not lying. It says in his book, almost verbatim, that when you think you're done kneading, go for another ten minutes. If that doesn't get you excited about making pasta, then I don't know what will.
I made a really quick shrimp scampi with the noodles I had rolled out, and for a first time go, I thought I did a pretty bang-up job. Unfortunately, it didn't make it into a picture, both because I was too hungry and my arms were too tired from all the kneading. But, I can tell you, the pasta was eggy, tender, and right on the verge of still being elastic - exactly what you want to eat on a chilly, fall night while wearing a big, burly sweater. Actually, if that doesn't get you excited about making pasta, then I don't know what will.
(Ripped straight, and not adapted, from The French Laundry Cookbook. Because messing with Thomas Keller's recipes would be pretty close to sacrilege, in my religion.)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
Mound the flour on a clean surface and make a well in the center with edges tall enough to hold the egg mixture without spilling.
Combine all other ingredients and pour into the well. Use your fingers to break up the eggs a bit, and begin to stir the mixture, slowly incorporating the flour from the edges. Be careful not to let the eggs spill from the well, and also be careful to incorporate the flour slowly enough so it won't get lumpy. Occasionally push the flour using your hands, all the while continuing the circular stirring motion with your fingers.
When the dough gets too tight to keep stirring with your fingers, start cutting the remaining flour into the dough. When most of the flour has been incorporated, it will look shaggy but hold together. At this point, begin kneading by pushing it forward with the heels of your hands. Form it back into a ball, and knead again. Repeat this process until dough is no longer shaggy.
Let dough rest while you clean your work surface. Sprinkle some flour down, and begin to knead again, in the same motion, until dough becomes almost silky. When you think you're done, go for another ten minutes. (!) The dough is ready with it passes the pull test: it should want to snap back into place when you pull a section of it. Double-wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest at least 30 minutes before rolling it out.