Friday, April 26, 2013

Marcella Hazan's Homemade Tagliatelle and Ragù alla Bolognese

It's been a pretty crazy couple of weeks both for the Boston area and me personally (in a day job sense - thankfully nothing to report in the marathon bombing sense), but things seem to be settling back down so I can joyfully resume regular food blogging.

Homeade Tagliatelle and Bolognese

Anna's had a pasta machine as long as I've known her, but except for some great (and time consuming) Thomas Keller agnolotti it hasn't really been broken out of its box very often. Part of this is due to the fact that I think dried pasta is perfectly fine most of the time, and when we want something like filled pasta we can just buy it from a great place up the street and keep it in the freezer... but I think a larger part is simply that I've been a little intimidated by my conception of the process. The aforementioned agnolotti was made entirely by Anna, and any time fresh pasta has been made it's pretty much been her deal... but on a recent weekend while she was up in Maine I decided to make a pot of sauce and try my hand at pasta making.

The following recipes are all adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Ragù alla Bolognese

You're going to want to make the sauce first... probably on a separate day because it's pretty time consuming. Granted, it's relatively hands off cooking, but I still wasn't in the mood to break out the pasta machine after a full day of sauce making. The recipe that follows is a double batch of Mercella's bolognese with a few adaptations for the home cook. Most people would cook this in a big Dutch oven... though I personally prefer my straight sided saute pan... but for either the key is the balance of volume to surface area. With something like a saucepan, with its comparatively smaller surface area, you are going to be noticeably slower in the multiple evaporation steps.

Marcella Hazan's Ragù alla Bolognese

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion diced (about 1 cup)
  • 6 stalks of celery diced (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots diced (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix (i.e. equal parts chuck, veal, and pork... or just chuck if you prefer)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes

Directions

  1. Heat oil, butter, and onion in a pot on a burner set medium. Cook and stir onion until translucent. Add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
  2. Add meat and season with a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Break up the meat and stir well, cooking until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
  3. Pour in the milk and let simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until it has bubbled away completely. This can take anywhere from 1 to over 2 hours, so be patient. You don't want to turn the heat up too high or you'll scorch your sauce.
  4. Add the nutmeg and then pour in the wine and return the sauce to a simmer. Let it bubble along, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated. Once again this can be time consuming but it should be significantly faster than the milk... about an hour.
  5. Add the tomatoes and return the sauce to a simmer once again. Here you want it to be barest of simmers... you might even want a flame tamer if you are working on a gas stove. Simmer like this for 3 hours, stirring occasionally... and don't be afraid to throw in a 1/4 cup of water if it looks like the sauce is drying out.
Pasta Machine
So once you have your sauce all ready it's time to make the pasta. I was surprised to find that making pasta is not a technically difficult or a particularly time consuming thing to do... but it's still likely you won't be 100% happy with your first effort. Why? For me it was because... apparently... nobody seems to have thought to standardize the settings on pasta machines. So somewhere between the thinnest and thickest settings (even this range varies from machine to machine) is what you want and you are only going to be able to find that by luck or experience. I made two batches on my machine which numbers its settings from 1 (thinnest) to 7 (thickest) and didn't quite get it right either time... once too thick (4) and once too thin (2) so now I know I want the third setting for my next batch of tagliatelle. In both cases the pasta was still quite delicious, but you are probably going to want some dry pasta on hand just in case you are disappointed with your early efforts.

As far as ingredients go... we actually have 00 pasta flour on hand because we're annoying food people who care about this sort of thing (note we also have 00 pizza flour which is totally different)... but Marcella says you don't really need anything other than all purpose and I suspect she is probably correct. The basic ratio she calls for is 1 cup of flour to 2 large eggs for 3/4 of a pound of pasta... which translates somewhere from 3 to 6 portions depending on whether you are thinking of main course or appetizer size or something in between. If you are confident in your pasta making then I would double it (i.e. 2 cups of flour and 4 eggs) since you can let leftovers dry naturally and keep them for weeks... but otherwise it probably makes sense to work in small batches until you get the hang of it.

If you are OCD about baking things (like me) and prefer weights then just weigh the eggs and use 1 to 1.5 times as much flour.

Cutting Tagliatelle

Not to insult all the wonderful Italian grandmothers out there, but one tip I will give you is that dumping your flour onto the counter, making a well in said flour, and then pouring eggs into it is a great way to end up with eggs on the floor. Just do it in a bowl... I promise I won't tell anybody.

Otherwise the progression is to combine your flour and eggs together until well mixed. You don't want the dough to be sticky, so be prepared to add more flour (especially true if you are using 00 flour and aren't doing things by weight since it weighs less per cup than all purpose) as you mix. Marcella says you should be able to poke your finger into the dough and not have it come out sticky.

Then you knead for 5-10 minutes until velvety smooth (possibly adding more flour if it is too sticky). After you let it rest for 30 minutes or so under a towel or plastic wrap you are ready for the pasta machine.

Multiply the number of eggs you used by 3 and divide your dough into that many pieces (i.e. 6 pieces for 2 eggs and 1 cup of flour). You'll need lots of free space from this point forward, so clear off some counters and or tables and put down clean dish towels. These pieces are going to get quite long, but note that you can always hang them over the edge of the counter.

Tagliatelle Birdsnests

Now you just set your pasta machine to the widest setting and run a piece of pasta dough through. You'll get a rectangle about this big. Fold it into thirds... like you are folding a letter (does anybody even do that anymore? might need to find a new analogy)... then feed the narrow end through the pasta machine. Repeat this process a couple of more times before moving onto the next piece of dough.

Once you've run all of your dough through the widest setting, simply turn the setting down one notch and run each piece of dough through again (don't do the letter folding thing though). From here on out things are pretty quick, though the dough gets progressively more unweildy because of its length... you just turn the setting to the next narrowest and then run through each rectangle of dough a single time. Here is what the dough looks like after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th pass. As mentioned above I've basically settled on settled on using setting #3 (5th pass) on my machine for tagliatelle but unless you have an "Al Dente" pasta machine (and pasta preferences similar to mine) you are going to have to figure out what setting you prefer by trial and error.

Cutting tagliatelle must be done by hand... just fold it up over itself use chef's knife to cut 1/2" wide strips(see picture). You need to let them dry a bit before you cut or otherwise the strands will stick together... but you don't want to wait until they are too dry or the pasta will crack when you cut it. One option for cutting is to roll up all the pasta dough stips together which will speed things up, but since 2 strips works out to once serving I just cut them in stacks of two and then, after separating the individual strands, piled them into little bird nests to dry. Note that while they will last for weeks once dried completely (24 hours) they do become quite fragile so be careful storing them.

How long they take to cook is determined by how thick and how dry the pasta is... fresh thin pasta can be done in 2-3 minutes but thicker and drier pasta tends to be more like the boxed kind and takes on the order of 5-10 minutes.

Totally worth doing... don't be intimidated by pasta making like I was! Just remember that it's only flour and eggs, so it's not like you are going into the poor house if you need to start over.