This is gonna be a pain in the ass. There’s no sense in dancing around it. I’m used to framing tedious excursions in the friendliest terms—to the point of being outright dishonest—to my kids so that they won’t complain about all the shit kids usually complain about: long car rides, etc. But you aren’t my kid, so I can be straight with you here. Making pasta BLOWS.
I know this because my wife and I have a sordid history with making our own pasta. When we lived in a studio apartment in New York back in the early ’00s, my wife tried making gnocchi from scratch one night and was so traumatized by the process that, to this day, she refers to it as The Gnocchi Incident. Because of The Gnocchi Incident, she won’t make pasta herself ever again. I told her the gnocchi she made that night tasted good, but she refuses to believe it.
Early on in the pandemic, I tried making gnocchi myself. This was during the whole LET’S MAKE STARCHY THINGS! phase of quarantine that every online yuppie went through. The gnocchi tasted good. I fucking hated making them. Like my wife, I swore off making pasta. A good Italian restaurant, whenever I got to see the inside of one again, could make it better than me. I was more than willing to pay the mark-up to avoid the labor.
But then came this week. My wife’s birthday was the other night and I wanted to make her something nice for dinner. Something that showed I cared. By honest coincidence, my wife’s friend Carmella, who owns a pasta business and retail store in Durham, N.C., sent us a copy of her new cookbook, which goes on sale on Election Day. This is a good cookbook. I perused it with every intention of making the sauce recipes for it and bailing on the making-pasta-from-scratch part, because I had been hurt before. Then again, I had to show my wife I cared. And what better way to show your love than to slave over a wad of sticky-ass pasta dough, with NO guarantee it’ll turn out edible?
I made the goddamn pasta. Carm’s book included recipes and techniques for stuffed and extruded pastas, but thanks to Bill Buford’s legendary cooking memoir Heat, I was scared shitless of those. I also do not own the fabled KitchenAid stand mixer, which apparently has some kind of pasta extrusion attachment. All I had were my own two hands. Thus, I needed to apprentice with simple cut pasta first. Here were the ingredients:
- 2 cups flour, unbleached
- ½ cup warm water OR 3 eggs
Sounds simple, right? Only two ingredients. So pure. THAT’S HOW PASTA GETS YOU. Beer only has three ingredients if you go by the fabled German purity law, but it’s still a complete pain in the ass to brew. Pasta is similarly annoying. But I was undeterred. I had boxed pasta on hand in case this effort went to hell, and I fully expected to turn to it early in the game.
I began. I went with eggs instead of water for the wet part because why wouldn’t I? I sifted the flour like a true pro and dug my little well in the center of the pile, like I was making a model volcano in grade school. I whisked the eggs in a separate bowl and then slowly poured them into the well, incorporating more and more of the flour into them. My arm started hurting. Ever since I was a kid, my mom has had a cooking arm that allows her to mix, stir, and beat ingredients furiously without ever wearing down. I do not have this cooking arm yet. Midway through the stir, I had to stop and shake my arm out, like a pitcher keeping loose between batters.
Finally, I had an acceptable ball of dough that was springy to the touch. I wrapped it in Saran Wrap and let it sit for 30+ minutes on the counter to let the tussin soak in. Then I ate some chips and dip, staring at the dough ball. Fearing its needs.
I had to roll the dough. I suck at rolling. Everything sticks to everything and I end up swearing 500 times in distilled rage. This was because I have no formal training for rolling pasta dough. All I had was a rolling pin, which I used to assume would magically roll any dough and get it to stay. This is not how dough works. Dough is a stubborn, chaotic thing. If I wanted any chance of success, I needed to closely hew to Carm’s rolling instructions. Flour a board. Flatten the dough into a disc. Roll the dough by “pushing it away from you” and turning it a quarter turn frequently. If the dough sticks, and this bit is crucial, rub some flour on it. You can do this with pasta because any loose flour will slough off in the boiling water. So I kept a little bowl of emergency flour next to me as I rolled, and rolled, and rolled. Both my arms got sore. Rivulets of sweat dripped from my face ONTO the dough, requiring another dusting of flour.
The sheet had to be 1/16th of an inch thick by the time I was done. Took 20 minutes and cutting the dough into four separate parts to get there, but I finally achieved proper thinness. Each sheet was abnormally shaped, like I had four different states on my counter. I cut the sheets into ribbons with a pizza cutter and then piled them into a loose stack. It almost looked professional, save for the fact that no two ribbons were the same width. Then I whipped up an asparagus cream sauce from the book and brought a separate pot of water to a roiling boil.
“God, I hope these noodles don’t stick together.”
They did not. They cooked up in three minutes, I finished them in the sauce, and VOILA.
I did it. I made pasta. And it was fucking GOOD. This was some shit I would have paid $24 for in a restaurant. It was the best thing I’ve eaten since the pandemic started. There’s no way to say that without sounding boastful, so fuck it: I’M A BIG BAD PASTA BOY NOW. A goodfella. A paisan. I spent my wife’s entire birthday dinner saying, “This is really fucking amazing!” and I kept saying it after we were done. HOW BOUT THAT PASTA, HONEY? She saw this bit coming a mile away and had her eyes pre-rolled for it. Whose birthday was it, exactly?
I’m still thinkin’ ’bout that pasta. I have more dough still sitting in the fridge for tonight. Rolling it out will suck but I am no longer daunted. I know it’ll be worth it. I no longer fear pasta. And if my sorry ass can make it, then so can yours.
Don’t make homemade donuts, though. Those are a true fucker.