Dec 21st, 2008 by Selina
Earlier this month, I attended a pasta making class at Terragusto, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago (it might be safe to say, one of my favorites, period). I truly admire their emphasis on cooking with fresh locally grown foods, and how they value quality over quantity in what they serve. Plus, their seasonal Italian food is plain awesome. The more I think about it, Terragusto deserves a thorough restaurant review in a future post!
The class focused on the basic how-to of making pasta from scratch, from the dough formation all the way to making different kinds of strands and shapes. This post will be primarily picture-heavy to document my class experience. I’ll also add commentary and notes that I took for each of the steps. I’d like to thank Lauren, the fabulous sous chef at Terragusto, for teaching this class!
1. Pre-Class: I arrived early by mistake, but it gave me time to check out the equipment. You’ll notice many goodies in this picture, such as the french rolling pin, adjustable pasta cutter attachment, pasta machine, Kitchen Aid stand mixer, salt, and dough scraper. I will mention one thing about the pasta machine – the one here at the restaurant is a commercial machine that runs about $1500 from Italy, which is a hefty investment for a home cook. There are definitely less expensive machines for under $100 in the market. I also learned that the Kitchen Aid stand mixer attachments are not the best option because, well, they were not designed by an Italian pasta maker I will explain more in Step 6.
2. Pasta Ingredients: This is the most straightforward part because there are only three items to remember – 3 cups all-purpose flour, 4 eggs, and a pinch of salt. As far as what types of flour, eggs, and salt to use, the restaurant uses organic all-purpose flour (the actual ratio is 75% all-purpose and 25% semolina for a preferred texture), local farm fresh eggs, and sea salt.
3. Making the Dough: The pasta ingredients are combined using the stand mixer on a low setting. It is entirely possible to make the pasta dough by hand, but it is realistically much less time consuming to take advantage of the machine. The goal in the machine is to get the dough worked through until the dough has a semi smooth texture. The picture here is still in the beginning stages…
4. Kneading: Once the dough is in good shape, it is kneaded on a floured surface for about 2-3 minutes to let the gluten develop, which essentially creates the soft bite that we all love about pasta. After kneading, the dough should rest in a covered container for 15 minutes (use plastic wrap to cover).
5. Rolling/Flattening: Using a tapered rolling pin, the dough is rolled out starting from the center outward, in all directions, until it is flattened to the point where it can go into the pasta machine for further flattening. When it is ready, it should be a similar width to the machine.
6. Flattening via Pasta Machine: The dough gets fed into the machine at the widest setting during its first run-through. An important step not shown clearly in the pictures is that in between each pass through the machine, the dough is folded into three (as if folding up a letter), and then flattened out with the rolling pin until it is at a desired width for the machine again. Flour can be used between iterations to avoid sticking.
As mentioned in Step 1, Kitchen Aid is one of the most widely used appliances in many professional or home kitchens, but pasta making is not their forte. When making pasta, the dough should never hang or stretch. You’ll notice that the restaurant machine has a wooden tray on the top for the pasta layer to rest on when it gets fed into the roller. The Kitchen Aid attachment, however, is positioned at a height that would allow the pasta dough to hang because it doesn’t have a resting tray. I suppose you can improvise with something, but it’s just a small design detail that makes a difference.
7. Perfectly Flat: After multiple iterations, the pasta is finally at its desired thickness (the number of machine iterations varies, depending on the machine). The dough is now ready for cutting!
8. Tagliatelle: Pronounced tah-glyuh-ah-TEHL-eh, this pasta originates from northern Italy. It is similar to fettuccine, but the width differs by a mere 1 or 2 millimeters, tagliatelle being the narrower of the two. Tagliatelle is typically 6mm wide and 12 inches long. The rolled out pasta dough is finally run through the machine’s cutter attachment. The strands can be hung to dry at this point, or used for immediate cooking. The restaurant prefers to dry it for several hours to let it slightly harden so that it can absorb sauces better.
9. Pasta Playground: Lauren showed us various other simple pasta shapes, shown below. The more common ones you may be able to spot are pappardelle, farfalle, and ravioli. Pasta scraps and edges are sometimes made into maltagliati, which literally means badly cut pasta. Why let dough go to waste, right?
I’ve always wanted to make ravioli, so I gave it a go. Since I used scrap pieces of dough, my mock dough-filled ravioli turned out to appear more on the rustic side…
10. Cooking the Pasta: Finally, the home stretch is nearly reached. After the dough is flattened, rolled, cut, and possibly dried, the last step is to drop it into salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes, stirring gently to avoid sticking. The pasta is then strained (but not rinsed!) and added immediately to prepared sauce (recipe to follow).
The featured recipe prepared in class was tagliatelle with a classic mushroom ragu. It was amazing – earthy, rich with flavor but not weight, and very satisfying. This will indeed become one of my household staples!
Tagliatelle con Funghi di Bosco Recipe (ribbon pasta with mixed wild mushroom ragu)
Courtesy of Executive Chef Theodore Gilbert, Terragusto
- 24 ounces mixed mushrooms, sliced (mix and match white button, cremini, oyster, shitake, morel)
- 4 ounces butter, divided (or a combination of butter and extra virgin olive oil)
- 2 ounces brandy or wine
- 2 cups veal, chicken, or mushroom stock
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs (mix and match parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme)
- 4 ounces diced tomatoes or 2 ounces tomato paste
- 1 pound fresh tagliatelle pasta, cooked as above
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 6-8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
- Large saute pan or skillet
- Wooden spoon
- Chef knife and cutting board
- Tongs for tossing pasta
- Saute mushrooms in butter over medium heat until brown and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Set mushrooms aside.
- Deglaze the pan with brandy or wine, scraping the brown bits off the pan with your wooden spoon; add stock.
- Reduce the stock by 2/3 and add herbs and reserved mushrooms.
- Add cooked pasta and tomato. Carefully toss to combine all ingredients to coat each ribbon, adding half the Parmigiano at this time.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper; drizzle with truffle oil, and garnish with extra Parmigiano.
The final product Lauren made for our class (arguably one of the best pastas I’ve had in a long time):
I hope you enjoyed my pasta class debrief!