Ah Pasta, how I love thee! Back in my college and medical school days, a group of us would congregate at a friend’s row house (aptly named Villa Ridiculous) every Friday for a night of craziness that we all called ‘Pasta Night.’ This started as a way for us to get in touch with our Italian side by making Pasta from scratch - but also recalls many a fond memory for me, as lots of other fun always ensued. From watching classy Italian movies like “Johnny Stecchino” to listening to Van Halen’s Jump played on an accordion, playing Johnny Pneumonic pinball or building stadium seating in the living room, the only thing predictable about Pasta Night was the fabulous food! Being that we were college students, we made pasta from all-purpose flour - but now that I’m old and I’ve tried to incorporate more whole grains into my life, I usually make whole wheat pasta these days. It may sound overwhelming, and as my husband’s old roommate once said, “can’t I just buy a box of pasta for 69 cents?!” Well, yes – you can – but there is something particularly rewarding about making your own. It is fabulously tasty, but on top of that it’s a great activity to do with friends and family – time for bonding in the kitchen, as practiced by Italian grandmothers for decades. With a hearty sauce and a glass of red wine if you’re game, I hope this recipe will help start many other similarly incredible Pasta Nights!
I highly recommend using a pasta maker - of course, I may be partial as I haven’t made pasta without one – mine is a manual old fashioned one requiring a crank to be turned, but there are many varieties including stand-mixer attachments. However, I think it isn’t really 100% necessary to have a pasta maker – a rolling pin, cutting board and patience will do the same thing! My most important tip for a successful Pasta Night – start a pot of water boiling when you start resting the pasta dough, so it will heat up in time to cook the finished noodles!
Whole Wheat Pasta
Mix flours and salt in a large bowl (This can also be done directly on a flat surface such as a table or cutting board – I just tend to make a mess when I do it that way!) and make a well into the center.
Add the oil and the first egg to the well in the center of the flour – use a fork to whisk the egg, slowly incorporating flour from the side. Continue to add the other three eggs one at a time to the mixture until the dough begins to come together. If the dough is too dry (it is not coming entirely together, or is cracking easily), add a little water – 1-2 teaspoons at a time, mixing very well after each addition. The dough should form a smooth ball but it should not feel sticky at all to the touch (if it does, it will be impossible to roll flat!)
After the dough is completed, it is very important to let it rest! The texture will not be right unless you follow this step. I usually place the dough directly on a counter or cutting board and place the mixing bowl over it, so it does not dry out. Let rest anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. When you start resting your pasta dough – start boiling a large pot of salted water!
After the dough has rested, divide into smaller balls, about 1-2 inches in diameter, and flatten into discs. If you are using a rolling pin, roll the discs flat and cut into the desired shape. If you are using a pasta machine – clamp the pasta machine securely to a countertop or table. Set the pasta maker to its thickest setting. Feed the discs of dough gently into the pasta maker to flatten them out.
Adjust the pasta thickness on your pasta machine to medium thickness setting – probably 2 notches above the thinnest setting- this dough is a bit fragile, so I would not go any thinner than that. Put all of the pasta sheets through the thinner setting.
Now we’re ready to cut! Using the pasta cutting attachment that comes with the pasta machine, feed the pasta sheets slowly into the cutting attachment.
After the noodles have been cut be careful not to pile them all together for very long, as they could get squished together and you could end up with a giant lump of pasta dough.
Time to cook the pasta! Hopefully you started boiling a very large pot of salted water when you started resting your pasta dough and now have a rapidly boiling pot! Add your pasta to the water. Keep in mind this is fresh pasta, so it takes significantly less time to cook than dried pasta – maybe 3-4 minutes if the water is rapidly boiling. Drain as usual and add your favorite sauce. Happy Pasta Night!