Fresh Whole Wheat Pasta

When spring arrives and there is an abundance of asparagus in the produce stores, I get the urge to make one of my favorite Spring meals, Fresh Pasta with Asparagus Sauce. People often ask me what is my favorite thing to cook, or what is my speciality? That's a difficult question to answer because I like to cook a lot of things and I'm always trying to make something new. At this time of year however, I realize my speciality is making fresh pasta; my favorite thing to make is this low-fat, seasonally fresh and light asparagus "pesto" or puree. I learned to make pasta in culinary school and have succeeded in making it ever since. I've taught many classes on how to make fresh pasta. There are an infinite variety of ways to change the flavors, most notably by adding cocoa powder for a chocolate pasta that I like for Valentine's Day.

The Asparagus Sauce comes from Gourmet Magazine, circa 2000. It was one of the featured Five Ingredient Recipes that is simple perfection. I posted the recipe on my old yahoo blog last year, but not with photos. Some of you might remember the recipe, but this time I took step by step pictures to make this a real show and tell feature. I'll post the recipe again here as a two part entry. The first entry is how to make fresh pasta. If you don't have the time, inclination or a pasta maker, then by all means, buy fresh pasta at the store - the best quality you can find. The general supermarket version is okay, what is better are the sheets of pasta you can find at a quality Italian Market, such as Tallutos' in the Italian Market. I suggest using either plain egg pasta or lemon pepper. Spinach, tomato or other flavored pastas will over-shadow in looks and a bit in taste the clean bright lemony asparagus flavor of the sauce. Have the pasta cut into fettuccine or parpadelle noodles - wide enough to have some tooth, but not so thin to become mushy once cooked. I find pasta making therapeutic and relaxing. It takes about 40 minutes to make, but some of that time is for the dough to rest. Gather your ingredients, get sheet trays, parchment or plastic wrap together and have extra flour on hand for dusting. You can use almost any kind of flour or semolina wheat - I've made the pasta tonight using All Purpose Flour and Whole Wheat Flour.
Directions: Mix together 1 Cup All Purpose and 1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour, and a pinch of salt onto a board or clean counter top. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.

Crack 1 large Egg into the center of the well, or beat the egg in a cup and add the beaten egg to the center of the well. Add in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of cold water.

Use a fork and begin incorporating some of the flour into the egg/oil/water mixture. Take the flour from the inside of the well and work from the inside out. As you begin to incorporate most of the flour, use a bench scraper to gather up all of the flour. You can use the bench scraper to also cut the flour and egg mixture together - almost like making pie dough.

Gather the flour together and compact it to form a tight ball. If the dough is too dry and won't hold together, add some cold water to the dough, a tablespoon at a time; don't let the dough become too wet and sticky. Begin kneading the dough, pushing it forward on the board with the heel of your palm and pulling the dough back onto itself. You must knead the dough until it becomes soft, pliable and as smooth as a baby's bottom, about 10 to 15 minutes of kneading. Depending on the coarseness of the whole wheat flour, the dough may have some roughness to it from the wheat germ.

The overall texture of the dough should be as soft as play dough. Divide the dough into two portions - either as you start to condition and knead it; it may be easier to work with in smaller portions. After the pasta dough is smooth, form each half into a ball; wrap each half lightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, cut each ball in half - again, it will be easier to work with in smaller batches. Run half of the ball of dough through the widest setting of your pasta rollers. My machine starts at #1 for the widest setting and goes to # 6 for the thinnest setting. On the first pass through the widest setting, I usually run the dough through 3 times, folding the dough over on itself in thirds. This conditions the dough and if it is too wet, I can dust it with some flour to help it set. Continue running each portion of dough through the rollers, passing it through each successive thinner setting one time. The dough will elongate and become thinner and longer with each pass through the rollers.

Before I cut the sheets of pasta into fettuccine or other noodles, I dust each sheet with all purpose flour and let the sheets rest on a tray for few minutes. It's easier to work with one sheet at a time and give yourself enough room so the pasta doesn't get crowded, clump together or dry out too fast. Have a sheet tray ready with about 1/2 cup of all purpose flour on it; use this for tossing the cut noodle to keep them from forming a sticky glutenous mass. When you are ready to cut the noodles - have your sheet tray and more flour handy.
If you are really organized, you can either dry the pasta on a drying rack, or keep the noodles laid out length wise. To keep the pasta for use later or for future use, make sure you add enough all-purpose flour to the cut pasta and toss to combine. Wrap the pasta in parchment or wax paper, forming a long cylinder and closing up the ends. Wrap the paper in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or freeze for up to 2 months. When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Generously salt the boiling water and add the pasta - straight from the refrigerator or freezer to the pot of water and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain and dress immediately with sauce of choice. Next post - the Asparagus Sauce - Don't miss it!


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