I‘m a single mom, working three jobs, and trying to keep my child healthy by serving the best possible food, and swearing by traditional methods. On the other hand, there are really only 24 hours in a day, and sometimes it’s not that easy to whip up homemade pappardelle on a school night.
I swear by my hand-powered pasta machine, and try to make homemade pasta a regular Sunday appointment, a classic Italian family ritual. But really — for those who have a life, or are still young, childless, and working long hours, making pasta at home may just seem like too much work.
The Cons: It Takes Time
Do you work full time and commute to work? Are you raising kids and simply can’t catch up with all the housework? Do you live with roommates and pets? Making pasta when you get home, or on your time off, may seem like the last thing you’d want to invest your time in.
Do you always have farm-fresh organic eggs, unbleached flour, and a wooden board or marble surface at hand in your kitchen? Making fresh pasta not only requires time, it also requires a spacious workstation, specific tools, and skill obtained through practice. Before inheriting my Ariete pasta machine, I did it all by hand with a rolling pin on my mother’s 3 square-foot olivewood board. My kitchen is a tiny space, and in order to do it right, I’d have to move furniture.
Are manual skills not your thing? Are you impatient? Do you give up easily? Making your own fresh pasta may appear like torture.
At the end of this Q&A, the issue is: Is it really worth it? Read on, please, and draw your own conclusions.
The Pros: It Takes Time
Doing the right thing and eating well starts with frugality and slowing it down. It’s important to take “intense” out of our daily routines and to carve out some time for the good stuff. Making fresh pasta may be that very first step. The slow movements and skill needed for making fresh pasta, or baking our own bread, are the basic elements of a better, healthier, and more conscious lifestyle.
Just like foraging vegetables in your own patch, pickling, and canning, making your own pasta saves you pennies. Fresh pasta can be made in bulk and frozen. Even lasagna, which if assembled and layered with sauce and cheese, can be popped in the freezer — if properly stored in an airtight container — and last about three months!
Making your own fresh pasta really requires only a few hours. I’ve timed my last fettuccine session, and from mound of flour to cooking, I only invested 2.5 hours, and that’s including a nice vegetable ragù. Think of all the things you could easily give up in exchange for two and a half hours dedicated to showing how much you love your family and yourself, while putting together something healthy and insanely tasty:
Renounce going to a movie and eating popcorn and candy for one night a week.
Abstain from driving to the mall and eating at Olive Garden.
Skip the gym once.
Leave the laundry unfolded, you can do it tomorrow.
Save the last five chapters of that mystery for another time.
Take advantage of a rainy Sunday by putting together a different afternoon activity with the kids/significant other.
Allow this ritual to become a form of therapy. It takes practice, but is so incredibly rewarding. Take it from this workaholic mess.
Find a Pasta Mentor
Cookbooks may tell you how, online resources can show you the ropes, but the best way to learn how to make fresh homemade pasta is being taught by a friend. Or, better still, a family member. Someone you trust and feel comfortable observing; someone you can question shamelessly as the eggs and flour become an art form in the age-old moves of a pair of bare hands.
There are so many ways to approach pasta-making, and so the best way is to rely on your mentor’s method. Some recipes call for no extra yolks, some add a nip of water, others omit the salt. My own Pasta-Petrarch (my grandmother) taught me by demonstrating the steps to her personal approach, illustrating how she blended the elements, how she kneaded the dough lovingly, and how to shape it all into a galaxy of dinner possibilities: fettuccine, ravioli, tagliatelle, lasagne, maltagliati…
I learned to make most of these fresh pastas thanks to my grandmother, and some I experimented on my own after some practice. When my nonna passed away, I relied on my mother, who like me, had learned pasta-making through absorption. One of my biggest successes was when I taught my mother how to make tortellini! But that’s another story.
With the instructions I provide on my blog, I attempt to be that person for whoever doesn’t have an Italian grandmother in their life. If you can follow the tips and advice I gathered from the women in my family, and invest in good ingredients, the rest is easy and greatly depends on how much passion you put into it — provided you set aside a little time.
Photo Credits: The Purple Foodie, craigregular, Author, bowenmurphy, and tschörda.