August is all about the tomato…
This time of year, beautiful, sweet, juicy heirloom tomatoes are everywhere — in an endless array of shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes — all bursting with mouthwatering flavor. You need not do much with a vine-ripened tomato at its peak — nature’s perfect package.
Case and point, just slice up a tomato and sprinkle with sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and you’re all set. In fact, this may be the best way to enjoy the splendid, summer tomato.
In keeping with this theme of simplicity, I didn’t want to do much with my tomatoes. My intention, showcase tomatoes in all their deliciousness.
A quick garden tomato sauce, and I’m talking quick, just a minute or two to heat the tomatoes through, sounded like an ideal way to enjoy (and pay homage to) these beautiful tomatoes. All I did was heat up some extra virgin olive oil in a pan with a nice amount of freshly chopped garlic, tossed in a handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, and a pinch of pepperoncino. All in the pan for a matter of minutes. That’s it.
The squid is completely optional, but I happen to be a big fan, so I tossed a few rings and tentacles into the mix. Again, quick and simple; the squid needs two minutes or so to become perfectly tender. I also like the briny notes that squid imparts.
My quick tomato sauce was a nice accompaniment for the homemade strozzapreti pasta I rolled out.
Keep reading to learn how to make your own pasta at home…
A recent trip to Italy, Rome in particular, made me rethink everything I thought I knew about pasta. In Rome, pasta is served quite a bit more al dente than you typically find in the United States. Additionally, the pasta is very lightly coated with sauce, such that the pasta is clearly the star of the plate. Ever since that trip, I’ve been trying to recreate that perfect al dente pasta — easier said than done. Just a few seconds too long and your perfectly al dente pasta becomes overcooked and mushy.
Most days, I’m completely content with a good quality box of store bought pasta. But I’ve also developed a fondness and appreciation for making my own pasta. They both have their time and place.
Some days, when I’m feeling inspired and have the time, I enjoy making homemade pasta. Love the whole process — kneading the dough, rolling it out, and then shaping each piece by hand. I find the process fascinating and relaxing.
I’ve also discovered a few things in the process. That brings me to the flour…
What is the best flour for making homemade pasta? And why?
Gluten is the key protein that helps to create that al dente, toothsome texture and elasticity in the dough. Durum wheat is the hardest of all the wheats. It has a high protein and gluten content, which makes it ideal for pasta. Unique to durum wheat is its yellow endosperm, which gives pasta its golden color (the endosperm being synonymous with the heart of the wheat kernel). When durum wheat is milled, its yellow endosperm is ground to form semolina. That being said, semolina is a more coarse grind, which means it will not produce as much gluten as finely ground durum flour when kneaded for the same amount of time; thus, the reason many homemade pastas call for a combination of semolina and finely milled durum flour.
Can you make pasta with whole-wheat flour?
I like the nuttiness that whole grains impart and have experimented with whole wheat flours (such as spelt). I typically find the texture not to my liking — too gummy, not enough bite. If you want to add whole wheat flour into your pasta dough, I would advise you to start with small quantities, so the pasta retains that toothsome texture.
Eggs or no eggs?
I’ve always added eggs to pasta, for no other reason than I thought that’s what you did. But, if you want a firmer textured pasta, omitting the eggs is the way to go. If you’re making lasagna or ravioli, the pasta will benefit from the addition of eggs.
And, of course, you can add an endless array of ingredients to your dough to give it a whole new taste and look…herbs, dried mushrooms, spinach, or even squid ink.
This pasta shape is called strozzapreti or “priest strangler” (strozzare means to strangle/choke and preti means priest in Italian). While strozzapreti originates from the Romagna region of Italy, the exact origin of its name remains elusive. Anecdotally, its name may reflect the historical anti-clericalism of the oppressed people in Romagna at the time towards the Papal state. Others believe that the gluttonous priests were so impassioned by the savory pasta that they gorged themselves, eating too quickly and choking, sometimes to death. Or, perhaps, both are nothing more than old wives’ tales.
Once you roll out the pasta, just cut into strips. Next, place one of the strips in the palm of your hand, pinch one end between your thumb and index finger, and twist the free end to form a corkscrew.
Pasta with Heirloom Tomato ‘Sauce’
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound squid, bodies and tentacles (optional), cleaned, cut into ~ 1/2-inch rings, tentacles whole
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, assortment of your favorite heirlooms, roughly chopped
bunch of basil leaves, roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
pepperoncino to taste
3/4 pound dried or fresh pasta (recipe for strozzapreti below)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. If using dried pasta, drop in the water and cook until just al dente. If using fresh pasta, drop in the water during the last minute of the sauce’s cooking time. The fresh pasta will be done in just a minute or two.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and saute 10-15 seconds. If using squid, add the squid and cook about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the basil and cook just another minute or two until the tomatoes are warmed through. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and pepperoncino. Toss in the cooked pasta, stir to combine, and serve.
Homemade Strozzapreti Pasta
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons fine durum wheat flour
1 cup semolina past flour
2/3 cup hot water, more as needed
Mound the flours on a large work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour and add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork or your hand until a dough is formed. The dough will come together in a shaggy mess. You may need more or less water depending on the humidity in your kitchen.
Once the dough comes together, continue to knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Alternatively, mix in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed for about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
The pasta dough can be made a day in advance and chilled. Just bring to room temperature before using.
Forming the Strozzapreti
From Philip Krajeck, Chef at Rolf and Daughters, in Bon Appetit’s September 2013 issue
On a lightly floured work surface, cut the ball in thirds. Working with one-third (keeping the rest covered with plastic to prevent from drying out) roll out the dough to a rectangle 1/8-inch thick. Alternatively, use a pasta machine and roll out to the third setting.
Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 3″-4″ long by 1/2″ wide strips. Lay one strip in the palm of your hand, pinching one end between your thumb and index finger, and gently twist the free end to form a corkscrew. Repeat with the remaining dough.