The Boyfriend has been killin’ it lately present-wise. For Christmas he got me a Nespresso machine which I like fine … by which I mean, I use it every single day and it’s amazing and it has basically changed my life for the better. (Except that I spilled my nespresso three times last week before I had taken a single sip because it takes coffee to make coffee, people.) But he outdid himself for my birthday this year! He got me two tickets to a real life, grown up cooking class. And he came with me! I know, I know, what a hero. He got the first assignment of the class and it went a little something like this:
Instructor: “Here, Boyfriend, drizzle about three tablespoons of olive oil on this tray of vegetables.”
Boyfriend: (pouring olive oil, speaking out of the side of his mouth to me) “What is a tablespoon?”
He actually got it basically perfect. He’s a natural! Also, the class was fantastic and really fun and I learned a ton (which I am obviously going to tell you about, geez louise, hold your horses).
We took the Taste of Tuscany class at Rustico Cooking School in midtown, just below Bryant Park. The teacher, Micol, was smart and funny, and clearly knew what she was doing in the kitchen — and she wanted us to learn the fundamentals of cooking, not just the recipes. Which was awesome. For example, when you’re making a sauce for roasted chicken, you heat the oil and cook the onions until they’re translucent. Then you add in a little flour and keep cooking until it stops smelling like flour, then you add some wine and keep going until it stops smelling like wine, and then some chicken stock and keep going until the sauce thickens up a bit. Micol didn’t want us to learn to follow the instructions, she wanted us to learn how to cook. It was the best birthday gift, and I really can’t recommend it more highly.
So while we watched Micol demonstrate each technique, and then made ourselves dinner with her looking on and giving us tips and instructions, I learned a few new rules:
Rule 1: When you’re dressing a salad, always dress with the acid first and the oil second. If you start with the oil, the acid will just slide off and pool at the bottom of the serving bowl. (Ok, it makes total sense but also, whoa mind = blown.)
Rule 2: Similarly, boil your pasta in salt water, but don’t add any olive oil to the cooking water. The olive oil will make the pasta slick and keep the sauce from sticking.
Rule 3: When you’re done boiling pasta, don’t rinse it under cool water to stop the cooking. You’ll wash all of the starch off and the sauce won’t stick to the pasta. Instead of stopping the cooking as soon as the pasta comes out of the water, just take it out a bit earlier to account for the fact that it will keep cooking after it’s out of the pot.
We also learned to make a roasted chicken dish that would be perfect for a big crowd (a variation on that recipe coming soon!) and some fantastic little single-serving olive oil cakes. But the real kicker was homemade pasta. (Insert three clapping hand emojis here.) It was so fun, and I learned a few pasta-specific rules:
Rule 4: Incorporate all of the flour before you decide whether or not to add more. The dough will be sticky right up until the end. You probably won’t need more flour, but don’t make any rash decisions.
Rule 5: Don’t wash your hands. It sounds gross, but the eggy proteins that stick to your fingers while you mix are crucial to the dough. If you wash your hands, the dough won’t stick together right and you’ll have just a bit too much flour. Instead, wash really well before you start and keep scraping the dough off your fingers and back into the mix until your fingers are mostly clean. I caved a the end and washed my hands, but not until longer after this happened:
And then Micol showed us how to knead the dough (and, more importantly, when to stop kneading) and how to use a pasta roller to get perfect, delicate noodles.
So, anyway, props to the Boyfriend, best birthday present ever, the gift of knowledge, the gift that keeps on giving, and all that. (He also got me a fancy, schmancy pasta roller which means I will make this pasta a lot at home which really is a gift that keeps on giving.) And also, you screwed yourself a little bit on this one, Boyfriend — good luck topping this gift next year.
- 200 grams (1½ c.) all-purpose flour
- 200 grams (1⅓ c.) semolina flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 batch of asparagus pesto, made with pistachios instead of walnuts
- Clear a large, clean space to make the pasta dough. Wash your hands very well and take off your rings.
- Form the flours into a pile, with a well in the middle.
- Crack the eggs into the well.
- Gather your fingers into a little bundle with all your fingers straight.
- Use your straight fingers to stir up the eggs. A little bit of the flour with incorporate into the eggs from the edges. If you stir near the edges, where the eggs meet the flours, you'll get more flour into the mix.
- Once the mix is thick enough that it won't run off the edge of the cutting board, you can just mix all of the flour into the egg mixture. This sounds gross, but don't wash your hands while you're mixing the dough together. The eggy mixture from your fingers is the last bit of crucial wetness for the dough. Just rub your fingers together to scrape the dough back onto the pile until the dough has come together.
- Once the egg and flour are fully combined, knead the dough together for 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth all the way through and no longer sticky.
- Place the dough ball under a bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, cut the dough into four quarters.
- Start with one of the quarters -- flatten the dough into a flat rectangle and run it through your pasta roller on the 0 setting. (The roller has number settings 0 - 9 and they get increasingly thin as the number increases.)
- Fold it into thirds and pinch the corners and pull to flatten the folded dough a bit. Run it back through the roller on the 0 setting. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
- Then run the dough through the roller on each number setting until you get the pasta as thin as you want it to be. (I took this batch all the way to 9 and it was a little too thin. Next time, I'll try it only up to a 7 or so.)
- Once the pasta sheet is as thin as you want it to be, run it through the pasta cutter. I ran mine through a fettucini cutter for nice, thick noodles.
- Set them aside until they are all cut and then toss into a large pot full of boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes, until cooked through on the outside and slightly al dente.
- Toss with sauce (don't rinse with cool water!) and enjoy!