Spring Forward to Pasta

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | april 2017

I don't know what's worse, ridiculously undercooked pasta or violently overcooked pasta. I'm sure you've experienced both as I have, and I want nothing to do with either one. It's cool to say "al dente" when it comes to pasta, as this is basically Italian law when it comes to texture, but what exactly is it? "Al dente" means "to the tooth" which translates to a slightly firm, but not too firm, texture of pasta when you bite into it. Now that we know the definition, let's dig into how to pull it off.

I have no problem with dried pasta and use it regularly, but the first time I had fresh pasta, made from scratch with only a few simple ingredients, I had one of those culinary epiphanies that opened up a whole new world of creative applications that changed my life. With a minimal investment into a hand-cranked pasta machine, homemade ravioli now became a culinary outlet that gave birth to such creations as wild mushroom and Brie, lobster and Asiago with fresh herbs, and pumpkin black walnut with smoked Gouda.

Fresh pasta can be compared to a canvas in the hands of an artist; it is waiting for an idea, an image, an inspiration that is limited only by the artist's imagination to turn it into a culinary masterpiece with a little color and depth. To this day, the simplest and most effective way to make fresh pasta is as old as the rolling hills of Tuscany and comes together on just about any flat surface in minutes. The trick is to treat it like an infant and let it take naps in stages throughout the afternoon. With only a few ingredients (flour, eggs, salt, a dash of oil and maybe a splash of cold water) it's important to make sure each ingredient is treated properly to achieve the best results. The whole texture of the pasta is achieved NOT when you're working with the dough, but when and how long you leave it alone.

Wheat flour has gluten in it, and this is like the finicky baby that needs naps to relax the tension and stress away. Gluten needs to rest and be rolled out in stages so the texture is silky and "to the tooth." If you force that recipe to save time, and you jam it through the pasta machine before it's well rested, you are going to have what I call "colicky pasta." Be a good babysitter and put that pasta down for a nap.

Fresh Pasta

On a large clean and dry work surface, place 2 1/2 cups All purpose flour in the center of the work surface, then make a fist and press down into the center of the flour and make a light circular motion to clear out the center of the mound of flour to create what looks like a volcano. Into the center of the volcano add:

3 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Using a fork, start to stir the center of the egg mixture and slowly start moving outward to the edge of the flour walls and gently and slowly start bringing the edges of the flour wall into the egg mixture. Be careful not to break through the flour wall or you will have a big mess. The flour will start to form a big clumpy ball and that's what you want. To knead the dough, place the dough an a lightly floured surface and begin to push down on the center of the dough with force and then bring the sides to the center and press down again and again for about 10 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap; let it rest on the counter for an hour, then repeat the kneading process for 2 - 3 minutes. Wrap it one more time, let it rest for an hour and you're ready to roll. Run it through a pasta machine to make linguine or angel hair, or roll out sheets and create a ravioli filling. Fresh pasta only needs to cook for 2-3 minutes in boiling salted water. Enjoy!


Chef Andy Mueller is a well-seasoned Chef with over 30 years in the restaurant business. He's been on Food Network with Guy Fieri, was Reggie White's personal chef during their Super Bowl run in 1996 and has been Executive Chef at Zimani's in the late '80s, the original Executive Chef at Black & Tan Grille the first four years of operation and owned restaurants in Door County including Glidden Lodge restaurant north of Sturgeon Bay and Hillside Restaurant in Ellison Bay. He currently owns the massively popular supper club "Galley 57" in Allouez at 2222 Riverside Dr.

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