How are your pasta-making skills? Do you default to dry or refrigerated fresh found in the grocery store? Here’s a tip from Evan Kleiman, the host of KCRW’s Good Food radio show and the woman behind the great Caffe Angeli on Melrose in LA (which I adored when I lived there). She wrote about why shoppers should not buy supermarket “fresh” pasta.

“If imported Italian dry pasta were choice A and fresh pasta were choice B and I could only choose one to eat for the rest of my life, there would be no contest. I’d choose A, dry pasta. Many home cooks, bamboozled by the glut of fresh pasta in restaurants, have come to believe that if it’s the chef’s choice, then it’s the better product. It is not.”

Now while she acknowledges her story is about her love of dry durum wheat pasta, she also readily acknowledges that fresh pasta made well and served with appropriate sauces is a great dining experience.

Making really good fresh pasta demands quality ingredients and skill–and it’s something that with practice home cooks can do for themselves. Back in the 80s, the idea was to make it, then hang it on “pasta racks” or broom sticks to dry and then cook later. Today, of course, we recognize that you can put a big pot of water on the stove to heat and make your pasta while the water is coming to the boil.

I’m lucky in that I get to spend a lot of time with chefs in their kitchens, learning their techniques, getting their recipes. And I’ve been hanging out with several recently who have taught me how to make pasta. Each has their own technique but I thought I’d share what a young man, Daniel Wolinsky, showed me. He’s the Chef de Cuisine at cucina SORELLA in the Kensington neighborhood of San Diego. Wolinsky, who teaches pasta-making classes at the restaurant, made a simple Tagliarni with Hot Sausage and Clams. Like many of us who cook at home, he created a “what’s in the fridge” style dish. Initially he was thinking of a corn pesto, which intrigued me. But, there was no corn around that day. But clams and other seafood were. So we were going to go in a seafood and tomato pasta direction. Until he noticed his house-made sausage. Scratch the seafood. Instead it evolved into just clams with the sausage, along with garlic, and even green garlic (it was then spring), lemon juice, and white wine. Actually, there was fresh minced basil, too, which you can certainly add, although Wolinsky didn’t include it in the recipe below.

He started by making the pasta. He already had a batch of dough mixed that one of his line chefs had been turning into ravioli. This dough, rich in eggs, is a house specialty and Wolinsky felt it might be too difficult for those not all that experienced in making pasta to get right. Instead, our recipe below is a little more user friendly with fewer eggs (three whole eggs instead of nine yolks) and your success that much more guaranteed.

The noodles Wolinsky prefers for a seafood pasta like this are thin. He explained that they cook quickly in water and in the broth of the seafood component they better absorb the flavors.

When running the pasta through the machine, you’ll want to get it as thin as possible. When Wolinsky did his final roll, you could actually see the grain of the wood counter through the sheet.

The long flat pasta stretched about three feet along the counter so Wolinsky cut it into several pieces. Then sprinkled them lightly with flour so when he folded each up there’d be no sticking.

Then he sliced through the folded piece of pasta to create long, thin noodles of tagliarini.

With the pasta made we went into the kitchen to create the sauce. It was ridiculously quick. So first put a pot of water to the boil. Then grab a pan and add the sliced sausage. Sauté the coins until just golden brown on both side. If they don’t give off enough fat, add a little extra virgin olive oil, and then add the garlic. Just before the garlic starts to brown add the clams and quickly cook together before pouring the wine into the pan. Cover the the pan so the clams will steam open–it’ll take just a couple of minutes. Once the clams open, add the pasta to the boiling water and the green garlic to the pan. The pasta should be cooked in less than a minute. Pull it out of the water and drop into the pan and toss, adding the fresh lemon juice. Taste and add salt if necessary. If the dish is too dry for you, add a little of the pasta water to the pan.

At that point, it’ll be ready to plate. Pour the pasta mixture into a bowl and top with the bread crumbs. Because you can make the dough in advance, this is perfect for an impressive dinner party for clients.

Tagliarini with Hot Sausage and Clams
from Daniel Wolinsky of cucina SORELLA
Feeds about 4 people

Ingredients
1 pound fresh tagliarini (Any long noodle will work but he recommends fresh long noodles; recipe below.)
8 ounces or 2 spicy Italian sausage links pre-cooked and sliced into coins 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped1 pound Little Neck clams (Manilla also work.)
3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon green garlic (or minced garlic cloves)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh toasted bread crumbs

Directions
1. Put on a 8-quart pot of water to boil and season heavily with salt.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium/high heat sear the sausage till golden brown on both sides.
3. Add the garlic and right before it starts to color add the clams and toss together. Cook for 30 seconds.
4. Carefully pour the white wine into the pan and cover to steam the clams open, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. When the clams open drop the pasta to cook and add the green garlic to the pan.
6. Toss in the pasta and squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Season the dish to taste with salt. If you like the dish more brothy, add a few tablespoons of pasta water.
7. Plate and top the pasta with a healthy portion of bread crumbs. Enjoy!

Fresh Pasta Recipe

Ingredients
3 whole eggs
300 grams 00 flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions
1. In a Kitchen Aid stand mixer add the flour and on a low speed with a dough hook slowly pour in the eggs and olive oil.
2. Mix for about 10 minutes (Note you may need to add a touch of water if it’s too dry.). After the dough has formed wrap tightly in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the dough using a pasta rolling machine to the desired thickness and shape. He recommends longer,  thinner noodles.

Do you make your own pasta for clients? What’s your specialty?

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