This post is inspired by my maternal grandmother. My Iowa grandmother. Odd, I know. I had a Midwest grandma who routinely made pasta. And she was of Irish and Scottish stock–not a smidgen of Italian in her (as far as I know). And every time I eat homemade pasta, I think of her.
Of course, she didn’t call it pasta. She called them “noodles.” And she routinely mixed and rolled out the dough, then quickly cut it into thick and uneven ribbons. She boiled it for a few minutes, tossed it with some butter and salt, and served it to us hot. For some reason, I remember that there were always steamed fresh green beans on the plate with the noodles. To this day, two of my favorite foods are homemade pasta and fresh green beans. I could eat both of these every day and not tire of them.
Even though I grew up in California, I spent several childhood summers at my grandparents’ house in Des Moines, Iowa. Because of this, I think of myself as having a Midwest childhood. In Iowa, I went barefoot most of the time, caught tiny fish and tadpoles in the creek down the street, had a bike I rode everywhere–most importantly to the Dairy Queen up the one hill in the neighborhood–and a whole slew of other kids I hung out with all day and into the evening.
Every morning my grandmother would wash my hair after breakfast, squeeze some lemon juice into it to increase the blond highlights (this part cracks me up) and then shoo me out the door to play. I left the house and went with my pack of pals around the neighborhood, making up games, riding bikes, and chasing grasshoppers. At a certain point, we would all end up at my grandparent’s house, where my grandma would give us bubblegum (the kind with the cartoons in the wrapping), or Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches from her well-stocked freezer. Often, she would have taffy pulls, which had all of us kids pulling the hot taffy with butter covered hands, and laughing as it got harder and harder to pull. We would then hack it into pieces and suck them while hanging out on the front steps.
My friend Lisa, across the street, had parents who had some sort of connection to the local community theatre. Therefore, they had a huge trunk full of amazing costumes for us to use in our elaborate imaginary adventures. One of my most fond memories was of dressing in a big, fancy satin dress with all sorts of crystals and faux pearls sewn into it. It had several layers of netting underneath that made the skirt puff out–just like one would expect from a princess dress. Lisa and I would sit on my grandmother’s settee for hours and pretend that we were in a carriage on our way to a ball. I can’t tell you how wonderful that was for me, a kid who constantly read fairy tales and was certain that a prince was coming soon to take me to his castle.
In the evenings, my grandparents and I would sit on the lawn, chatting and getting chigger bites. We would catch fireflies. All the kids would gather in the island lawn in the middle of the street to play Kick the Can or Capture the Flag. We ate more Popsicles and maybe lit some sparklers with which to draw circles in the night sky. Or, we would all be inside, around the big walnut dining room table that now sits in my dining room here, and play poker. My grandfather taught all of the neighborhood kids how to play poker and we loved it. We used chips for betting. The chips were never traded out for anything–we just loved the thrill of using our newly-learned strategy to try to build piles of chips next to our places at the table. Sigh. Just writing about it now makes me realize what unique and special times those summers were.
And, of course, throughout those summers my grandmother made noodles. They were just another part of the entire magical world that was that Iowa house during my Midwest summers. I haven’t eaten homemade noodles for years. Of course, not since I’ve been gluten-free. But, even longer than that. My grandmother died when I was in college and at the time, I didn’t think to ask for her noodle recipe. Now, as I think about my grandparents, especially my grandmother, I want to recapture the magic of making and eating homemade noodles.
I was inspired by a recipe from volume 3 of the Canal House Cooking series by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. The Canal House Cooking series just makes me happy. If you don’t know it, you should check it out. Each issue looks like a book. There is no advertising. It comes out of the small kitchen in The Canal House, an old house on a towpath in the Delaware River Valley that has been a photo and design studio for cookbooks and magazines since 2006. Each issue has a range of recipes–from cocktails, to appetizers, to main dishes, to desserts. There are other types of recipes scattered here and there, even some for a category close to my heart–preserves and jams.
The photos in the series are beautiful. They lend a sense of a wonder to the old canal house and to the cooking series. My wonderful mother-in-law gave me a subscription to them for my birthday and Christmas this past year and I’ve been drooling over them every since. (Take a minute to read more of the history of Canal House.) Anyway, I thought this magical series was an appropriate starting place for my adaptation of gluten-free pasta since it was spurred by my memories of a magical part of my childhood.
Note: the Canal House recipe that I adapted is a fairly standard recipe for homemade pasta. You will find the same one in many places devoted to pasta. And it works like a charm! I am so happy to now have it my repertoire.
Homemade Pasta, Gluten-Free
Yield: 1 lb pasta
2 cups (280 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix, plus more for your work surface
4 extra-large eggs
Large pinch of salt
Place the flour in a medium bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
Add the salt and the eggs to the well.
Using a fork, pierce the yolks of each egg and then slowly beat the flour into the eggs and salt by going around in a circle and gradually incorporating more and more flour from the sides into the eggs in the middle.
When the dough becomes too lumpy to work with the fork, use your hands to press the remaining flour into the dough ball.
Lightly flour your work surface with additional Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix. I know that in all other of my recipes I ask that you use tapioca flour for the work surface. This recipe is different. You will be kneading more flour into the dough via the work surface. So, you want to have more of your working flour to add to the dough.
Sprinkle your lump of dough with some flour. Pull a corner of your dough from the back to the front of the lump and press it into the opposite corner of the lump just as if you were kneading (wheat) bread.
Give your dough a quarter turn, sprinkle with more flour, and repeat the kneading process. Make sure the work surface is adequately floured throughout. Keep turning, adding flour, and kneading.
The dough will be quite stiff and you will be using a bit of “elbow grease” to knead the dough. After a few minutes of adding more flour via the kneading process, the dough will become smooth and will no longer feel “tacky” (sticky). Press your finger into the middle of the ball to check to see if the inside is tacky. If it is, continue the kneading process for a few more turns. Check the inside again. It might feel the slightest bit tacky–that’s OK. You just don’t want it to be really tacky inside.
Form the dough into a disk, wrap it plastic wrap so no air gets to it, and let it rest on the counter for about 30 minutes. This resting time will give the dough and the xanthan gum in the dough time to relax a bit. You can let it rest for longer–even overnight (place in the fridge if you do this). When you unwrap the dough, you will be surprised at how much more supple the dough is than it was before you let it rest.
When you’re ready to roll out and cut your dough, unwrap your dough and cut it into four equal(ish) wedges–each wedge will be about 1/4 lb of dough.
You will now work separately with each wedge. I roll the dough out on a long wooden board (the same one I used for my puff pastry recipe).
To roll and cut the pasta by hand:
Flour your work surface with more Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix. Take your 1st wedge of dough and hand-shape it into a little rectangular block.
Place this block on your work surface, sprinkle it with flour, and start to roll it into a long rectangle. The dough will be elastic and will bounce back a bit as you roll it. Keep rolling it, making sure you roll it out to the sides, as well. Sprinkle the dough with flour as needed so the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Roll the dough until it is as thin as you can get it.
Now you will cut your pasta. You may cut it into any (flat) shape you want. I usually cut it into 1/2″ or 1/4″ wide noodles. If you really want your pasta to look uniform, you can go crazy like I do and measure out your noodles with a ruler. Then cut them with a sharp knife. Or, you can be like my grandma and just cut them out so they’re all somewhat the same width. It doesn’t really matter–it will taste delicious either way.
Pile the cut noodles into a medium bowl.
Cover these already cut noodles with a damp dishtowel while you are rolling and cutting out the others. Repeat the rolling and cutting process until you have used all 4 wedges. (If you need less pasta, you can also use just the number of wedges you need and store the rest, tightly wrapped, the fridge). The dough will stay good for a couple of days.
To roll and cut with a manually operated pasta machine
Work in wedges. Take the first wedge and form it into a ball. Lightly flour a rolling surface with tapioca flour (not my flour mix). Roll the ball into a fairly even oblong that is about 1/8 in thick.
Set the pasta rollers to the largest size. On my Atlas machine, this is setting 1. Carefully and slowly roll the pasta through the rollers, catching it as it comes out. Set the rollers to the next smallest setting. On my machine it is a 2. Again, carefully and slowly roll the pasta through the rollers, catching it on the other side. Repeat this process until you have rolled the pasta through the 5th smallest setting. For my machine this is a 5. The sheet of pasta will probably break somewhere around the 3 or 4 setting. That’s OK. Just roll each piece separately, keeping track of what setting each piece is on.
Next, roll the thin sheets through the cutters you want. My machine comes with a flat noodle cutter and a smaller spaghetti type cutter. Either is fine. Place each clump of cut pasta in a bowl (I usually make the whole batch, so it all goes into the same bowl).
You can also cut the thin sheets with a cutter and create ravioli. Be sure to brush water on the perimeter of each lower piece of the ravioli dough so the upper piece sticks to it.
The rolling tapioca flour that is left on the noodles is usually enough to keep the pasta from sticking to itself in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. If you are using it within a couple of hours, you can store it at room temperature. If you are storing it in the refrigerator for longer periods of time.
To Cook the Pasta
When you’re ready to cook the pasta, boil well-salted water in a large pot. Once it’s at a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir a gently to distribute the noodles in the water. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until it is cooked through when you test one noodle.