pasta test kitchen no. 1

i hope, my dear readers, that you enjoy reading about pasta as much as i am fascinated by making pasta.

one of my recent resolutions (if you will) was to apply the motto, “buy materials, not things,” to as many areas of my daily life as possible. one of those areas, for better or for worse, is making pasta. while dried, generically-branded cheap pasta is a wonderful thing that serves many purposes, i have too often found myself too lazy (for no good reason) to make dinner and have thrown together a starchy skillet of pasta with/out sauce and fallen into a carb coma immediately. so, by attempting to be a little more intentional with my menu planning, i at least will feel a little more self-satisfied in my carb coma.

eggless pasta is a fickle thing – despite the numerous recipes and formulas for vegan dough out there on the web, either written with words of encouragement or presented as plain fact. add to the eggless handicap my absolute lack of technique and the result has invariably been a sodden mass of tasteless, quivering pulp (my gnocchi, though, was promising, and will be written about in a future post).

prepared for the pot
prepared for the pot

this time i thought i would try making smaller pieces of pasta instead of my usual (failure) tagliatelle, and i felt rather inspired by this legit dude. i also took a page from the chinese noodle formula and alkalinized my water with some sodium hydroxide. doing so prevents the gluten in the dough from forming large chains and makes the cooked pasta chewier and slipperier, as you find in fresh or prepared lo mein. it also makes the dough yellow through a chemical reaction, which, in my mind, makes it a lot more appetizing as well as authentic-appearing.

little ears
little ears

the alkalinized dough in smaller shapes was certainly more successful than my previous attempts, so i will start my pasta-blog series here. my formula was as follows:

1 c all purpose flour
1 c semolina flour
1 tbl vital wheat gluten
1/2 c water
1/4 tsp food grade lye

note: no salt! i stubbornly added salt in the past to pasta doughs until i realized that a salted dough will absorb cooking water faster than the dough can cook, resulting in a sodden noodle that will disintegrate easily. the key is to rely on a well-salted cooking water to season the noodle.

the orchiette-making technique is very straightforward, at least as presented in this video, but it did take me a few tries to keep the knife pressure even throughout the spread.

while this resulted in a decently edible noodle, there are several amendments i must make to this formula:

first, i must get my hands on real kansui water, which is a solution of potassium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonate, to see if that has a more neutral flavor than sodium hydroxide. the lye flavor is not unpleasant, but a rather unique and outspoken bavarian pretzel note with a hint of soap. i also, most likely, used too much lye, as i am pretty much guessing at a good ratio. i also needed to use more water overall, as the dough was much to dry to form by hand. next time i might try to go without the gluten to see if it is a necessary ingredient (i only used it as i was out of bread flour, anyway).

tossed
tossed

the sauce to accompany this experiment is a classic, old-school vegan “cream” sauce made with a purée of beans – in this case, garbanzo beans. lightened with a bit of sherry vinegar and thinned with pasta cooking water, it’s a very easy, inexpensive, and tasty pasta sauce that is creamy without being laden down with soy products or nuts. it is, however, only good when it is fresh, as it will become a bit waxy and thick when cool and is difficult to reheat. but leftovers are not usually a problem, especially as pasta is involved. i also added some roasted zucchini medallions, which i recommend.

i fully intend to wrangle the elusive beast that is delicious, fresh, satisfying eggless pasta, so keep your water at a rolling boil in anticipation.

pasta e fagioli?
pasta e fagioli?

easy bean pasta sauce
enough for 1 pound pasta, fresh or dried

3 c beans, cooked, of a lightly colored variety (i used garbanzo) (equivalent to 2 cans)
2 tbl oil or vegan butter
1/2 tbl vinegar, sherry or good apple cider
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
freshly ground pepper
1 tbl minced fresh or 1 tsp dried herbs, such as parsley or chive, or to taste

– put everything but herbs in a food processor and turn on

– slowly stream in hot, salted pasta water until mixture is smooth and creamy, somewhere around 1 cup

– add herbs, mix until combined, and correct seasoning, adding more vinegar if you feel like it. combine with cooked pasta and prepared vegetables, such as roasted zucchini.

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