“Making pasta for the first time felt like a mature act, on the level of hiring an accountant or buying A Love Supreme on 180-gram vinyl.” –Kevin Pang of The Takeout
Making your own pasta is a joyous experience, a relaxing and satisfying escapist endeavor, the hallmark of true adulting. Why yes, this is going to be one of those annoying food blog posts waxing ineloquent about the blissful pleasures of home cooking, about the self-congratulatory sense of needlessly going to the trouble to make something from scratch. We’re going to be supercilious, just for a few minutes, while we float by the mass-produced boxed dried pasta on the “Italian aisle” in the grocery store. And we’re going to like it, dammit.
We’re going to talk about the superior taste of fresh pasta, the silky strands or shards that attract sauce so much more successfully than their dried cousins. We’ll discuss to annoying degrees the soft texture that almost melts in your mouth. And how about cooking times! Fresh pasta cooks so much faster than dried! We’ll bleat about how sophisticated and romantic we feel upon setting a bowl of fresh spaghetti strands lightly sauced with alio e olio for our date, or how we will DARE our in-laws to say something snotty after they experience the unique mouthfeel of eggy, rich fresh pappardelle tangled with slow-simmered bolognese. We will smugly fall into bed after the dishes have (not) been washed, thinking of how enlightened we are, how much we go the extra mile for the ones we love and host.
Okay. That’s quite enough. We can be done with that shit now. I began making fresh pasta about three or so years ago, and I’ve made it on a consistent enough basis that I feel comfortable blathering to you about its particulars without showing my ass. The good news is that it’s way easier than you think. The bad news is that it does take some practice, and I’ve yet to see recipe instructions that perfectly aligned with reality. There are just too many variables at play, like your weather that day, the air temperature in your kitchen, and what machine you’re using to roll out the dough. Before I scare you off, also know that there are easy fixes to all the little quirks that arise during the process, and at the end of the day, pasta dough is pretty hard to irreparably screw up. If it was, I’d have done it by now.
With making fresh pasta, you’re really mastering a guideline, and adjusting as you need to. It’s really about learning how the dough is supposed to feel, and then never forgetting or failing to make time to rest it before rolling it out like those poor Chopped contestants. (Every fucking time!). When it comes to the dry-to-liquid ratios, never be afraid to adjust and deviate from the recipe. If it’s not coming together, add a little water. If it’s too wet, add a little flour. It’s fine, you’re not going to screw it up. Knead as long as is necessary and no further. Sometimes that will align with the recipe, sometimes it won’t. Trust yourself more than the printed word.
I adapted this recipe from The Mozza Cookbook, of course written by the inimitable Los Angeles-based restaurateur Nancy Silverton, and it’s one of many fresh pasta recipes in the book. I’ve made this one three separate times, and it didn’t ever behave consistently. Yet it worked each time and always turned out spectacular and drew swooning compliments from diners, so you get my point here. For instance, she calls for kneading the dough for twenty (!!) minutes. Twice it only took me ten minutes to get the desired texture – smooth and supple, not grainy or crumbly, not wet enough to be sticky or tacky but not dry – and one time it took twenty-five minutes. I don’t know. Twice it behaved beautifully after the resting period, and once I had to sit it at room temperature about five minutes to get it to not tear when being rolled through the machine. Again, I don’t know. The point is, I don’t have to know. It always worked if I just listened to the dough and gave it what it needed. This recipe will sound complicated but it’s actually quite forgiving.
This particular recipe calls for twelve (!!) extra-large egg yolks. And since this is Italian food titan Nancy Silverton talking, we’re not going to question it. We’re just going to dutifully buy a dozen extra-large eggs instead of our usual large. But. Unless you are just that devoted to the baking of Ina Garten, you probably don’t keep extra-large eggs around and you just bought the one carton for this recipe. And you’ll need all of the eggs, which might make you nervous. Don’t be. I can assure you, that if you drop one extra-large egg yolk on the floor (and step in it – IN YOUR SOCKS!), you can add one whole large egg from your fridge, and things will work just fine.
The one caution I will throw out is that Silverton says this particular dough is meant for this particular shape, the fancy word for which is maltagliati, or “badly torn”. So I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable saying, yeah sure, run it through the spaghetti cutter! I can’t promise you that would work. The good news is, this maltagliati cut is awesome and fun, so you don’t need to make spaghetti this time. Mozza’s instructions are to carefully trim off the rough edges and cut it evenly and neatly with a ruler. Really? How about no. I used a pizza cutter to rip this into messy shards oh, roughly the same size. I embraced the scraggly, uneven edges, I made this into a true “badly torn” raggedy, rustic dish. With zero apologies.
Wild boar is unusual and lovely and interesting and so worth using if you can find it, but you can sub in lamb shoulder as a one-for-one substitution for this recipe, or you can make whatever ragu you prefer instead. I’m sure bolognese would be wonderful as well.
Wild Boar Ragu with Fresh Pasta Rags
- 2 pounds boneless wild boar shoulder
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2-3 ribs celery, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 1 tbs finely chopped rosemary
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tbs tomato paste
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
- 4 tbs unsalted butter
- 3 tbs grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tbs grated pecorino cheese
- Minced Italian flat-leaf parsley and more cheese, to serve
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- A pinch of kosher salt
- 12 extra-large egg yolks, whisked together in a medium bowl
- Water as needed
- Rice flour or semolina flour, for dusting
- Cut the meat into ½-inch cubes. Pat it dry with paper towels, then season it all over with salt and black pepper. Let it sit while you prep the rest of the ragu.
- Place a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and let it get hot. Add the olive oil, then saute the onion, carrot and celery until soft but not browned. Add the garlic, anchovy, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Lower the heat to medium and stir vigorously to break up the anchovies and “melt” them into the veggies, and to cook the garlic, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until well combined, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, and deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring to scrape up the bits of flavor on the bottom of the pot. Boil the wine until the pan is almost dry. Add the crushed tomatoes and 2 cups chicken stock and bring the sauce to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the meat. Bring back to a simmer (increase the heat if needed) and then turn the heat to low but keep it at a simmer. Let the sauce simmer until the meat is tender, about 4 hours. Be sure you stir occasionally and add chicken stock as needed if it is getting too dry. Don’t let the sauce stick to the bottom of the pan, it will scorch and everyone will be unhappy.
- While the sauce is simmering, you can make the pasta. (Alternately, you can make the ragu a day ahead and just warm it on the stove while you make the pasta.) For the pasta, put the all-purpose flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Run the machine on low speed and with the mixer running, add the egg yolks gradually, mixing until the dough comes together. Add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if it’s really not coming together. Once it’s just come together, turn off the mixer and dust a flat work surface with all-purpose flour. Turn the dough onto the floured surface and form it into a ball. Knead gently until the surface of the dough feels silky and smooth and it’s starting to feel elastic. This will take anywhere from ten to twenty-five minutes. Silky and smooth is the key to what you’re looking for. When you have achieved that, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest at least 45 minutes and up to overnight - but no longer than overnight.
- Prep your workspace before you start rolling pasta dough. You’ll need a large cutting board and pizza cutter or sharp knife, plus a baking sheet dusted with rice flour (or semolina) and parchment to prevent it from drying out. Divide the dough into 4-6 pieces, and keep the ones you are not presently using under plastic wrap or they’ll dry out. Roll each piece of dough to the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, which will be a 7 on the KitchenAid stand mixer attachment. The way I do this is to start with setting 1: roll the dough on 1, then fold it in half and roll it on 1 again. Then roll it once on 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Transfer the sheet to the cutting board and quickly slice it into rags - I went with rough triangle shapes that were not anywhere near a perfect point at the tips. Transfer the rags to the waiting baking sheet and cover with parchment. Unwrap the second piece of pasta dough and do this all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat until you are done with each piece of dough. Add rice flour as needed and toss the rags gently in it. This prevents drying out and sticking together.
- Once the meat is cooked - you can test it by removing one cube and smashing it with the back of a spoon, if it smashes then it’s done - turn off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Ladle 1 cup ragu into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse several times to chop but do not puree it. Return the chopped meat to the pan and stir to combine. If necessary, return the pot to medium heat and cook until the sauce is thickened to your liking. Once it is nice and thick - ragu consistency - turn the heat to low and melt the butter into the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Let it hang while you cook the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta rags and cook about 2 minutes or until al dente. This happens quickly! Lift them with a spider or other large slotted spoon, being careful not to tear them, and drop them into the sauce. Carefully toss or stir to “stain” the pasta with the red-colored sauce. Add the cheeses and toss again. If the sauce is too thick you can add small amounts of the starchy pasta water as needed to make it cooperate.
- To serve, transfer to bowls and garnish with the parsley and more cheese as you desire.