Crafting a Handmade Pasta Feast: My Experience with the Pasta Craft Crate

Food & Drink Hands On

Yours truly is a fan of just about any foods traditionally paired with red sauces. Brisket, pizza, meatballs, chicken, tortilla chips, hot dogs, breadsticks, bosco sticks, chicken nuggets, you name it. (I’m a big carb guy, if you couldn’t tell.) Pasta fits this criteria as well as any cuisine, and yet I’ve never never had the opportunity to create handmade pasta from scratch. Thanks to our Pasta Craft Crate, I recently rectified this grievous oversight with what many critics (my stomach) are saying is “a breathtaking debut for the novice Italian chef.” (I’m Irish.)

For maximum reader accessibility (and because it was snowing and I didn’t want to go to the store), I wanted to try my hand at a handmade pasta recipe without having to pick up too many extra ingredients not included in the crate. After searching through the spectacular “Pasta By Hand” cookbook by the great Jenn Louis (Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2012, no big deal), I settled on a cavatelli recipe using the semolina mix from the crate.

Seriously, this cookbook is fantastic. More than 65 pasta—and sauce—recipes, great photos and detailed, easy-to-follow instructions. Plus each page highlights on a little map of Italy the region of the recipe’s origin, so you can impress your dinner guests with in-depth geographical knowledge. This pasta is from “the top part” of Italy. ::oooohh, aaaahh::

Making the Pasta
To transform semolina flour into the gorgeous dough needed (avoided the pun there, you’re welcome) to craft cavatelli, one must combine it with a bit of salt, olive oil and boiling water. While I am lucky enough to have access to a Kitchen Aid mixer (with a dough hook!), I eschewed this fancy appliance in favor of my own two hands. We’re making handmade pasta, after all, not some assembly line dreck! What is this, amateur hour?

Indeed it was amateur hour!

Perhaps the lack of elderly Italian aunts in my life put me at a disadvantage in terms of knowing the secrets of mixing dough. So my attempt was a total catastrophe. Sheepishly, I pulled out the whiz-bang electric mixer which, of course, worked like a charm.

Gnocchi Notes
With the dough mixed (and hand-kneaded for a little confidence boost), I was ready to roll it up, prepare some chunks and start working the gnocchi board, second only to the ouija board in terms of mystical powers.

In retrospect, I was probably too gentle with the gnocchi. Tom Colicchio would have taken one look at these shallow ridges and sent me packing.

 

(Sean Connery in Finding Forrester voice) PUNCH THE GNOCCI, FOR GOD’S SAKE!

Boiling the cavatelli was quick and easy. Plop the first batch of dumplings in, wait a few minutes until they float to the top, then wait another minute or two and scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Bing, bang, boom, you’re boiled, Ed.

Safety first and all that, but sometimes I like to play fast and loose when dropping stuff in boiling water. Let a sprinkle (or two) splash onto my hands, kinda tease the edge of the danger zone. Really get the juices flowing.

As I was leaning on the stove, I looked up at the TV playing in the background. An old episode of Shark Tank was on, and some guy was pitching gluten-free “pasta,” which was apparently made from vegetables. I shuddered at the thought and prepared to enjoy my carbohydrates the old-fashioned way: doused in sauce and devoured in excess.

The Feast
Once the dumplings settled in the water, I scooped them out and let the excess water drain in a mesh bowl. I had the Mezzatta™ Truffle, Porcini & Cream marinara sauce warming in a small pot on the stove (old hockey trick). Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese and some leafy greens (mostly for aesthetic purposes) and I had myself a proper meal—handmade pasta from scratch.

Full disclosure: This portion represents about 1/5 the amount of pasta I ate that night—and 1/10th the sauce. This was my attempt to make it look photo-worthy and dainty, but the reality is I probably downed a full pound of that delicious gluten. No regrets.

What I’ll Do Differently Next Time
Below, a few thoughts from my first foray into handmade pasta. Hopefully these will be helpful tips for you, your friend or your loved one:

  • In my haste to quicken the thickening of the dough, I added a little extra boiling water to the mix. This resulted in slightly sticky dough, making it tough to roll and form into chunks. I avoided this temptation the second batch, and the results were ::kisses fingers:: muaaah.
  • Press the gnocchi more firmly. Holy smokes, I might lose sleep over my weak gnocchi-pressing from this go-round. Embarrassing.

The best thing about the Pasta Craft Crate is that it is what you make it. The tools and recipes are there for seasoned veterans to create elaborate dishes, yet it’s just as accessible for a rookie willing to try something new for dinner. Overall: 10/10 would recommend for chefs of all experience levels.

Give the gift of delicious Italian meals here.

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