Pasta made the old-fashioned way: North Fork Chef

Shaina (left) and Danielle Ross, granddaughters of John Ross, put dough through a hand-cranked pasta maker. (Credit: John Ross)

When we work with our hands with determination and love we end up with a product that is more than just dinner; it is an inner expression of love to the ones we are serving and results in an even better feeling about ourselves.

This feeling can come about in the simplest of ways: mincing garlic and shallots, peeling and slicing vegetables, setting a yeast dough or making a soup. I often reflect on the fact that each cuisine has a base carbohydrate at its cultural core, such as the potato in northern Europe, pasta in Italy, beans in Mexico, lentils in India and rice in China and Japan. Methods of cooking these things have evolved through the centuries and conjured up many historical and cultural images, often defining the dish we are preparing.

Involving your hands, your mind and your emotions in a simple cooking experience can result in a healthy, sometimes spiritual experience. Making fresh pasta with a simple sauce is one way to enjoy age-old elemental cooking.

Fettuccine
When made from scratch, this simple pasta also offers good physical exercise along with being delicious. Handmade pasta is an entirely different experience than commercial pasta.

For a small batch (about 1 pound) place 2 cups all-purpose flour on any clean working surface. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and create a hole in the middle with your fingers. Spread out the flour so that it looks like a small volcano, making sure that it is big enough to hold 3 eggs without spilling over.

Break 3 eggs and add them to the hole in the center of the flour. Using a dinner fork, break the yolks and stir them gently, gradually incorporating the flour. Continue this circular motion, incorporating more flour into the eggs until it begins to form a coarse dough.

Put the fork away and gather the dough together with your hands into a ball. It will be pretty dry, but keep working it with your hands until it holds together.

Wash your hands and dust them with flour, then begin kneading the dough by pushing it against the work surface with the palm of your hand, continually turning it over.

Knead the dough for a full 10 minutes and it will develop into a smooth, elastic ball. Flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic film. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or more.

Set up a hand-crank pasta machine on your work table or counter.

Cut the ball of dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, flatten one piece with your hand. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting and crank the dough through the roller. Dust the machine with flour and run the piece through again before adjusting the setting to the next thinner level.

Continue running the pasta through the machine until it is very thin. It will be about 3 inches wide and 2 feet long. Repeat with the other balls of dough.

Attach the fettuccine cutter to the machine and dust with flour. Crank the wide strips of dough through the machine and roll them into a loose ball and set aside. Cover with a kitchen towel.

Garlic Herb Sauce
This combination of olive oil, broccoli and herbs adds flavor to the fettuccine without overpowering it.

Mince 4 cloves of garlic and place in a small dish. Trim and mince 1 bunch of green onions and add to the garlic.

Chop 1/4 cup Italian parsley and slice 12 leaves of fresh basil, combining them in a bowl.

Cut fresh broccoli into small florets to make 2 cups. Blanch the broccoli in boiling water and drain.

Add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil to a saucepan and place on low heat. Add the garlic and onion and let simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley, basil and broccoli along with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Turn off the heat.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons salt. Cook all of the fettuccine at high heat, remembering that fresh pasta cooks very quickly. It will take about 5 minutes, but check by tasting.

Drain the pasta and add it to the olive oil mixture. Toss and serve in pasta bowls. Grate or shave thin pieces of Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese over it if desired.

Serves 2-4.

Bolognese Sauce
This classic slow-cooking meat sauce requires some slicing and dicing and some patience to let it simmer, but the aromas and the flavor are worth the wait.

Begin by dicing 1 onion, 2 stalks of celery and 2 carrots as small as you can.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add the vegetables. Cook at low heat for 5 minutes then add 4 minced cloves of garlic.

Dice 4 ounces of pancetta and break apart 1 pound of ground chuck and add to the pot. Turn up the heat and stir the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Season with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

When the meat turns gray add 3/4 cup red wine and let it reduce. Add 2 cups beef stock and 1 can of crushed tomatoes. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, then cover and continue cooking at very low heat for another 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, stir in 1 cup milk and continue simmering for another 30 minutes.

At service time skim excess fat off the surface and add 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley. Check for seasoning and serve over fettuccine. Garnish with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese if desired.

Serves 4-6.

Alfredo Sauce
Cook the above fettuccine, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Melt 3 sticks of unsalted butter in a saucepan and add the pasta cooking water. Add the hot, freshly cooked pasta to the saucepan and grate 6 ounces Parmaggiano-Reggiano cheese into the pan. Toss gently together and serve.

Note: I have used this recipe in past columns, but I include it again because it goes so well with homemade fettuccine.

John Ross