La Lama Mountain Ovens
The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.
This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.
Family Secrets #8
Homemade Pasta Then and Now
By Ray Zara, La Lama Mountain Ovens
|I began my education in pasta making while in the third grade at the Purification BVM grade school in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. It was at this time that my mother volunteered my services to the local parish priest to serve as an altar boy. Little did I know that I was to serve the 6:45 a.m. Mass every day for the next three years! She would wake me about 5:00 a.m., make sure I was dressed properly, feed me some breakfast, and take me by the hand to walk approximately 1 mile to the church. We followed this routine, rain or shine, daily for the better part of three years.|
|Everybody in the family
looked forward to Sundays because that was pasta day in
our home. More often than not the pasta was homemade by
Mom. I guess it was because I was such a good boy to
serve all the Masses that she actually let me help in
making the pasta on Sunday mornings. Looking back, I
realize this was quite a reward because nobody ever dared
to invade Mom's kitchen. She would let me knead the
dough, turn the crank handle on the pasta roller/cutter
machine, and even let me hang to dry some of the finished
product. Pasta for ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, linguine
and angel hair were homemade. Shaped pastas such as
rigatoni, bow ties, ziti, and fusilli were purchased from
our local Italian market.
Many years later, while enrolled at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, I made my first trip through the cafeteria line. You have to understand that this was my first experience living away from home. Wednesday, not Sunday, was pasta day and it was one of the first lessons I learned at college. I can remember it like it was yesterday, looking down the food line and seeing a huge tray of spaghetti and meatballs. I thought to myself, life is not going to be too bad here, they have spaghetti and meatballs. After having my plate filled, I quickly sat at a table anticipating the same pleasure I enjoyed so many times at home. Needless to say, what I got was a plate of overcooked, mushy, starchy pasta coated with the most horrible sauce that I have ever eaten. The meatballs were no better, tasting like they were loaded with sawdust. I knew at once not to do this again, and further thought, if mom were here she could teach the graduate program in pasta making.
Raymond Zara (1938- )
Step One: Blend Dry Ingredients
Step Two: Mixing and Kneading
Step Three: Rolling and Cutting
Drying the Pasta
Step five: Cooking the Pasta
Pasta made the old way by our family only had one basic change. Semolina flour was not readily available years ago and the pasta was made entirely of regular all purpose flour. This made it necessary to rinse the pasta after draining it in the colander because of the higher starch content of the flour. Keep this in mind if for any reason you choose to make paste without semolina.
Notice the absence of water in both the old and new pasta recipes. The enemy of a great pasta is water. If you are using an automatic pasta machine that extrudes the pasta by the addition of water, you are wasting your time and effort. You might as well go to the grocery store and buy boxed pasta because that is how they make it. My advice to you if you have one of these machines is to get rid of it, because cut pasta is far superior to extruded. The pasta roller/cutter machines are only a fraction of the cost of an automatic extruder type pasta machine. They are available at any good kitchen supply house and through a variety of mail order catalogs.
My sister and I have several pasta roller/cutter machines equipped with catalog-bought, add-on motors. When we make a large batch of pasta we set one machine up to roll, the other to cut. In our particular circumstance the savings in time and effort warrant the investment.
Making a big batch of homemade pasta can be a very rewarding family-day weekend project. I guarantee it will give you a whole new outlook on how good pasta can really be. As your proficiency increases you can begin to make a few stuffed shapes as well, such as tortellini and cappelletti.
Altitude Adjustment: The cooking time for pasta requires some adjustment. At 8,000 ft. water boils at 196 degrees, requiring a slightly longer cooking time. The boiling point of water at sea level is 212 degrees resulting in the shortest cooking time. Contrary to popular myth, a pressure cooker should never be used to cook pasta at any altitude.