Thursday, July 14, 2011

July Daring Cooks' Challenge - Homemade Pasta

I have loved almost every challenge in which I have participated for the Daring Kitchen. There have been some challenges for which I have created multiple versions. Or, after having completed them, I have kept the recipes and made them again. But this is the first time that I have done a version of the challenge each week of the given challenge month. And I know that I will make many more variations, as it will become a part of my regular cooking repertoire.

What could I be referring to?

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks' July hostess. Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine. She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

Homemade pasta.

I have long wanted to try my hand at making noodles, but it always seemed so... just out of reach. Like the mark of a better cook than I really am. And I don't have a pasta machine (motorized or not), and was afraid that the rolling and cutting of the noodles was just too far out of my abilities. But this was the challenge, and I was super excited.

I was further excited when I saw that Steph offered a recipe for Spatzle, a pasta dish I'd never tried before, but about which I had heard a ton. My mother in law has often spoken with great fondness about memories of watching her own grandmother make beautiful, delicious and perfectly shaped Spatzle. My sister in law always orders Spatzle when the opportunity presents itself. And now I had the chance to try to make it myself. How cool! So that is where I decided to start with this challenge.

Spatzle is an egg pasta, so it all begins with, well, eggs.

I added some garlic powder and dried parsley to my egg to flavor the pasta. Once the eggs (and spices) were well beaten, it was time to add in the flour.

Spatzle dough is not a very stiff dough - enough flour is added only to make it difficult to stir with a wooden spoon, but not nearly enough that you would have to knead it. Or that you'd even be able to if you wanted to.

As far as shaping the dough, there are several options. In the challenge write-up, Steph demonstrated a method involving two spoons, basically dropping small scoops of the dough right into a pot of boiling water. Traditional methods involve a very fast cutting of the dough right off of the edge of a cutting board. There are even Spatzle making tools, which, from what I have seen, resemble flat metal discs with evenly spaced holes which are placed directly on top of a pot of boiling water, and through which the dough is pushed, using a flexible scraping tool, dropping little bits of the dough into the water below. I tried to jerry-rig my own version of this tool, using my metal colander and my semi-flexible bench scraper.

I do not recommend this method. Effective? Surprisingly, yes. But it was also messy, time consuming and a little difficult to manage. But the results?

As I scooped the cooked pasta out of the boiling water to drain, I was pleased to see that they actually looked like I'd hoped they would!

As a "sauce" for these little noodles, I used the recipe that Steph provided for a butter and breadcrumbs topping. Interestingly enough, my husband's family makes a very similar topping, though they add sugar and cinnamon, to top leftover egg noodles to create an absolutely delicious breakfast treat.

The result was an absolutely delicious side dish for dinner.

So good, in fact, that little miss requested that we make them again the following week. Actually, she asked if she could make them. So I let her, and I apologize that I don't have photos of her doing all of the work. She cracked the eggs, sprinkled the seasoning, mixed in the flour - all by herself! I handled the shaping, trying alternate methods (rotary grater? box grater? neither is a good idea...), and simply topping them (at little miss's request) with melted butter and grated Parmesan ("sprinkle cheese"). We will definitely be making these semi-regularly. And I will definitely have to come up with a better method of shaping them.

For my third attempt at this challenge, I decided to go with something familiar, but to change it up a bit. Steph allowed for a very wide definition of pasta, and one of the options that was open to us was gnocchi. I have made gnocchi several times before, and it is always a hit with the whole family. So I thought that this challenge would be a great excuse to make it again. Only I decided to try making it with sweet potatoes this time.

Because of the high moisture content of sweet potatoes, I baked them, rather than boiling them, then, while they were still warm, I used forks to "rice" them, rather than mashing them with my potato masher, so that the resulting gnocchi would be as light as possible.

Once the potatoes had cooled completely, I began incorporating my flour and eggs to make the actual dough.

I don't have many pictures of the actual making of the dough or shaping of the gnocchi because, well, it is a super messy process and my hands were very, very sticky. Little miss was quite a help. But after a while, we kind of gave up on shaping them authentically (little pillow puffs rolled against the tines of a fork to give them ridges) and just decided to make whatever shape puffs we wanted.

While the gnocchi cooked, I made the sauce. My original plan had been to melt some butter, sautee some chopped apple in the butter and add brown sugar and cinnamon for flavor. As I started melting the butter, I thought, hey, why not go one step further and brown the butter. So I did.

Oh. My. Goodness. This was like dessert, disguising itself as a side dish. The flavors of the sweet potato and the apple, the nuttiness of the browned butter and the richness of the brown sugar - little miss and I each had seconds. And thirds. And finished the (very little bit of) leftovers for lunch the next day.

Oh yes. This dish will be made again.

Three pastas down, one week remaining in the challenge month, I went for just one more. I really wanted to try my hand at making some actual, regular noodles. Steph provided us with a recipe for egg fettuccine, so I decided, why not?

The recipe calls for two ingredients.

Flour and eggs. And I decided to attempt to be traditional and made this right on my counter top.

Want to blow a five year old's mind? Dump a bowl of flour right on the counter. Then pour beaten eggs into the middle of it. I think little miss thought I was going to follow that by giving myself a time-out for making such a mess... We used our hands to incorporate the ingredients together (and needed to add a bit of water to finish the job), and ended up with a smooth but stiff ball of dough.

After the dough took a brief rest, all snuggled into a blanket of plastic wrap, we were ready for the fun part.

The dough was divided into four semi-equal pieces, to make it easier to work with.

Each piece was then rolled out:

Then rolled up:

And then each roll was sliced:

Then little miss helped me to unroll each little mini-roll:

Until what we had was:

Holy smokes! A plate full of actual, fresh noodles!!

I boiled mine fresh, rather than drying them first, and I may have over-cooked them by about a minute, but let me tell you - fresh pasta is absolutely amazing. And not even all that difficult to make. I topped our fresh pasta with a dinner of chicken thighs cooked with diced tomatoes, corn and black beans and the resulting meal was delicious.

If you have actually read all the way down this whole monster post, you deserve a prize. Or a bowl of pasta. Come on over and I'll make you some.

Steph, I cannot thank you enough for giving me the courage and opportunity to try something that has been on my cooking-wish-list for a very long time. This was a tremendous challenge and I loved every bite of it!

To see some of the amazing, creative and absolutely delicious pastas cooked up in the Daring Kitchen this month, check them out here.


  1. Incredible that you achieved so much this month! I am very impressed. I made spatzle as well and shaped the little nuggets by hand; it was a bit slow but it worked. If you discover a trick, though, I hope you will share!

    Well done on all the many variations of pasta.

  2. Wow, they all look delicious but the sweet potato gnocchi is a winner! It must have tasted delicious--love the idea of a dessert gnocchi :)

  3. Wow - well done Super Mom!
    All your dishes look like really tasty, hearty, family meals.
    I am especially excited about your sweet potato gnocchi - that just looks heavenly. I will try that with the boys later in the summer. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. Fantastic job on the challenge! I am really wishing I would have tried to make the spatzel and I've only done gnocchi once, but I'm feeling the need to try this apple and sweet potato one. It looks too good!

  5. WOW how ambitious to try them all! Great job, they look awesome.

  6. Mhm, your spaetzle looks wonderful! And your egg noodles are yummy! (Sorry, but I'm one of those weirdos that doesn't like sweet potatoes) I too was incredibly surprised at how simple it is to make pasta. Great job!

  7. GREAT JOB! The spatzel looks delightful, they ALL look professionally made! Can you send me some now? =P

  8. Fantastic job Shelley! I can't believe you hadn't made pasta before. Let me tell you it gets faster and easier too with practice. Your noodles look perfectly silky and the butternut squash gnocchi to die for!

  9. Fantastic job Shelley (and Little Miss!) !! All of your noodles look perfect, and I bet they tasted perfect, too! Your gnocchi looks divine, I'd like a whole big bowl right now please and thank you! :)

  10. Looking at your beautiful gnocchis, I'm tempted to make again. For spaetzles, I used potato ricer which was not very efficient. I think I'll get a spaetzle maker.:)

  11. You totally ran with the challenge! I'm so happy you enjoyed it. I love that your little miss liked the spätzle enough to help make them. So much fun! All of your dishes look amazing!

  12. Shelley, oh yes, I read your post from top to bottom, now I'd love a sample of each of your delicious versions of homemade pasta, please :) I specially love the one with the apples, absolutely delicious!
    You seem to have had so much fun with Little Miss, great job, both of you!

  13. I read it all and I want my prize! Sweet potato gnocchi, please, as I didn't have time to make any. I ended up looking through my borrowed kitchen and used a non-stick slotted spoon to shape the spaetzle. My advice is to get Little Miss to hold the spoon while you put the batter in, because I needed at least one more hand to do it! Forcing it through with a spatula was quick and easy though, and it didn't stick the way it does to a metal colander. Phew, if you've read all that you deserve a prize too!

  14. that is awesome and very impressive, I read it all and kind a excited to finished whole post you made about this whole challenge.

  15. Sweet potato gnocchi - yum!!!! :) Have to try it myself one day!
    Pozdrawiam. Anula.

  16. Wow, you made so many! All gorgeous. Your sweet potato gnocchi looks especially brilliant. I have a sweet potato in the fridge - I may have to try that one out.

  17. The hubby would love your sweet potato gnocchi. I may have to make him some sometime}:P

  18. Shelley, amazing three pasta preps, and I REALLY want the sweet potato gnochhi with the cinnmaon brown butter apples. That is just too good to even imagine! It's like candied sweet potatoes and apples masquarading as light and airy gnochhi dumplings. A new twist for Thanksgiving! Amazing job as always, and..we just had some Grana Padano with aged balasmic vinegar last night, as a dip..OMG.....

  19. How many great versions of pasta! Wasn't these the BEST challenge ever??? I LOVED it!!! :-)

  20. And once again I've made the mistake of reading your blog at work -- now all I want is fresh pasta! My dad used to make pasta when I was a kid, back before you could buy those metal contraptions to run it through -- and we would roll it out, roll it up, slice it then, unroll it into noodles and dry them over a wooden folding mini clothes wrack until time to cook them. So much fun!


Related Posts with Thumbnails