I love cookbooks. My bookshelves sag with the evidence. Alas cookbooks can only go so far. They cannot convey feel. They cannot convey smell. They have no way to teach intuition. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can try to follow a recipe and just be wrong. I have made pasta many times from many different cookbooks and based on these attempts I have developed a technique. It turns out my technique was wrong.
Flour + Water offers pasta courses. I found out about an upcoming series on sf.eater.com. Much to my dismay the beginner class had sold out before I got to the website. With some encouragement from my wife I decided to start with the intermediate course. The chance to go to a restaurant of this quality and learn technique was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
My daughter is the best cranker in the world!
I really didn’t know what I was getting into but the class ended with dinner so I figured I had nothing to lose. In short the course is fantastic. They have constructed it to allow people of all levels to get what they want out of the class, have a great time, and meet interesting people and none other than Chef McNaughton teaches the class which pretty much floored me. Oh yeah, did I mention they serve dinner and keep your wine glass full?! Suffice it to say I will be returning for the other courses.
“Make a well… lightly flour board… elastic… little sticky… smooth as baby skin” If you’ve ever made pasta from a cookbook these are familiar refrains. They are trying but until you’ve seen what it is supposed to look like and until you’ve felt what it is supposed to feel like it is hard to know what you are looking for. The single most important thing I learned in the class was to use as little moisture as possible to form a ball. Chef McNaughton recommends adding water with a spray bottle very slowly until you reach this point. When done right, no flour is needed for the board and no flour is needed later on in the process either and yes, after you are done it feels like baby skin ;).
I simply could not wait to try it at home so Saturday my daughter and I rolled up our sleeves and made ricotta agnolotti. Actually I kind of made a beurre blanc with some shallots and added ricotta, parmesan, fontina, parsley and egg and seasoned until it tasted great. I won’t lie, making two half sheet pans of agnolotti took some time, actually quite a bit of time, but I could tell while I was working that it was turning out better than ever before.
I made them a day ahead so I froze them and stored them in some bags until boiling them for a few minutes in well salted water. I made a quick sauce with more shallots, dried porcini, my homemade tomato sauce, and some red wine. The results were amazing. Finally, I had made pasta!!