It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon over Memorial Day Weekend. Out on the back patio, Mike is putting together a shed, and the kids, for once, are playing well together. Since Mike needs my help only sporadically, I pull my turquoise KitchenAid closer to the edge of the counter where it’s stored and attach the hook. I heft my five-pound bag of flour from its perch on the pantry shelf, sending a slight smattering of the white stuff into the air to land, invariably, on my shirt. For the millionth time, I make a mental note to get canisters. This will never happen: I oscillate between getting cheap ones off Amazon or splurging on good quality ones from a socially conscious organization–and never land anywhere, so do neither. And therefore dust myself with flour every time I bake.
I measure three and a half cups of whole wheat flour into the mixing bowl, add half a teaspoon of salt, and let the hook do its thing. As it works, I crack in four eggs, one at a time, watching flour and egg incorporate. I help the process along by pouring in a cup of water, and the mixture turns craggy before coming together in a cohesive, slightly sticky, whole. I sprinkle a baking dish with more flour, tear the dough into two parts, place them in the dish and cover it.
“Alexa,” I command, “set a timer for 20 minutes.” Time to let the dough rest.
The first time I made pasta was in someone else’s house. We were subletting an apartment while our house was being renovated, and our “landlord” also had a KitchenAid stand mixer as well as the pasta attachments I’d long coveted but always dismissed as too expensive. One afternoon while my eldest was at summer camp and my youngest was napping, I hauled out the box with the dough flattener and spaghetti and fettuccine cutters and got to work. I Googled “how to make fresh pasta” and found Mario Batali’s recipe, which instructed the would-be pasta maker to mound the flour on the counter, make a hole in the mound, crack four eggs into the hole, and slowly work the flour into the eggs. In theory, one should find oneself with a cohesive whole of pasta dough. I dutifully added the recommended the three tablespoons of water, but I could not get the dough to come together. Hoping I hadn’t just wasted four free range eggs and almost four cups of flour, I reasoned that dry dough needed more water, so I kept adding a bit at a time until it seemed right. Eventually I would learn this part of the process is way easier in the stand mixer and that the best recipe is actually the one in the KitchenAid recipe booklet.
I should pause and point out here that KitchenAid claims you can make pasta with their implements in an hour. Let’s just say that first time took me a bit longer than the promised 60 minutes. Because once the dough was formed and had rested for the requisite 20 minutes, I still had to portion it, flatten each portion and actually cut the pasta. I had watched a YouTube video on how to push the dough through the roller, and my dough looked nothing like the dough in the video. The dough the woman in the video was pressing through the roller looked, well, like I imagine sheets of fresh pasta would look before being cut. Mine? Looked like burlap. The woman in the video passed her dough through the roller maybe four times. That first attempt, I think my poor dough balls were shoved through a couple dozen times.
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that you can ruin pasta dough. Despite the excessive “kneading” — which is part of what the rolling out does — my pasta turned out fine, although I hadn’t yet learned to add flour as I went, so I spent a lot of time separating individual strands of fettuccine that were too sticky going through the cutter. But no matter, fresh pasta turned out to be vastly superior to its boxed cousin. It was so delicious, I determined to give it another try, although I decided to wait until a Saturday afternoon when Mike would be around to keep the kids occupied. I wasn’t going to press my luck that Lydia would nap for three hours (!!) again.
By the end of the summer–and the renovation — while I hadn’t reduced the time to the sought-after hour, I was hooked to the process. There’s something undeniably satisfying about making a staple from scratch, about working with your hands. I could’ve used the time to listen to podcasts, which I do enjoy, but I preferred to forego the distraction and simply focus on the dough and the machine, letting the whirring of the roller and the cutter be the soundtrack to my art. And converting flour, eggs and water into pile after pile of fresh pasta felt like a huge accomplishment, something I’ve found elusive as a SAHM. Not to mention that I was making restaurant-worthy meals for a fraction of the price. Since we don’t eat out much in this season of our lives, serving pasta made from scratch allows me to have a meal that feels special without the nuisance of dining out with littles.
When we moved back into our house, complete with brand new kitchen, I decided to finally splurge and purchase my own pasta attachments. It was close enough to our anniversary that I could call it a present, although I only needed to justify it to myself. Mike had seen how I’d benefitted from the hours in the kitchen, and deemed the “gift” cheaper than therapy. Now, whenever it’s been a tough week, or if I just need to accomplish something, I pull out the box of attachments and mix together some flour and eggs.
So on that holiday Sunday, the fourth day of a DCPS five-day weekend, as the kids happily entertain themselves with the box the shed came in, I contentedly coax one piece of dough after another through the roller and then the fettuccine cutter, sprinkling flour liberally over each pasta sheet, and then over each waterfall of cut pasta that I drop into the waiting pan to go into the freezer to set.
And 40 minutes later–yes, I finally got the process down to an hour — I have a freezer bag full of noodles and a refreshed spirit ready to engage with my kids for for the rest of the evening and another full day.