By TNFP’s Impact Manager, Grace Biggs
Any given day you walk through The Nashville Food Project’s kitchens or gardens, the incredible care put into the little details of the work is so evident. One great example? Every week, a group of friends and acquaintances comes together in our kitchens to make fresh bread and pasta from scratch for our meals program.
The group is led by long-time TNFP volunteer Rob Stein, a retired orthopedic surgeon and bread maker. He started inviting friends to bake with him at our St. Luke’s kitchens about three years ago, where they’ve made everything from challah to artisan dinner rolls. Fresh pasta is their most recent addition.
“My wife and I had been making pasta at home for many years,” says Rob. “And we just thought, hey, why don’t we do it at the Food Project? Fresh pasta normally would be considered a gourmet item… I think it’s nice that at TNFP you can say you’re sharing the best. We want to be proud of the food we’re sharing with our community.”
I’m joining them on one of their regular Wednesday prep times at our California Avenue kitchen. Today, they’re making fettuccine as an entree for fifty seniors. “We’ve gotten very efficient,” says Rob. “When we bake rolls at the St. Luke’s kitchen on Thursdays, we scoot off to the side and make the pasta dough so it has time to rest.” Like clockwork, aprons are handed out, and the team starts clamping pasta machines onto the prep tables. Though some were new to the group, an easy flow quickly develops.
Pasta making is a two-part process. First, you make the dough. Then, after a rest period, you roll it out the dough and cut it to shape, such as lasagna sheets, ravioli, or linguine.
For the dough, Rob uses a light egg pasta recipe by Lidia Bastianich, a renowned Italian-Croatian chef. “It’s a very reliable recipe,” he explains. “It’s more of a northern Italian recipe, because it’s got 2 eggs in it. In the south, they don’t use eggs at all. It’s just flour, oil and water.” To cut and roll your pasta, we recommend using a pasta machine (like this one), but you can also roll and cut the dough by hand.
Ready to try it out for yourself? Don’t be intimidated, it’s easier than you think! Below, we’re sharing Lidia’s recipe for a light egg pasta dough, plus a guide on using a pasta machine.
Part One: Making the Dough
recipe by Lidia Bastianich
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (Rob also recommends using semolina flour)
2 large eggs
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water
To make the dough by hand, measure the flour and shake it through a sieve into a medium mixing bowl. Drop the eggs and/or egg yolks into a small bowl; beat briefly with a fork to break them up. Pour in the measured amounts of oil and water, and mix well with the eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour. Toss and mix everything with a fork until all the flour is moistened and starts to clump together. Lightly flour your hands, then gather the clumps and begin kneading right in the bowl, folding the raggedy mass. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and knead by hand for another 30 seconds or so, until it’s smooth, soft, and stretchy. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for at least ½ hour.
Part Two: Rolling and Cutting
(adapted from The Spruce Eats)
Set up your pasta machine, clamping it to a table. Turn the dial to the widest setting (usually 1). Next, divide the pasta dough into four pieces. Take one piece, and flatten it into a rectangle shape and feed it through the rollers. It's best to work with a helper, so one person can turn the crank and the other person can guide the dough into the machine with one hand and catch it with the other hand.
Begin rolling it thinner by turning the dial to the next narrowest setting (usually 2). Roll the pasta through the machine. Continue reducing the settings until the dough is rolled as thinly as you'd like (we usually go to 6). If the sheet of pasta gets too long, you can cut it in half with a knife.
Attach the noodle-cutting attachment to the pasta machine. Then, feed the thinly rolled sheet of pasta into the cutting attachment, catching the noodles by draping them over your hands as they're cranked out of the machine.
Repeat the entire process with the remaining pieces of dough.
Finished noodles can be kept on a special pasta drying rack or you can scatter them on a sheet pan that's been dusted with rice flour or cornmeal. Be sure to separate the noodles and toss them with rice flour so they don’t stick together.
To cook the pasta, add a small handful of salt to the boiling water and add your pasta. Fresh pasta only takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook in boiling, salted water. Drain the pasta well and serve it with the sauce of your choice.