One of my favorite gifts from last Christmas was a pasta machine. Hard to believe that we didn’t already have one until then! Fresh pasta is not something that one could really whip up any day of the week- it is hardly “easy” or “quick”, but it is certainly fun to do once in a while. Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night, Boyfriend and I will opt to cook a complex meal at home rather than go out. For us, it’s just as fun.
A few days ago, after we had some leftover pesto waiting around in the fridge, we decided to pull out the pasta maker and get our hands dirty. Quite literally.
Fresh pasta is one of those dishes that requires a lot of labor and love, and is ultimately quite rewarding. You can really taste the difference when you are eating a hand-cut pasta dish versus one that came from a box. Boyfriend & I don’t eat pasta very often, and perhaps for that reason- it’s too much effort for a random weeknight meal to hand-cut our pasta, but it’s just not really worth it for the stuff in Aisle 4. This is similar to why we hardly go out for Italian food. Most restaurants that claim to be “Italian” are really just Americanized dishes. Anyone can make a mediocre spaghetti & meatballs. But once you taste dishes at authentic Italian restaurants like Bricco or Lucca in Boston’s North End, why would you really want to go back to eating pasta dishes that are just “so-so”? It’s okay to be snobby.
Part of the fun of making your own hand-cut pasta is the drying rack. As part of our Christmas gift, we received a wooden pasta rack, which came in handy. Prior to this gift, we would get creative, hanging pasta from strings around our kitchen, as you may remember from last year’s hand-cut pasta dish.
For this specific dish, we used whole-wheat pasta, which made everything a bit chewier, but all in all, a healthier choice. One of my culinary rules- always opt for whole wheat, when available.
Hand-Cut Whole Wheat Linguine with Pesto and Chicken or Tofu
(serves 2, with leftovers)
You will need…
For the Pasta:
- 4 eggs
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- salt, pepper
- water on hand
- flour for dusting
For the Pesto:
- 2 cups packed basil leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt, pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium chicken breast
- 1/2 8-oz block extra firm tofu, pressed and dried
- olive oil
- salt, pepper
- Pre-make the pesto. Combine basil, garlic, walnuts, cheese, salt, pepper in a food processor. Pulse until combined and coarse. Turn the processor on and slowly drizzle in the oil. Scrape the sides with a rubber spatula and repeat pulsing as necessary. Scrape pesto into a small bowl or tupperware and let chill while you do everything else.
- To make the pasta: In a medium sized bowl, sift flour and add a dash of salt. Create a deep well in the center of the flour and add the eggs. Mix thoroughly; the texture should be very tough. Stir in 1 – 2 tbsp of water as needed. (You may not need it at all.)
- Lightly flour your working surface. (This will get messy!) Knead the dough for 3-4 minutes on the surface. Take a section of the dough and run it through your pasta machine. You will have to do this several times, adding flour or water as necessary. Once the dough comes out smooth and flat, you are ready to cut it. Put the dough on a floured cutting board and cut into desired thickness (about 1/4″). Drape each piece over the drying rack and let it hang out while you prep your chicken and tofu.
- In two medium-sized skillets, heat olive oil over medium heat. Start boiling a large pot of water at the same time, with a dash of salt. In one skillet, cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, approx 4 – 5 minutes on each side. Season with salt & pepper.
- To cook the tofu, lightly fry until browned on each side, approx 5 minutes on each. Season with salt & pepper.
- In the last couple minutes of cooking, add your fresh pasta to the boiling water. Pasta will take approx 3-4 minutes to cook- keep your eye on it! It will go quickly.
- Drain your pasta and toss with the pesto. Serve in bowls, topped with sliced chicken or tofu, and garnished with extra parmesan. Enjoy!