Monday, October 6, 2014

Ancient Hand-Formed Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

I first learned to make pasta when I was in cooking school several years ago.  This recipe for hand-formed pasta is simple and does not require a pasta machine, so anyone can do it.  I seem to find myself unconsciously picturing an old nona with her dusty apron and gnarled fingers working away at the dough while I am making this.  Making fresh pasta takes a bit of time, but the kneading of the dough and the forming of the capunti are both very zen-like activities, so once you are in the groove, it's quite enjoyable.

Although this pasta can be frozen and cooked at a later time, a word of warning: Upon my return from cooking school, I phoned up a close friend and asked her if she wanted to get together for an evening of pasta-making.  Always up for a cooking adventure, she agreed.  Unfortunately, we set our sights a little too high and attempted to make two kinds of hand-formed pastas and two kinds of filled pastas.  We didn't end up finishing until nearly two in the morning, and I don't think she's made fresh pasta since!  Making one batch at a time, which serves four people, is definitely enough.  However, if you do want to make the pasta ahead of time so that you can just throw this together at the last minute, it can keep covered in the fridge for about 24 hours or frozen for even longer.


1 cup light spelt flour
1 cup semolina
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
warm water as needed (about 1/4 cup)

Approximately 40 fresh brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper

75 grams pancetta or bacon, cubed
1 small onion, sliced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp lemon juice

fresh basil
freshly grated parmesan cheese


1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, semolina, and salt.  Add the egg and oil and stir with a fork.  Add as much warm water as necessary to just bring the dough together into a ball.  It should not be tacky.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about ten minutes.  The dough should be shiny and smooth.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

4. After the dough has rested, divide it into four pieces.  Working with one piece at a time, follow steps 5 to 8.

5. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. If you are using a pasta machine, just roll it on setting zero.

6. With a knife, cut the dough down the middle and trim the sides so that each piece is about three fingers wide.

7. Cut each strip into pieces about the width of a stick of gum, maybe slightly fatter.

8. Place your finger on the far side of the strip.  Push down as hard as you can with your fingers and pull the dough towards you while pressing against the counter allowing the dough to roll under your fingers.

* If for some reason it doesn't work, it's probably because you are not pushing hard enough or your strips are too narrow.

9. Place the rolled pasta onto a floured plate or baking sheet until you are ready to cook it.  If you are saving it for later, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

10.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Trim the bottoms of the brussels sprouts and remove any loose leaves.  Cut into quarters, toss with the oil and place on two baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning over halfway through cooking.  They will be soft, brown, and crispy when they are done.

12. In a large frying pan over medium heat, saut√© the pancetta until it releases some of its fat.  Then, add the sliced onions, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes.  Continue to cook until the onions are caramelized and the pancetta is crispy.  

13. Add the capunti to a large pot of salted, boiling water and cook for three minutes.

14. Add the lemon juice to the onions and pancetta.  Toss in the roasted brussels sprouts and the cooked capunti along with a bit of the cooking water.

15. Finish with freshly grated parmesan cheese, pepper, and chopped basil.  Enjoy!

Shopping Tips:

1. Semolina is a kind of durum wheat and should be found in the flour section.  Buy semolina, not semolina flour.

2. Pancetta is an Italian bacon made of pork belly.  It might come in rounds that you have to cut into cubes, or it may be cubed already.  If you cannot find it, just use bacon.

If you want something saucier, you could add some cocktail tomatoes to the onions and pancetta at the same time that you add the capunti to the boiling water.

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