I have a friend, a really great chef, who once told me that there was power in cooking. At the time, I was skeptical. I had yet to be bitten by the “I love cooking” bug.
I became a believer one Thanksgiving as I watched the patriarch of her family pass her the family carving knife for a performance of turkey carving the likes of which I had never seen before nor since. The skill with which she handled that bird I can only describe as a solo concert violinist playing Rachmaninoff.
So I was surprised to discover a creased and worn recipe she had ripped from a magazine and carried around with her like a talisman — a recipe my talented friend would never attempt.
“Why don’t you just try it?” I asked her.
She just shook her head vigorously as if the mere idea of attempting such a dish was lunacy.
I think most foodies, no matter their skill level, have at least one of those “pocket recipes.” A dish that for whatever reason they’re just too intimidated to attempt.
For me, homemade pasta is that intimidator. Though I am clueless as to why this is. After all, I’ve given birth to five kids, harvested durian meat (pee-yoo!) to make rice pudding at my daughter’s school, and even made doughnuts (I include this because of the hot oil/danger factor). I even had an Italian grandmother, though, when she passed, she didn't hand down a 200-year-old family recipe for pasta dough to me — just the middle name Thelma.
Or maybe I’ve just watched too many episodes of Chopped where contestants scurry out of the pantry lugging a medieval-looking pasta machine, cranking out pasta in Play-Doh® Fun Factory-like strands.
“Who attempts pasta in 20 minutes?” my daughter Amelia says, exasperated. She’s 10 and dreams of being a Chopped contestant.
And Amelia’s right — didn’t it take Marco Polo something like 24 years, traveling the Silk Road on a camel, to bring back a petrified piece of lasagna? Pasta perfection surely can’t be rushed.
So when we had the opportunity to make homemade pasta with Eric Tanaka (AKA ET), executive chef and business partner in Tom Douglas Restaurants, of course the answer was a resounding yes!
My girls, their grandmother and I converged for our pasta-making adventure on the ground floor of the Via6 Apartments on Sixth Avenue, home to the latest trifecta of Tom Douglas Restaurants ventures: The Home Remedy market/deli; TanakaSan, a modern American-Asian restaurant that features Godzilla as mascot and ET as namesake; and Assembly Hall Juice & Coffee.
We met ET next to a perfectly assembled mise en place (a French phrase for “putting in place” ingredients): Two pots filled with water in a controlled simmer, a pyramid of white flour, three large eggs, a ramekin of peeled garlic cloves, kosher salt, olive oil and a tub of housemade pesto.
“I was thinking the girls could crack the eggs, then mix them into the flour well, knead and roll out the pasta dough,” Eric suggested. His manner gave the impression of a dad to four (clearly he knows kids and what they like to do), Zen master, business man and incredible chef.
“Where’s the torture device?” I asked, searching for the one item that justifies my pasta-making fear: The pasta machine. Didn’t you need one to churn out all those perfectly uniform boxes at the grocery store filled with rigatoni, linguine, shells and angel hair?
ET pointed to an extra-long rolling pin.
“I learned this recipe of hand-rolled pasta with sauce Felicin in Italy, and every day we would eat this pasta. Giorgio the owner would say, ‘Ohhh, this is so delicious!’ and he meant it,” ET said.
And this is when I was reminded, as I often am, of my friend and how right she was: Cooking is powerful. Because if you listen it can be a metaphor for life: Don’t let fear or intimidation —whether it’s a pasta dish or something else — stop you from doing what you love.
So, if you, like me, haven’t had the tongs to try fresh-made pasta or you’re just looking for something fun to do with kids of all ages, try chef Tanaka’s hand-rolled pasta with sauce Felicin recipe.
Hand-Rolled Fresh Egg Pasta with Sauce Felicin
Pasta dough ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mound flour on a clean work surface, and make a well in the middle large enough to hold the eggs. Crack eggs into a bowl and add oil and salt; pour egg-oil-salt mixture into well.
Using a fork, gently whisk the eggs in the well until just mixed, without incorporating any of the flour.
Begin to gently draw in the flour using the fork, working until all flour has been incorporated.
Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball — if the dough feels sticky, sprinkle more flour over the dough, a little at a time, and mix.
Clear your work surface and dust lightly with flour. Knead the pasta dough until it feels smooth and satiny, about seven to ten minutes. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour during this process if it feels sticky.
Reshape dough into a ball, cover with a bowl and let rest for 30 minutes before rolling out.
Makes approximately one pound.
Sauce Felicin ingredients:
16 oz. whole Italian plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
Sweat the garlic cloves in the olive oil for 7 minutes, then add tomatoes. Slowly stew for 20 minutes over medium-low heat. Crush tomatoes with a steel whisk; sauce should be slightly chunky.
Finish by adding butter and pesto.
Carolyn Ossorio writes about life in the city with her five children in her column for the Renton Reporter as well as regularly blogs for the Huffington Post about her love of cookin’ and trippin’ around the Pacific Northwest with her family. Forks in the Road is her family’s latest adventure — part cooking show, part field trip and 100% inspiring and relatable. Find Carolyn at pippimamma.com or on Facebook.