Ever since I bought our own pasta machine a few years ago, the kids and I find making and eating our own homemade pasta one of the most pleasurable collaborative cooking activities in which we indulge. The children know that if they want homemade pasta, they have to participate and be patient. The dough must be made, then set to rest and then put through the machine. We will usually do this on a weekend because it takes some time. On school nights, we use time-saving wonton wrappers for ravioli with a simple filling. Stephan and Alex can use the pasta machine together, one puts the pasta through, while the other cranks the machine and catches it. We prefer making the dough by hand, with Stephan helping with the kneading. If we're time-pressed, however, we use the food-processor method that gets the dough further along faster before kneading. I have included both methods here.
Equipment: parchment paper, pasta machine, food processor (optional)
To make the dough with the food processor:
1. Have the kids place the flour in a food processor fitted with the metal cutting blade. In a mixing bowl, have the little ones crack the eggs. Then have them add the water and salt to the bowl and beat these ingredients with a wire whisk.
2. Now help the children slowly add the egg mixture through the hole in the top. Stop processing when the dough clumps together. The dough should not feel too sticky, if it does, add flour by the handful and pulse until it has reached a drier consistency.
3. Remove the dough from the processor and have the children help knead it on a floured surface. The dough needs to become more elastic and supple. After about 10 minutes, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Knead again until you see small bubbles under the surface of the dough; this is an indication that the glutens are becoming elastic.
To make the dough by hand:
1. Have the kids place the flour on a clean work surface. In a small bowl, have the kids crack the eggs and beat them slightly with the water.
2. Now make a deep, wide well in the flour, deep enough that the work surface shows through. Carefully pour the egg and water mixture into the well. With a fork, start to gently beat the eggs incorporating some flour as the fork rotates while beating the egg. Continue this process, slowly incorporating more and more of the flour. Eventually, most of the flour will be mixed in, and you will have a very sticky dough. Start to knead, adding just a bit more flour as is necessary to keep it from sticking. Knead for at least 10 minutes and then let rest for 30 minutes. Now knead again until you see small bubbles under the surface of the dough. It is now ready to be put through the pasta machine.
Using the pasta machine:
1. Set up a sheet pan lined with a cloth or parchment paper. Have children lightly sprinkle corn meal over it.
2. Attach the pasta machine to a counter top using the clamp. Set the knob to the first setting.
3. Cut the dough in quarters. Flatten one piece. Now have one child lightly flour the dough and put it through the machine, while you or another child turn the crank. Then fold the dough in thirds, and put it through the first setting one more time. Now have them change to the second setting. Put the dough through it again, but don't fold it. Then put it through again starting in the opposite direction. This double action allows more kneading of the dough by the machine. Then move the knob to the next setting and continue in the same manner until the dough goes through the last and smallest setting. If it stretches too long in the process and becomes difficult to handle, you can cut it in half (remembering at what setting you did this) and finish the first half and then turn the setting back to where you left off with the other half and complete it to the end of the cycle.
4. Place the thin rolled dough on the sheet pan, cutting it if you need to make it fit. Have children sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough, and cover it with plastic. Continue with the remaining dough.
5. Now you are ready to move the handle to the fettuccine or cappellini settings. Or, place the sheets of dough on a cutting board and cut to the desired shape, as in for homemade raviolis, etc. You can store the dough covered for several hours at room temperature if you do not wish to use it right away.
To Cook Fresh Pasta:
1. Fill a large pot three-fourths full with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Let kids gently drop in the homemade pasta; it will only take a minute or two to cook. Be sure to drain while it is still al dente. Place the drained pasta back in the same pot (now empty) and add the desired, pre-heated sauce. Mix well with pasta utensils or tongs and serve immediately.
Variation for spinach pasta:
1 bunch fresh spinach or 1- 10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
1. If using fresh spinach, clean well and steam in bamboo steamer.
2. Measure one-half cup of freshly steamed or thawed spinach and place in the blender or food processor with the eggs for the pasta dough. Process to combine well.
3. Now use this spinach-egg mixture to make the dough, adding more flour as needed to get the dough to the right consistency to knead. Once the dough is made, continue following the directions for using the pasta machine, as indicated earlier in this recipe.