Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oh, Mama Mia

Dinner: February 7

I’m Italian. I love Italian food. My inspiration to cook came from watching Italian chefs and wanted to work magic with pasta. I’ve been to Italy twice and scarfed down every possible bite of food.

One of my favorite chefs is Lidia Bastianich. “Lidia’s Italy” airs on PBS, and I now own two of her cookbooks. She hails from Italy and knows her food, and she doesn’t use a lot of editing to make the processes look clean or perfect. It’s real cooking, and she inspires me a great deal.

I’ve seen her prepare pasta dough on several occasions, and she always uses durum wheat flour, so I located some recently and bought a bag of it. It’s heavier and grainier than regular flour, but I wanted to mimic Lidia’s pasta so I could make her cavatelli from scratch.

This simplest of dough recipes calls only for the durum wheat flour and water, so I was sure I could do it. I followed her instructions to aerate the flour in the food processor and slowly add water until the dough gathered on the blade. That seemed to work. I then put the dough on the cutting board and kneaded it for a bit, adding more flour because it seemed rather moist. When it looked like dough, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for an hour.

The problem began, at least to my knowledge, when I tried to unwrap it. The dough was stuck to the plastic, and I had to scrape it off and put the dough ball back together. It felt a little moist, so I added more flour and rolled it around. This was my dough.

The next step was to roll out pencil-sized strips of pasta, cut them into 1” pieces, and form them into the cavatelli. That was where it felt apart. The dough was so moist that it stuck to everything - my hands, the cutting board, even the knife. When I tried to use my fingers to stretch pieces of the dough into the cavatelli shape, it just mushed into goo. I continued to try to add flour - there was flour everywhere - but nothing worked. It was a messy goo.

I then took the goo and slammed it into the trash can. Pasta experiment over. This luscious cavatelli recipe was not to be.

I try to keep this blog light and humorous, even with my failures, but this was a tough one. After last year’s gnocchi sludge incident and this pasta goo incident, I’m quite discouraged. Sure, I can throw vegetables together and call it a casserole, and I can even follow the occasional recipe, but my evident inability to make pasta is downright sad for me. I’m going to take a short break from experimenting with new foods, order a lot of take-out, and try to find my confidence somewhere.


  1. You can't give up! Dealing with dough is a very difficult aspect of pasta and in my experiment better taught by someone who can do it than by a recipe. Keep trying new things, but maybe sideline pasta until you can get a little help.

  2. Look into kneading techniques.

    Also, keep trying. You need to get a feel for the right consistency of the dough. I've never made pasta myself, but I find most dough shouldn't be anything more than tacky when you let it rest. There are some exceptions, and those either get rolled in flour or the plastic wrap gets some spray to avoid sticking.

    When you do get it right (and you will), it will feel all the sweeter.

  3. Pasta is an uphill battle, my grandma can whip up stuff from scratch, I will follow her step for step, and I will fail terribly. It's mainly trial and error, you just gotta keep trying!

  4. Chin up, sweets. As the wise Dory says, "Just keep swimming....Just keep swimming....Just keep swimming!" :-)

  5. Ah...that's a bummer, but don't worry. There's nothing wrong with some good take out now and again (and again!). I agree with Ev - just keep swimming. You can do it! Practice makes perfect.