What is it about pasta that makes people love it so much? I am such an admirer that I wrote an entire book about it, exploring whether the whole story about Marco Polo taking noodles from China to Italy was true. My two-year-old son's favorite word is "pasta." Some nights, when he does not see it on the dinner table, he will run into the pantry, take a package of it off the shelf, and command me to make it, screaming "Pasta, pasta, pasta!" Even the Cubans love it -- if they are not eating their beloved rice and beans, they are eating spaghetti carbonara or bolognaise. (Because of the shortages, though, sometimes you'll encounter carbonara with bits of ham, or ground pork in place of ground beef.)
Pasta is one of the items that is easier to find in Cuba; ditto for tomato sauce in tetra packs. I found it rather ironic that I shipped packages and packages of my favorite De Cecco pastas and dozens of cans of tomatoes in our container, only to discover that versions of both are almost always available in the markets.
But when I'm not lazy or too crazed with the kids, I like to make pasta from scratch. (I almost always have flour and eggs in our home in Havana.) Here's my recipe for pasta by hand, which I learned in Italy and China. Both countries do it the same way (though Italians will often use eggs in place water). Both countries are in on a secret: pasta is not so difficult to make. And in writing my book On the Noodle Road, I learned something more revealing: the Marco Polo story was untrue; Italians have had pasta centuries earlier than the birth of the explorer. It was actually a story invented by the pasta lobby in the United States that set off the entire Marco Polo myth that has made its way around the world.
In honor of National Pasta Day, I'll publish the recipe in steps over the coming days and include our favorite pasta sauce soon after. Happy Pasta Making!
Pasta from Scratch
4 cups all-purpose flour (or Italian '00' Flour)
2 cups’ worth of eggs (about 4 or 5)
First Step: Knead the Dough
Place flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the eggs into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork, working in some of the flour.
Continue mixing with your hands until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough is soft and pliable but still a little springy. If it feels a little dry, knead in a few drops of water.
Transfer the dough to a clean surface and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth or wrap in plastic. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or as much as 5 hours. You may keep overnight in a refrigerator but take out at least 2 hours before proceeding with the next step.
Check back mid-week for the next step: Rolling Out the Dough (or if you want the entire recipe, you can find it in my book, On the Noodle Road).