Pasta has a special place in Chef Thomas Keller’s heart. For Chef Keller, cooking is about emotions, memory, and the gratification of making meals for ourselves and others. Few foods fill that role for him more beautifully than pasta. Pasta can be made on the spot or ahead of time so you can enjoy the benefits of your work throughout the week. With a few simple ingredients— eggs, flour, oil, salt, and milk—we can make a variety of stuffed, shaped, and cut pastas. Although making pasta dough is relatively simple, forming pasta can be challenging, but deeply rewarding and almost magical as your work takes shape.
Chef Keller challenges you to spend time mastering the skills needed to make great pastas and light, tender gnocchi. Chef Keller makes a simple egg pasta dough that can be used for
a variety of filled and cut pastas. He also uses “00” flour, which is milled to the finest consistency and has the right amount of protein for pasta-making. He urges you to do the same. Achieving the right consistency in your dough is more important than following exact measurements since there are so many variations in the moisture of the flour and in the air around you, as well as in the quality of the eggs. When Chef Keller worked in Italy, he made pasta with an Italian grandmother who knew the dough was done when it had the same suppleness of her earlobe. She would touch the pasta dough, and then touch her ear to compare.
500 grams Tipo “00” flour
250 grams egg yolks (ideally from Jidori hens)
1 whole egg
15–30 grams milk
25 grams extra-virgin olive oil
Large cutting board or pasta board
Sealable plastic storage bag
In the center of a large cutting board or pasta board, place the flour in a mound. Use a bench scraper in hand, set aside about 1/6 of the flour. This flour is reserved for if your dough is too wet, as it is easier to add flour to a wet dough than to add liquid to a dry dough. Make a large well in the center of the mound. Pour in the yolks, the whole egg, milk, olive oil, and salt. With two fingers, begin swirling the ingredients together, incorporating in flour a little bit at a time, until it becomes a thick paste. Use the bench scraper to fold flour over the paste and cut in the flour. Once the flour as been incorporated, knead the dough until it resembles a smooth ball. If the dough is very sticky, add a small amount of the reserve flour as needed. It takes practice to know when the dough has reached the right tightness. Put dough into a sealable plastic storage bag and refrigerate at least 4–5 hours so that the gluten has time to relax before rolling out the pasta. The dough can also be made a day ahead.
A chitarra, which translates to “guitar” in Italian, is a piece of equipment developed in the late 1800s to cut spaghetti. It’s shaped somewhat like a guitar, with fine steel strings through which you push the pasta dough. The strings cut the dough into thin spaghetti noodles. Note the difference in shape between these noodles and boxed spaghetti, which is round because it is made with an extruder. Most boxed pasta is only made with water and flour.
2 parchment-lined baking sheets
Pasta dough, rolled to 1/16 inch
Tipo “00” flour for dusting
Roll the pasta sheet to slightly less than the thickness of a spaghetti noodle. Trim your sheet of pasta dough so that it fits over the strings of the chitarra. Allow the pasta sheet to dry for a few minutes before rolling—this will help keep the strands separated. Roll the rolling pin over the pasta sheet to push it through the steel strings. Spread noodles out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and set aside to dry.
Your options for storing your fresh pasta depend on the shape and thickness of the pasta. For cut pasta like spaghetti alla chitarra, you can dry or freeze the pasta.
Chef Keller prefers to dry his pastas so that he has more time to perfect the cooking to al dente when he is using pasta in a composed dish. You can dry on a sheet pan, which allows the pasta to stay straight and makes for easy handling; or, you can dry as nests on a sheet pan, for more compact storage—but take care, as the noodles can dry unevenly and clump together. Your dried pasta will keep for up to one month.
You can also freeze on a sheet pan and store in a plastic bag, which allows you to keep the short cooking time and properties of fresh pasta, but it requires refrigeration space. Frozen pasta will keep for up to two weeks.
Aglio e olio, meaning garlic and olive oil, is a simple dish, though here Chef Keller elevates it by finishing it with garlic confit and bottarga.
60 grams dried spaghetti alla chitarra
20 grams garlic confit, puréed
20 grams garlic confit cloves (6–8 medium garlic cloves)
1 pinch Italian parsley, émincer
Extra virgin olive oil with a spicy flavor profile
1 piece bottarga di muggine
7-quart pasta pentola, water brought to a boil
Bring water to a simmer in the pasta pentola and lightly season the water with salt. Take care not to over-season the water, as the water will form the basis of the sauce. Blanch the dried pasta for a few minutes until the pasta bends but is still very al dente. When you cook freshly-made spaghetti, the cook time will be much lower than when you cook store-bought dried spaghetti. You should only need to let it cook for a few minutes. Make sure to taste for doneness as it cooks.
Lift the pasta from the water using the strainer basket and transfer to the saucier. Ladle enough of the pasta water to cover the spaghetti and bring the liquid to a simmer. Spoon in the garlic confit purée and stir with the pasta fork to evenly distribute it. Continue to cook the pasta to glaze it in the liquid to sauce consistency. Taste the pasta for doneness. If it requires more time, add more pasta water and continue to cook.
Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, add the confit garlic cloves and heat through. Finish by drizzling in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling in the parsley. To serve, twist the pasta on the pasta fork and transfer to the serving dish. Spoon the remaining garlic cloves and sauce over the noodles. Finish the dish with more extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, and grated bottarga. If you cannot source bottarga, the dish is beautiful with only the garlic confit and lemon zest to finish.
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