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Making Pasta When You Have Failed Miserably

rolling fresh pasta with a Mattarello

Who doesn’t love a bowl of good Pasta?

And even better, who doesn’t love a bowl of FRESH pasta rolled by hand?

Most people have only enjoyed pasta cooked from a box either at home, at relatives or friends homes, or at a restaurant. And even then it was probably dried pasta from a box. Now in a pinch, a box of pasta is our friend. Especially for those that don’t cook or have the tools or space, or time to make fresh pasta. Or that’s what most people think.

There are many people that have attempted making fresh pasta only to fail miserably and vowing never to attempt it again.

At least that is what most of my past students I have had as a Chef/Cooking Teacher for Williams Sonoma have told me.

I have had people of all ages, men and woman, literally tell me their War stories in tears of their attempts and failures with the results not so nice to their pasta making equipment.

You see, pasta is one of those foods that when you know what you are doing looks so easy to make. The Chefs on TV, using a Pasta attachment on a Kitchen Aid mixer looks so attainable. And it is, or can be.

However to make good or great Pasta, sometimes we need to fail to move forward. And this is also true with cooking. Sometimes we fail, even Professional Chefs. But does that stop them? No. In fact it is a fuel to them to succeed. But to the average cook, sometimes not so much.

Growing up My Mothers Parents were from Italy, My Fathers from Germany. I always felt I had the best of two completely opposite cultures and foods. I was the Grandchild, out of more than 20 on each side, that stood by their apron strings as they cooked wonderful meals. My Fathers Mother would ask me what I wanted her to make when we would go over for dinner. And would love for me to ask questions as she cooked. I found out years later I was the only grandchild that experienced this.

My Mothers Parents were loved and respected by all the other relatives. And it was they that encouraged other relatives to open restaurants, very successful ones I might add. One Cousin had an accident and was encouraged by my Grandparents to invest the money in opening an Italian restaurant, helping them with the menu at first, to get them off the ground, and then having other Italian cousins come over from Italy to make great foods that true Italians were used to and work side by side in the Kitchen, while living with their families in the downstairs apartments they had built to house them below the restaurant, and Upstairs too, the owners lived. One big happy family for years, cooking and laughing. Those are my memories growing up in restaurants. Family, so grateful of living a good and happy life, together.

The smells of the food has stayed with me all these years, whether it was my Parents restaurants, cousins, Aunts and Uncles. Food is a part of me and always had been. And Pasta had always been a staple in my home wherever that was.

With all of that said, I too have failed at making Pasta at times. It is one thing to stand by someone and help shape or make a ravioli or cut fettuccini, it is another to measure the ingredients, mix the dough, knead the dough, roll it out. And making fresh Pasta with a machine vs. making it all by hand is the same process but different. It can be frustrating especially to someone that grew up around great Italian cooks and Chefs. You feel like a failure, never to achieve something so easily attained by the people you admired growing up. It is like a child that plays basketball and wanting to be like Michael Jordan, only to never dunking a basketball or winning a championship. It is frustrating and most give up.

As I said before, for most Chefs, that is a fuel to succeed. And eventually success with Pasta is what was achieved.

And this is what I have told every person that has ever approached my about making food and Pasta, and their failures.

In Life, the only way to grow is to fail. We can either keep failing, or learn from our mistakes and succeed, We can’t move forward to the next step if we keep falling behind. So if there is a hole in the ground that we keep stepping in falling down, we will continue to fall and never get beyond the hole. But if we take into consideration the hole is at Point A and the finish line is Point B, what is the path to success and the finish line? We need to examine the path, see that stepping in that hole stops us from getting to Point B. We need to either find away OVER the hole, or around it. Only then will we succeed.

And that is cooking in a nutshell. We can learn from our mistakes or we can continue to fail.

One of the world’s best Chefs, Julia Child, failed horribly at times. Did she give up? No! She was determined to find the way to the other side of the hole. And succeed she did. And she found joy in her failures because it meant she knew what NOT to do the next time.

Now that doesn’t mean you will fail once, or even twice. I failed for years at Bread Baking. But I never gave up. I love bread. And eventually I got it! And oh what a feeling it is to succeed at cooking something and feeling like you won a Basketball championship, World Series, An Oscar, A Grammy, or The Presidency of the United States of America. For me, that is how cooking and succeeding in food feels when I have failed in the past.

So I get it when people say that cooking makes them cry and never wanting to attempt it again. But then I reassure them that unless you have the right tools and instructions anyone can fail.

So I am here to hopefully ease your pain, and help you one the road to success with making pasta. And making fresh Pasta is just the tip of the iceberg. Then there are the sauces, meatballs, other foods that make fresh Pasta worth making. But that’s for another day. Let’s tackle one hurdle at a time.

Let me start by saying if you do fail as we attempt this, please don’t give up. Remember what I said, learn from our failures. Pasta is all about feel and texture. Too dry and it is hard to roll out, too wet, it will stick to your rollers if using a pasta machine, or stick to itself after you have taken the time to roll it out by hand and become one big clump of dough again and you will curse the day you decided to conquer Pasta Making. So although these things may happen to you, examine what you did and how it went wrong. Buy a lot of eggs and a lot of flour. If you can’t afford the best eggs or 00 flour, then at least get Bread flour, high Gluten flour, and course semolina flour, all easily found in the grocery store. GO to Asian and Indian Markets to find the best prices on semolina flour, almost a fourth of the price at times.  Although good organic eggs make a difference in color and somewhat taste, you will still be able to achieve a good Pasta with regular cheap eggs from the grocer if that is all you can afford if you mess up. The gluten in the flour is what helps it stretch out into thin sheets. I have made gluten free pasta, but to learn how to make pasta and succeed, I do suggest to learn to make High Gluten first and know the ins and outs so that your gluten free will look, feel, taste, and behave closely to the regular Pasta and you will have success with that too. Gluten really makes a difference. But if you can’t have it, you can’t have it. There are some great Gluten free Flours out there and even Mulino Caputo makes a great Gluten Free flour. Cup 4 Cup is another. However, Even if you can not have gluten, Learn to make Pasta the usual way so you know what to do if your dough acts differently, and it probably will. You may need more flour or less. We will deal with that at another time. For now, let’s make Pasta…

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