Homemades: A Recipe
Homemades: A Recipe
Personal Creative Writing
I don’t remember all of the ingredients. I know you’ll need flour (Grandpa always used whatever was on sale so don’t go crazy and splurge on the good stuff). You’ll also need eggs – a lot of eggs. I remember the first time I made homemades (yes, that’s what you call homemade pasta), I couldn’t believe how many eggs he used. Then again, I could be thinking of Easter Bread, which I know has a ton of eggs in it. Anyways, so you have your flour and eggs, now you’re also going to need water. Everything tells me there must be more ingredients (maybe salt?) but I really don’t remember. It used to be so easy to give him a call for these types of things. “ALLO,” he would say in a bellowing voice that was so mesmerizing, it almost made you forget why you called.
Now, I – and I suppose you – must rely on my translation of his recipe. Making homemade macaroni is a relatively easy process with a lot of convoluted steps. And yes, I know when I say “macaroni,” you think of macaroni salad and those small noodles. Well, I have news for you friend, macaroni – at least in my 100% Italian family – is a term used to describe all types of pasta, from farfalle (bowties) to rigatoni (my dog’s name). Read on, and you will learn how to make fettuccini, or as Grandpa would call them, “homemades.”
When we first made homemades, I called him Poopa – one of those names your grandparents get plagued with when a grandchild can’t properly pronounce “Grandpa.” At some point, growing up, I transitioned to the more social acceptable “Grandpa.” I always felt a little guilty calling him that, as if I were betraying him, or betraying a younger version of myself.
You’re going to want to do this project on a kitchen table – not the fancy kind with the glass top, but an old fashioned (grimy) wooden table, the kind that tells a story. As if each dent, gash, and worn spot in the wood were calling out: “Remember when...” The table at Poopa’s house was the tapestry of his, and our, life. It was scratched, dilapidated in places, and sticky – wow, was it sticky. There were decades-old crumbs between the table’s leafs and coffee rings from cups long since thrown away.
On the table, start by pouring the flour out of the bag. Now, I don’t remember how much flour, so let’s just say you can use the entire bag. This part, from the perspective of a little boy on his Poopa’s lap, was mesmerizing. He would pile it into what looked like a snow-covered mountain. Next, he would use three or four fingers in a swirling motion to make a hole in the top of the flour mountain – making it more of a volcano. All the while, he’s making the center hole, he’s ensuring the sides, which are forming around his hand, remain intact. Eventually, he’ll have made a bowl out of the flour.
You’ll now need to prepare the eggs and water. And, in keeping with my forgetful and unhelpful instructions, let’s just guess and say for one bag of flour you’ll need 10 eggs and 1 cup of water (I have no idea if that’s even close). I know that he taught me how much of each ingredient to use; I know he did. I guess I’d always assumed there would be more time – that we’d have more time.
This is the fun part –use your flour bowl as an actual bowl for the wet ingredients. For whatever reason, this step of the process captivates onlookers. Poopa cracked the eggs into the flour, causing a puff of white to erupt from the center of his flour volcano. After the eggs, came the water, in a similarly careful manner.
You’ve reached the point in this recipe separates the cooks from the chefs. You’re going to need to get your hands into the middle of your flour bowl and start mixing and squeezing the eggs together. As you’re mixing, you’re going to start folding into the middle scoops of your bowl’s interior wall. It’s a messy step but I was always surprised Poopa didn’t remove his rings. On his right hand he wore a black onyx ring which he told me he bought after his first paycheck. On the left, his wedding ring.
By now, you’ve either managed to keep a tidy kitchen, and your flour is exactly where it’s supposed to be, or you and your kitchen are a total mess – flour everywhere, including in your hair and in the hair of any assistants near you. Poopa was the latter – his full head of grey hair was made even brighter. No matter the recipe, the method, or outcome, his cooking style was always the same: destroy the kitchen.
So you’ve got in front of you something that should soon start resembling dough. It might be sticky, in which case you’ll need to add some more flour. But it could also be a bit too dry and clumpy, in which case water will be your remedy. I suppose there is also the possibly that I’m full of shit and my “recipe” has lead you to create an unsalvageable pile of slime. Let’s assume I’m indeed not full of shit and move on with the recipe.
Once your ingredients have congealed, forming dough, it’s time for you to begin the kneading process. This is going to be the hardest part. The dough is tough by design, for reasons you’ll later discover. Because it needs to be tough, it requires a lot of working – a lot of kneading.
Poopa would start by throwing the dough down on the table. He’d then take the farthest part of the top side of the dough and pull it back toward him, then immediately pushing it away in a downward motion – as if he were trying to push the dough through the table. He would do this about 40 or 50 times with brief interludes for my weak little boy arms giving it a go.
As he and I got older, he became weaker while I grew bigger and stronger. This part became my time to shine. Though he started to take a back seat in the homemades process, I suspect he secretly liked watching me take over.
Now that your dough is kneaded, you’ll begin the rolling process. For this you’ll need a rolling pin.
Any other recipe might suggest another option for someone who doesn’t have a rolling pin or is too lazy to look for theirs, not this one – you need the damn rolling pin. Oh, you’ve found it? Great!
You can use the pin in two ways: (1) you can flour the pin and the table so the dough won’t stick to either while you’re rolling, or (2) you can place your dough between two sheets of parchment paper and then roll. I suggest the former for no other reason than that’s the way he did it. The dough needs to be rolled to roughly a quarter of an inch thick.
This next step is difficult for me to write because, up until this point in the recipe, I’ve assumed we’ve been working from a shared understanding of what goes into making homemade pasta. But, what I’ve just now realized is that the next tool you’ll need is not at all common in an average American kitchen – the macaroni machine.
Growing up in an Italian-American family, the macaroni machine was commonplace in the kitchens of my Grandparents. Both sets of Grandparents had identical models. They were silver, and made entirely of metal. A macaroni machine is device that clamps onto the end of your kitchen table; it has a crank which connects to rollers (for flattening the dough) that moved closer and close, and cutters (for cutting the homemades into the shape of fettuccini). There’s also a spaghetti setting which we have never used – it’s not what he used. Probably because fettuccini holds sauce better than spaghetti and boy he knew how to make a sauce.
Take your rolled out, quarter of an inch, sheets of dough and feed them through the flattening rollers – you’ll need two people for this: one to feed the dough into the machine and another to turn the crank. These jobs are alternated as you go because turning that crank can be tiring. Then send the dough through a few times, slowly changing the setting, making the dough thinner and thinner. Once your dough is thin enough – you know, the thickness of normal pasta – you can send your thin sheets through the cutting rollers.
If your kitchen at his point doesn’t already look like a nineteenth century Italian homestead, it’s about to. After you send your sheets through the cutter, you’ll need somewhere to put these hundreds of strands of pasta.
There are two ways to handle the strands. The first way is simple and elegant: take out a cookie sheet, grab about 10 or 20 strands of pasta, and twirl the strands into a bird’s nest-type structure – these are called, you guessed it, nests. These are very easy to store, handle, and cook with, allowing you to simply drop the nests into a pot of boiling water and watch them expand into free flowing pasta.
The second way, is a bit more complicated and messy – so, of course, that’s the way Poopa did it. For this step, you’re going to need some poles. Any long cylindrical item will do; broom sticks, mops, curtain rods, etc. You’ll need to suspend the poles in the air, whether that’s hanging them from the ceiling or sliding them through the backs of a couple dining room chairs. Poopa, at one point, had special pasta poles we used exclusively for drying homemades. Come to think of it, I wonder what happened to those poles. They weren’t the type of thing you’d save, much like many of the items in his random collection of belongings – but I do wonder where they went.
Once your poles are secure, you’ll need to drape your freshly cut fettuccini, taking care not to tangle the strands. Soon, your kitchen will be wallpapered by random strands of macaroni. The best part about this new kitchen design is you’ll get to relish in your hard work for at least 5 or 6 hours – giving the homemades plenty of time to dry.
At this point you’ve done the hard work, now you need only collect your dried stands of pasta and store them in an air tight container until you’re ready to boil them up.
If your family is anything like mine, making homemades will be a spectacle, a party – a festival of tradition right there in the kitchen. I confess, since Poopa’s passing, I’ve not made homemades. Sure, it could be because I clearly don’t know the recipe, but really I haven’t made them because I don’t want to. At least not yet. The last time feels like yesterday, and I’d like to remember it that way.
I’d always assumed there would be more time I assumed I could live in those afternoons of macaroni machines and flour just a little longer.
Take this recipe with you, make it your own; bring it into your home and your heart. The macaroni itself is meaningless; a few ingredients throw together on a table. They’ll be laughs, probably some tears, and endless, boundless, rich and full memories – that’s really what we made at that table. And that’s all this recipe can promise.
God only knows if these instructions will give you macaroni.