By about mid-September I usually begin to think about fall cooking. And though I enjoy contemplating the wonders of a good stew, this year I’m just not quite ready to pull out the heavy duty Dutch oven yet. No, I’m still in summer mode for the simple reason that my appetite for tasty local tomatoes has not been gratified. I think there are probably a few others out there who feel the same way, so I’m offering one of my favorite ways to eat a really good tomato. All you have to do is make a salad of chopped fresh tomatoes, herbs, balsamic, olive oil and garlic and then toss it with cooked to perfection fresh pasta for a dish that epitomizes the simplicity of summer. To top it off I like to add crunchy, buttery croutons for texture. I often do make dinner just of this delightful dish, but it is also a great side paired with grilled chicken or fish. Everytime I eat it, I think how lucky I am to be tasting such great flavorful food… at least until I’ve picked the last tomato of the season.
Kitchen Counter Point: Fresh pasta is one of those things that you never knew you missed out on until you taste it. And then once you’ve discovered it, you lament the lost years that you could have been eating these silken, chewy noodles. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, so I ran out and bought a hand crank pasta machine so that I could roll out luscious fettuccine on a regular basis. It really is easy to make, especially if you make the dough in the food processor. But just so you know, there are some who insist that the best pasta dough is mixed up on the counter by hand. I can’t really tell the difference, but the ease of making the dough in the processor means I’m more likely to make pasta on a Tuesday night. Another great tool, if you have a KitchenAid, is the pasta roller that attaches to the mixer. It comes with two cutters (fettuccine and angel hair) and not only rolls and cuts quickly, but it is pretty fun to use as well. If a hand crank pasta machine or a KitchenAid aren’t on your wish list, just purchase fresh pasta at the market and proceed with the recipe.
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 cups rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon salt, divided
3 large tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil and parsley, chopped
1 lb fresh fettuccine (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375ºF
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add one clove of the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the bread on a baking sheet and pour the butter mixture over the bread, tossing with your hands to distribute the butter evenly. Salt lightly and bake the croutons in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the croutons are crispy and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool.
In a large pot, heat 1 gallon of water to a boil.
In a large bowl, toss 1 teaspoon salt, remaining garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, pepper flakes, pepper and basil and parsley mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste with more salt, pepper flakes or vinegar.
When the water comes to a boil, add remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Add the fresh pasta and cook for 4 or 5 minutes or until the pasta is tender and cooked through to the center. Drain the pasta.
Add the hot pasta to the bowl of tomatoes. Toss for a minute and add the croutons to the bowl. Toss again and serve immediately.
Makes about 1-1/4 pound pasta, serving 4-6
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add eggs and pulse several times until the dough is shaggy, but clumps into a ball when squeezed. Turn the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 4 sections. Gather each section into ball and knead until smooth, sprinkling lightly with flour if sticking, about 3 minutes. Wrap in plastic. Let rest at room temperature at least 20 minutes.
Rolling dough into sheets:
Set a pasta machine to its widest setting. Working with one piece at a time, and keeping the others covered, flatten a piece of dough into rectangle and run it through the machine. Fold in thirds crosswise, as if you were folding a letter. Dust the outside lightly with flour and putting the open end through first, run through the roller again. Repeat this process on the widest setting until the dough is smooth and elastic. It may take 3 or 4 times. This is a continuation of the kneading process. It gives the dough a chance to absorb more flour if it is too sticky. Then continue to roll the dough through the narrower settings (one time through each setting, without folding). Dust lightly with flour as needed to keep from sticking until pasta sheet is the desired thickness (if using the KitchenAid pasta roller, roll the dough down to #5). Place sheet on lightly floured work surface. Repeat with remaining pasta pieces. If the pasta tears at any time during the rolling process, just fold in half, dust the outside with flour on both sides and run through the same setting one more time.
Cutting the dough:
Let the pasta sheets rest until slightly dry but still pliable, about 20 minutes. Cut the sheets into the desired length. Fit the machine with desired cutter and run sheets through. Using floured hands, toss strands to separate; spread out on flour dusted sheet pans. Cook as directed.