This isn’t about root beer
. It’s about noodles.
I never made my own pasta until I was forty one years old, and that first time was yesterday. As a kid I worked as a cook in a Sicilian delicatessen and I can’t help but wonder what took so long to get around to this.
After the deli owner trained me to make the pizza sauce, I always did. Big stock pots, had to be ten gallons. Maybe bigger. I don’t really know anymore, now that I’m transitioning to the metric system. I can’t make much sense of volume quite yet. Too fresh at this kind of measurement to guess litres, too far from removed from imperial to guess gallons.
The pasta dough recipe calls for 375 mL of so of fancy flour and an egg and some water and some oil and some salt and that’s the best I could make if it. A ball of dough, just enough flour to keep it from sticking to your fingers when you knead it. Best to use a tasty olive oil because you’ll notice, and I err on the side of too much salt, because I just do.
Measuring isn’t my strong point, and this metric system is throwing loops at me with respect to baking, so it’s no surprise when I think about it that I’m past mid-life at the dawn of my fresh pasta career.
The fact that the department store down the way had pasta rolling and cutting machines seventy percent off helped. And now that I’ve used it I realise I never needed it, but it takes a future to make sense of a past sometimes, or maybe I’m reading too much into a discounted pasta rolling machine. It’s stainless steel though, which neatly matches my counter tops, so I’ve got that going for me.
Anyway I had gone out only intending to get a pastry bag to help squeeze filling into cannelloni, spinach and fresh ricotta. Instead I blundered into this pasta roller and settled on that plus the pastry bag plus a grocery store trip as well.
I brought the bags up the stairs and unloaded the groceries first. Spinach, vinegar, and a bag of apples. No cannelloni because — hey look in this bag I tell my wife — A pasta roller. With a mixture of ooooh and wait-what-did-you-do she said you’re really going to make pasta.
Look, if it doesn’t work, I told her, I’ll hang my head and go back to get a box of cannelloni, but I don’t want to give myself an easy out. (And that’s a lesson to you, son.)
The box was a bit beat up, but they all were in the clearance section. I figure they’d been bounced around the warehouse after the holidays when they didn’t sell at twenty percent, then thirty, then fifty. Now just making space at a minimal loss. I opened the box and the machine was packaged neatly. I cut away the plastic surrounding the shiny stainless parts and worked out how the clamp fixes to the base. I checked the depth of my countertop and figured that I’d have to open a drawer to achieve enough purchase under the benchtop to keep the machine upright while I cranked. I slid the cutters into a pair of brackets on the back and tested every crank hole and everything worked fine.
The machine came with a pasta recipe and I ignored it. I figured the gist was to get a non-sticky ball, so I cracked an egg into a glass mixing bowl and added some oil and salt and water and scrambled that around pretty good. Then I added half a cup of flour and got that goopy by stirring it with a fork, then added another half cup and things started drying out, then I added a little bit at a time until the ball didn’t stick to the sides. I smacked the ball on to a flour-coated section of countertop and pressed it pretty flat and cut it into strips and took one strip and ran it through the pasta roller on the thickest setting.
Flat. That’s all I can think to describe the resulting dough slab. Then I twisted the knob on the machine to set the rollers just a touch closer to one another and ran the slab through again. Flatter. I spread the flatter slab across a little flour because it had started getting sticky, and that did the trick. I twisted the knob again and continued this procedure until I got to the second thinnest setting.
By then the dough was flat as a greeting card, but it had started shredding here and there. Must be the coarseness of the flour, I figured. And that’s what it is, in case you wonder.
This was the high grade flour, they call it, but it wasn’t finely ground enough to make such a thin sheet. Later I drove up to the fancy market up the motorway and got some of the best Italian flour they had, 00 they call the grind, and I got that back home and tried again and that made sheets thin as a pixel.
Anyway I want to say there’s something more to the story, and maybe there is. Maybe it’s this: industrial processes sometimes veil the simplicity of things. I always reckoned spaghetti and elbows and shells would be nigh impossible to recreate in my kitchen, but it turns out it’s all just dough pressed thin and let to dry. Root beer’s much the same. Some stuff infused into a big batch of tea, more or less, let to ferment a bit.
Come to think of it, maybe the whole world’s no more complicated than we make it, and maybe we’d figure that out quicker if we took time to make our own root beer and noodles.