“The trouble with eating Italian food
is that five or six days later, you’re hungry again.”
~ George Miller
A Marriage of Interests
I really enjoy photography. And my partner and I love cooking together. So it seems a perfect marriage of two of my favourite interests to photograph some of the food we enjoy making together.
“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy.
And cooking done with care is an act of love.”
~ Craig Claiborne
This kind of photo session—taking a series of shots of a big cooking project, like making pasta—is a bit challenging for me, as I can’t take all the time in the world to set up the shots (which I normally would with a still life food shoot), or we’d literally be making pasta all day. And I have to quickly switch gears from following recipes, chopping and cooking to looking through my lens, thinking about composition, lighting, f-stops and depth of field and making sure I don’t get my flour-covered doughy fingers all over my camera equipment (I can’t say that has never happened…).
“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
~ Julia Child, My Life in France
A Photo Essay: Saturday Morning Pasta Making
One of our favourite things to do on a Saturday morning is make fresh homemade pasta for our evening dinner. For us, it’s as fun to make as it is delicious to eat.
An Excellent Pasta Cookbook for the Pasta Novice
Williams-Sonoma’s Mastering Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings, by Michele Scicolone, is an excellent, clearly written pasta cookbook for beginners. When we set out to make our own pasta a few years back we were clueless, but this book demystified the process, providing excellent step-by-step instructions for the total novice. Knowing nothing about making pasta, and armed only with this book, a beautiful new Italian-made manual pasta maker, and an abundance of enthusiasm, we were tickled pink to be churning out delicious fettuccine on our very first go of it.
Besides being an excellent cookbook, Mastering Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings is worth perusing just to enjoy the quality of the photography. The beautiful images, by the talented photographer Jeff Kauck, inspired me and greatly influenced my own food photography. I fell in love with the light, airy and bright feel of his images and consciously tried to emulate the look and feel of his photographs—the pleasing depth of field and the blown-out backgrounds.
Sadly, Mastering Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings is out of print. The good news it that it is still readily available from used book sellers at Amazon (in some cases for as little as $0.99 cents plus shipping!) and it can still be found at second-hand book stores. If you’ve never made homemade pasta and want to try it, this book is worth hunting down—the organization is excellent, the instructions are clear and the photographs are invaluable.
Begin with a great attitude And Great Ingredients
Set aside two to three hours (three hours, if it’s your first time). This is not a process one can rush. Expect a bit of a learning curve the first time, but take heart—after making it only once, you’ll feel confident, you’ll find yourself wanting to make it again, and it will be faster and easier the next time.
Begin by washing, de-stemming and lightly steaming the spinach. Rinse and squeeze out the excess water and add the spinach to your food processor along with the eggs. Whirl it around a bit and then add the flour and keep processing until it forms a ball and, just as simple as that, you have pasta dough, ready to knead.
Get Your Hands in the Dough
This dough is lovely to handle, as it yields itself easily to the touch of the hands. There is something so relaxing, pleasing, meditative and satisfyingly elemental about working with dough as you find your own style and rhythm of kneading.
The pasta ball should be smooth and tacky, yet not stick to your hands. The colour of the dough is a gorgeous bright green. Surprisingly, the pasta holds its bright colour well, even after being frozen or cooked.
Take a Breather
After kneading, the dough loves a 30 minute rest. This allows the gluten to relax, reducing the elasticity of the dough, making it easier to work with, as it will hold its shape and won’t spring back. More importantly, it allows the cooks to relax. While the dough is resting, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, relax a bit and read over the next set of instructions.
The Really Fun part:
Getting to Play with your Pasta Machine
After resting, cut the dough into four equal sections. Work with only one quarter of the dough at a time and leave the rest covered.
Fold the dough like a letter and crank it through the rollers of the pasta machine several times. This continues the kneading process.
The Italian-made Marcato Atlas pasta machine is a beautiful and brilliantly designed bit of engineering. It has been made the same way for over a century—my grandmother used this exact style of pasta maker to make her homemade egg noodles.
After kneading, the dough is then rolled out to the desired thickness by running it through increasingly narrow gaps between the rollers.
Once you have rolled out the pasta sheets as thinly as you like, the pasta likes to hang out for a little while to dry a bit before being cut.
An excellent make-shift pasta drying rack can be fashioned by covering the backs of your kitchen chairs with clean tea towels to hang the pasta over. These long sheets of pasta always remind me of my grandmother’s stockings hanging to dry on laundry day.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure.
In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
~ Julia Child
More Fun with the Pasta Machine
After drying the pasta sheets for a little while, you are ready for more fun: cutting the long sheets of pasta into fettuccine noodles using the cutting block of the pasta machine.
A bit More hanging Around
After cutting the pasta into fettuccine, dry the noodles for a short while. Either cook the pasta immediately, or store it in the refrigerator to cook later in the day. If you are not using it the same day, it’s best to freeze it. Though fresh pasta is always best, this pasta freezes surprisingly well. We always make a full recipe, have some fresh that day and freeze the rest.
“Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”
~ Julia Child
I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?
The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you,
is about as nice a valentine as you can give.
~ Julia Child
Tender, Tasty Goodness
Packed with lots of fresh spinach, this tender and tasty pasta makes for one of our favourite special meals. Pair it with your favourite sauce, a fresh salad, a glass of wine and voila! You have a gourmet Saturday evening meal!
You Can Do it!
If you’ve ever wanted to try making your own pasta but felt intimidated, go for it! It’s fun and not nearly as difficult as it first seems.
My Willing Accomplice
I must acknowledge my partner’s patience and enthusiasm in playing along with me in this photo essay (and many other food shoots). He is an ever-willing accomplice in my food photography. Countless times have I stopped him, fork in mid-air, just about to dig in: “Oh, no… Stop! Don’t touch that food just yet… Can’t you see the light? …Just wait a second, honey… I promise, it won’t take long… Hang on, I’m getting the camera…”
As soon as he sees my camera come out, as it did in this pasta making session, he knows that the photo shoot will add at least an extra hour to an already time-consuming process. Happily, we both share the attitude that the fun is in the journey, so if the process gets stretched out at bit—well, it just makes the journey that much more delicious (thank you, honey!).
All photographs by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2014 madlyinlovewithlife