Some things in life have no analog, no substitute, and no equal. They may seem similar in name, but they just don’t match up. Instant grits and real grits have little in common. Live drums and drum machines don’t sound the same. They might have given Light-Skinned Aunt Viv the same name, but she’s wasn’t even close to the genuine article.
Boxed pasta is to fresh pasta what MIDI horns are to live horns.
There, I’ve said it.
Just try, as a producer or composer, to convincingly substitute a real live horn section with a cheap keyboard imitation. It won’t work. They may play the same notes. Those digital files may even be labeled as trumpets, trombones, and saxophones of all types. But they’re just not the same.
There are some who will argue with me. There are some people that will say there’s no difference in taste between fresh pasta, Ronzoni, or Pasta-Roni, just like there are some people that can hear the kitschy fake saxophone line in the Soul-Glo theme song and mistake it for the real thing.
My youngest sister spent a year abroad during high school in Italy, which (besides making me totally jealous as a college student and inspiring me to go abroad my senior year) turned her into a self-professed pasta snob. I didn’t even realize I was eating a lesser version of pasta until I ate at a few Italian restaurants that served handmade pasta. I began experimenting with homemade pasta after first trying my hand at ravioli, and then later investing in a pasta-maker attachment for my Kitchen-Aid standing mixer.
Whether the pasta is made using a traditional rich egg noodle dough, or an egg-free vegan version, the texture is far silkier, and the possibilities far more expansive, than simply grabbing a 99-cent box of the dried stuff. In the absence of traditional squid ink, the recipe below is a vegan dough using activated charcoal to achieve its deep black color.
½ cup Flour (ideally, 00 pasta flour, but all purpose is fine)
½ cup semolina flour
½ tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp fine ground Pepper
½ tsp fine garlic powder
1 tsp activated charcoal powder
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
Combine and sift all the dry ingredients together. Then, either by hand or with a dough hook attachment, knead in the water and olive oil gradually, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. Divide the dough into small balls, roughly the size of your palm. If using a rolling pin, flour the work surface and the pin, and roll the dough as thinly and uniformly as possible. Then use a knife or pizza cutter to cut pasta to your desired width. (Fettucini is easiest for me to do freehand.)
If you have a pasta maker, you probably know how to use it already. Just gradually thin the dough down to a #6 and set aside, preferably on a hanging pasta rack. Use whatever cutter you choose, and then let the pasta hang to dry for at least an hour.
Save the pasta in a floured Ziploc bag in the fridge for 2-3 days, or in the freezer for several weeks.
For the shrimp:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
½ cup basil pesto (hyperlink to the recipe)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tbsp caper or olive brine
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp red pepper flake
Smoking gun with wood chips of your choice (I used cherry wood)
In an airtight storage bag or bowl, combine the shrimp, brine, tomato paste, and crushed red pepper. Light the wood chips and fill the container with the smoke before sealing it completely and putting it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Boil the noodles in heavily salted water for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse immediately in cold water.
Add the olive oil to a saute pan on medium heat, then add the chopped garlic, shallot, and rosemary. Saute until the shallot is translucent. Add the shrimp and pesto and cook for two minutes before adding the pasta to the pan. Continue to cook while stirring to keep the noodles from sticking until the shrimp is done, about two more minutes. Remove from heat, plate, and serve!