Fresh Pasta

Better late than never: the Imperia Noodle Maker finally comes out of its box.

We have a Dumpster, a 30-yarder, in our driveway.

We’re purging, tossing things that we don’t want and no one would use like broken furniture and tattered clothes. The good stuff like mountain bikes and scooters will go to the Vietnam Veterans of America and Goodwill.

A Dumpster forces you to take stock, making an honest assessment of what you use and what needs to go. Some items are no brainers – the Battleship game missing half its pieces, the moldy tennis bag stuffed in the back of a closet. But other items, including the Imperia Noodle Maker in the pantry, require deliberation.

I haven’t used the old-fashioned pasta maker from Italy since my mother gave it to me about 15 years ago. I remember asking to borrow it with the intention of someday making pasta, but I’ve never actually gotten around to using it.

I’ve not only not used it, but I’ve never had the desire or motivation to make homemade pasta – not once since 2003. The machine is like the fondue pot Mom gave me from the 1970s – a nice thing to have around should the desire overcome me to melt cheese and dip squares of bread into it. So far, it hasn’t.

Mom apparently had the same feelings about the Imperia because she gladly relinquished it. “Keep it,” she said. “I’m not going to use it.”

My mother’s pasta making began in 1968 shortly after she gave birth to my youngest sister Marianne. Mom met a nice nurse in the hospital who described her homemade pasta, and offered to show her how to make it. A few months later, the nurse kept her word, showing up with her Imperia pasta maker under her arm.

I was only 10, but I clearly remember the first pasta making operation. The nurse set up shop at our kitchen table, affixing the simple steel machine to the wooden tabletop with a few twists of her wrist. After mixing, kneading and rolling out the dough, she fed it through the machine by turning a primitive crank.

Once the dough was flattened, she put it through the machine again, using a special attachment that cut it into spaghetti and fettuccine. It was very chaotic and messy as my mom and the nurse spirited pasta from the flour-covered table across the kitchen into the dining room. They placed it on the cloth-covered dining room table to dry. I’d never seen so much flour or pasta in my life.

My mother was captivated by her pasta-making experience, eventually buying her own Imperia Noodle Maker so she could make it any time she wanted. But making pasta for my father and seven kids was a little more challenging than she thought. She ended up using her machine only a few times before setting her sights on homemade bread.

“I felt really bad about it because I couldn’t wait to buy it,” she said. “But I don’t think I used it more than three times. It was just too much work. Your grandmother never made her own pasta. I don’t even think Daddy’s grandmother made her own pasta. I guess your reluctance to use it must be genetic.”

Given my current purging mode, I decided that I must use the Imperia or consider giving it away. I’m sure there are any number of cooks who are dying to make their own pasta and would love to have this iconic machine, so I had to give it a try.

I began by taking it out of its faded red box and affixing it to my counter. That wasn’t so bad. It was smaller and a lot less intimidating than I remembered. Actually, it was kind of cute, a grown-up version of a Play-doh machine. I swiped it with a wet rag and polished the works, marveling at its simple design. I attached the crank and gave it a few turns. It still worked well, despite being mothballed for 50 years.

I got a simple pasta recipe from the Internet and decided to make gluten-free pasta. Making the dough was the easy part: two cups of flour, three eggs at room temperature (not), two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of water. The hard part was kneading. The recipe called for 10 minutes of kneading, which may be the most boring cooking task in the world.

After kneading the dough for five minutes, I decided to take my chances. I shaped it into a ball, covered it in plastic and put it into the refrigerator overnight. I then set about an equally taxing task, watching the Boston Red Sox take on the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League playoffs until 1:30 a.m.

Upon awakening bleary eyed this morning, I decided to make the pasta before I lost my courage. I took out the dough and floured the counter, quickly realizing that messing up your kitchen is a key part of this operation. Within minutes, flour was everywhere: the floor, kitchen stools, cabinets, my sweatshirt and the dog.

I sliced the dough into three-inch sections, flattening it with a rolling pin until it was thin enough to feed into the machine. I soon learned that there isn’t a lot of room of error: too thick and the dough won’t fit into the machine’s rollers; too thin and it will fall apart in your hands.

It took some time, but I finally found the right thickness, and decided to make fettuccine. Well, actually the machine decided I would make it. After I tried to make spaghetti, I realized that was above my pay grade. I needed the thickest noodle possible, something with a little heft.

The Imperia requires a measure of dexterity and hand-eye coordination to master, what with all the cranking and catching of pasta. I realized I probably should have done this project with my friend “Johnny Pasta” and his wife Barbara as originally planned. They could have caught the pasta and spirited it to the table for drying while I rolled and cranked. Making pasta can be done solo, but like many things in life is best done with friends. Live and learn.

After letting the pasta sit on parchment paper for about a half hour, I scooped up a handful of noodles and tossed them into boiling water with a little salt. I let it cook for about two minutes, draining the noodles and plopping them on a plate without so much as butter or olive oil.

The pasta was incredibly fresh and satisfying, like the difference between homemade chocolate chip cookies and Chip’s Ahoy or Minute Maid and fresh squeezed orange juice. I wondered why it had taken me so long to use my Imperia: within an hour or so, I had enough fresh pasta for two meals. The only downside my kitchen was a mess, and I was the only one on cleanup duty.

I cleaned the machine and put it back in its red box, returning it to its rightful spot in the pantry. The Imperia has made the cut, and will be there if I decide to make homemade pasta again. I just hope I don’t wait another 15 years.

8 thoughts on “Fresh Pasta

  1. For the record, we still use our fondue pot on occasion – for chicken, steak and shrimp.
    Barbara and I are at your service, whenever you decide to make pasta again.
    Barbara has some experience with the machine, albeit 20 removed. I used to watch my grandmother make pasta when I was a kid – sans machine. And with a nickname like Johnny Pasta, I believe I should prove to be a natural.
    Tutti mangia!


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