One of the things we really miss while we’re on vacation is fresh pasta. Fresh, handmade pasta. There’s just nothing like it. And, while it’s becoming more common to find house-made pasta in restaurants, it’s often pretty pricey, especially when it’s basically some flour and eggs, so we frequently feel as if we’ve been overcharged. So, soon after we got back, we decided that we needed our pasta fix, and came up with a new variety: pistachio pasta. Yes, ground pistachios are in the pasta. Let’s see some restaurant top that!
We found the idea for this in Marc Vetri’s book, Mastering Pasta, several months ago, and, having just a few pistachios sitting in the freezer (they keep longer there), we figured, why not? We do note that we scaled down his recipe just a bit so we could make a perfect amount for the two of us.
If you make pasta regularly, as we do, this should really be a no-brainer, but, if you’re new to making pasta, this is more involved than our basic pasta dough, as it has the additional step of grinding and sifting pistachios. However, that’s really the only difference.
First off, the key to grinding the pistachios without making pistachio butter is to add a bit of flour. You should have about 3 parts pistachios to 1 part flour while grinding; the exact proportions don’t matter too much. We did it by weight, but volume measurements will work, too. We call for extra-virgin olive oil, mainly because that’s what we use, but another light oil will also work. We do go for the best eggs we can — we notice the difference — and that means eggs from pasture raised hens — we think they notice the difference, too. Finally, we did use only all-purpose flour in this pasta (we often use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 all-purpose) because we wanted the color of the pistachios to show through.
Procedure in detail:
Grind pistachios. Place those pistachios in the bowl of a food processor along with 4 teaspoons of flour. Hit the on button and let it whir away for about a minute, or until the nuts are pretty well ground up. On our food processor, some of the flour will shoot out between the lid and the sides of the bowl, so we try to remember to place the entire food processor into the (dry) sink before hitting the switch. Saves on cleanup, which is always good.
Sift pistachios. This is really optional, at least if you don’t mind having little bits of nuts in your pasta. We did do the sifting this time, but we might skip it the next. Either use a crank sifter or a small mesh sifter to separate the flour-like part from those pieces of nuts that didn’t get fully ground. We’ll use the flour-like ground nuts in the pasta; the remaining bits of nuts we’ll use as a topping for our pasta dish.
Mix in flour and salt. Once the nut pieces are sifted out, add the flour and a pinch of salt. We don’t really measure the amount; basically, we guess it would be about 1/8 of a teaspoon. Now, just give everything a good swishing to mix it all together. We used to use a fork or a spoon, but lately we just stir it around with our fingers. We’re going to get our hands on that dough sooner or later, anyway.
Add egg and oil (and water). Crack in an egg and add about a tablespoon of oil. Start stirring from the center to break up the egg and slowly incorporate the flour mixture. Most recipes for pasta dough suggest using a fork, but we just stick our index finger in the mixture and use that. Keep mixing until the egg and oil are incorporated. It’ll be shaggy and dry, so you’ll need to add a bit of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you have a stiff dough. It takes a bit of practice to get the amount of water just right (we still make dough too soft and sticky sometimes — if you do, add a bit of flour), so err on the too-stiff side and we’ll show you how to fix it in the next step.
Knead. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and start kneading. If the dough seems too stiff, lightly dip it into a bit of water and continue kneading. Continue kneading, and dipping if needed, until the dough is smooth. It’ll take about 5 minutes. We count our kneading strokes and try to get to about 200-250 strokes.
Relax. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for about 30 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax, making it easier to roll out. If you don’t plan to roll out the dough for several hours, you can place it in the fridge; just remember to take it out about an hour before you begin rolling.
Roll and shape. This time, we used our pasta machine to make linguine, but, if you don’t have one, don’t worry, as we have a variety of shapes you can make completely by hand, such as trofie, cavatelli, and orecchiette.
Dry. As you shape the pasta, transfer it to a drying rack covered with a clean dish towel. This step isn’t really necessary, but we find it makes the pasta a bit easier to handle when it comes time to boil it. Let the pasta dry for about 30 minutes so it won’t stick together.
Boil. When it comes time to boil your pasta, remember that fresh pasta cooks faster than the dried store-bought stuff. Depending on the thickness and shape, we’ve had fresh pasta perfectly cooked in 2 minutes, though other times it’s taken nearly 10 minutes. So, check that pasta often.
We tried this pasta with a quick version of something resembling a creamy pasta primavera. A simple sauce made from vegetables simmered in cream and stirred into the pasta. Of course, we added those nut pieces that we sifted out earlier. While the pasta was very good — what fresh pasta isn’t? — it only had a very mild taste of pistachios. With a stronger-tasting sauce, such as tomato, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed the difference between pistachio pasta and ordinary pasta. We’ll keep that in mind, and next time we might just go with a bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese so the pasta flavor stands out. Because of the extra work in grinding and sifting, we’ll give this pasta 4 stars.