What a difference a year makes.  If you are only 3 years old, it's a good sized portion of your existence.  Already someone is a great wee helper and, over the past year, has developed a relative understanding that dinner just doesn't magically appear.  As well an activity we do together, I think it is important to make food and it's preparation part of his young life and I hope that it will establish some traditions for him to carry into his teenage years, young adulthood and beyond.  

We make alot of dough here at la tavola.  Not in the slang sense, as what I 'do for a crust' (day job) doesn't result in alot of dough (money) but it has the priceless benefit of giving me time to spend with family and at home so that homemade bread and pasta are back to being regulars on our tavola.  I'm not sure if 'dough' was part of my vocabulary at that age but almost every afternoon when we arrive home, I'm asked if we are making dough.

On Thursday evening, that dough was for bread and this morning, I made a batch of dough that will become malloreddus for tomorrows Easter lunch.  I like malloreddus because of its compact nature (read: perfect size for small utensils and a wee mouth) and for its compatability with various easy to make sauces: endless meat free options, a simple tomato basil preparation, seafood or pantry staples (olives, capers, etc.).

With the widening availability of various kitchen gadgets and attachments for classic pasta makers and people's willingness to give handmade pasta a go, I find these short dumpling type pastas are a good place to start your foray into the world of homemade pasta.  I've been making Malloreddus (origins in Campidano dialect) from Sardegna (aka gnocchetti sardi) and cavatelli from Puglia with a vengence.  

A good malloreddus primer here. And if ricotta cavatelli sounds good, one of the best 'how to' on the web can be found on Deborah Mele's site: Italian Food Forever.  These are similar in shape but, of course, hand rolling versus using a small hand turned machine will make some textural differences as well as maybe some small tweaks in the the recipe used for the dough to suit your personal taste and whatever ingredients you have available to you. 

The dough I make for malloreddus follows the above recipe link but I use a little less water.  The reason being is that the durum wheat semolina 'flour', or the readily available sort, here in Canada, is coarser than the Italian semola di grano duro 'rimacinata" and doesn't absorb all the water (you'll end up kneading in heaps more flour).  The texture is not quite cornmeal but nowhere near the finely ground Italian versions available at specialty shops.  I found the Italian milled semolina di grano duro works perfectly in the LCI recipe.

Also, I find that a slightly drier dough than typical rolled pastas performs better mainly because these dumplings are curled (either through the rotory action of a machine or dragged under your thumb if using a gnocchi type board) to create a ridged outer surface and a ragged interior.  If the dough is too wet/tacky, the final pasta will not retain this shape, the inner groove of the "shell" will seal (stick to itself) and cook to a thick chewy mass.  It has to be tender enough to be workable and firm enough to maintain the curl and sauce soaking interior at least while you are making all the pasta.  It takes a little elbow grease, and practise, but is worth it.  You can measure the coarse durum wheat semolina in a cup measure as it isn't as susceptible to environmental moisture.

The water.  I use filtered water for the dough and heat it quite warm to touch.  To this I add a pinch of crumbled saffron and set it aside to cool a little. Warm water will help in hydrating the protein in the flour and also coax a little more flavour/colour from the saffron.

The basic dough ratio (makes enough for 2 primi): 1 cup semolina (Unico brand), 1/2 tsp salt and about 1/3 cup of warm golden saffron water.  Place the flour in a medium bowl and make a well in the center.  Add the water and stir to a shaggy, but kneadable, mass.  Remove dough from bowl and place on work surface (preferably wood) dusted with more semolina.  Knead for several minutes adding more semolina as necessary but making sure that the dough doesn't show signs of small 'tears', indicating that it is getting too dry.

Cut the dough into smaller portions (this will depend on your preference and how much dough you've made, but for 1 cup of semolina, I find quarters work well) keeping the remainder of the dough wrapped in plastic to keep from drying out.  Roll the portioned dough into a rope about the thickness of your thumb or finger. If you are using a machine, you can feed the dough rope through the rollers and catch the pasta on a lightly semolina dusted platter below.  If you are using a board, cut the rope into roughly 1.5 cm pillows.  Again, I tend to keep these on the small side. Using your thumb and applying even pressure throughout the entire motion, drag and roll the little pillow over the board under your thumb with one steady, even motion.  Give it a few tries and play with the pressure to get the thickness as you like it.

Either way, the finished pasta should have nice grooves on the top surface and underneath, if you pry open the little shell, you can see the dragged, slightly ragged inner surface of the pasta.  Keeping this shape, the pasta will cook evenly and hold just the right ratio of delicious sauce to pasta. Paired with a sausage or mushroom ragu, this is an easy and kid friendly weekend dinner.  And, good help being hard to find these days, I consider myself quite lucky.  If you've got some small hands to keep busy and dinner to get on the tavola, this is the perfect project.



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