Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kids Cooking - Homemade Pasta

Making pasta is a wonderful activity to do with kids.  The basic ingredients are familiar to kids, yet there are opportunities to introduce new ingredients.  The basic process is easy, yet there are many options for experimentation.  It is an activity that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.  You can quickly make a batch in the afternoon and enjoy it for dinner that night.  Of, course, as with anything there is room for error, but you can't learn if you don't make mistakes, and making pasta is a great way for kids to experiment, make mistakes and learn.
We first started making pasta with the kids about 2 years, when my oldest got the book The Silver Spoon for Children as a Christmas present.  If you don't have this book, or the adult version The Silver Spoon, you need to go get it, now.  In both books the recipes are just amazing.  The children's book is broken into four sections, each section containing 10-15 recipes, so it isn't overwhelming to look through.  Each recipe gives a little bit of food or Italian history - for example "Tomatoes have only been grown in Italy since the sixteenth century.  At first, people were suspicious of tomatoes because they are related to a poisonous plant called deadly nightshade, but lucky for us, the Italians soon realized how delicious they were."  Who knew, I know I didn't know that and now I have a five year old sharing the information with his teacher.  The recipes are very simple to follow, there are drawings clearly showing each step, while the text is very easy to read and follow.  I also like the portion sizes of the recipes they easily feed a family of 4-5 and seem very manageable.  We have a large collection of children's cookbooks, and this is one of my favorites.  There are many wonderful things about this book and I really recommend it for any young cook in your life.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program - the pasta.  As I said the basic ingredients - flour and eggs - are familiar to kids and they are two of the best ingredients for playing with in the kitchen.  Kids of all ages love to play with flour, it's messy, but fun and you can't beat the thrill of watching a 5 year old cracking an egg and watching it ooze out of the shell.  When we make pasta we like to make it right on the table, without a bowl.  My kids find this way much more exciting, yes it has been much messier at times, but the adventure for the kids far out weighs the mess.
The assembly process of pasta is very simple.  Measure the flour in the middle of the table (or in a bowl), make a small well in the center and add your eggs.  

Slowly and carefully begin mixing eggs and flour together. You want to bring the flour in slowly from the sides without breaking the walls until the eggs are well coated with flour.

Once the dough begins to form a ball, begin working it with your hands.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic.  The dough is too big for little kids to knead on their own, so at this point I break the dough into smaller pieces and get helpers.  After each little piece has been worked for a while I put them back into one ball and work until well incorporated.   After the dough is well kneaded, let it rest, then comes the fun - deciding how to shape the pasta.

My kids like to use the pasta machine, but it definitely is not necessary to have, or use one, a rolling pin works just fine.  And even if you do have a roller it is fun to let the kids cut and shape the pasta after it has been rolled thin using the machine.



I recommend making the base dough at least once, and then begin experimenting.  This weekend we tried beet pasta, there was no beet flavor, but the color was pretty and my girls where thrilled to be eating pink food.  They love pasta as it is, but pink pasta was just magical.
To make flavored or "colored" pasta puree your chosen ingredient - spinach, sun dried tomatoes, peppers and now beet are a few of our favorites - and begin working it in once the dough is formed into a loose ball.  As you knead the dough it will become evenly distributed.
Have fun with the pasta, make it as easy or complex as you like.  Weather you do plain or flavored (colored) pasta.  Cut it into strips, fold it into ravioli or just twirl it, it is a lot of fun and a great family activity.

Fresh Pasta Dough
1 3/4 cups Flour
3 Eggs

In large bowl (or right on the table ) measure and sift flour.  Form a well in the middle of the flour and crack eggs into the well.  Using a fork slowly begin whisking the eggs, gently incorporating the flour as you mix.  Once dough is formed into a ball begin kneading until smooth and elastic.  Let dough rest, covered under damp dish towel, for 30 minutes.  Roll dough into thin sheets using a pasta machine or rolling pin, then cut into desired shape.