I’ve always been one of those people who is freaked out by their own voice.“Yikes! Is that what I sound like?” Whether it’s reading my work out loud, watching home videos or being on speakerphone, I instantly cringe upon the realization that the voice in my head doesn’t match my voice IRL [in real life]. So, when I was approached to film a video with Jewel Osco, I was equally intrigued and freaked.
This clip, an episode of Chi Town Stories , would focus on my background in food, family and the neighborhood in which I grew up. My producer (Hi Robert!) informed me we’d be shooting all day in the location of my choice, keeping it relaxed, fun and filled with food. How could I say no?
When I decided to film in my childhood home and cook alongside my #1 chef (Hi, Mom!), I knew I wanted to prepare a dish that was familiar and special. Homemade pasta isn’t something I grew up eating on the regular, but rather a treat that I learned to love, appreciate and share with others.
While definitely a laborious process, churning out homemade dough is, in my opinion, the best way to differentiate a good bowl of pasta from a great one. Trust me – I’ve done my research. When I taste fresh pasta, I am instantly transported to my time in Italy where you find handmade ravioli, bucatini, cavatelli, gnocchi and spaghetti around every corner. It’s my favorite country for a reason.
My #1 chef was also the one who taught me how to make fresh pasta, showing me the proper way to knead dough and how to roll gnocchi with a fork. The two of us have enjoyed countless bowls of homemade pasta together and while some have been hits and other misses, it’s always been a memorable meal. When the Italian side of my family comes together for a meal, it’s a guarantee (and a running joke) that the table will be dead silent since we’re all too happy and obliviously engaged with the plate of food in front of us to focus on any or all conversation.
A day or two before the shoot, #1 chef & I took a few trial runs on the fresh pasta dough. Since we’d be on camera and are mother-daughter perfectionists (in the kitchen), we knew it’d be best to have a complete batch or two in our back pocket in case things went south day-of. I am happy to report that the day, thankfully, went off without a hitch. We spent the morning walking around the Gold Coast, eyeing the mansions on Astor Street and photographing the insane waves down at North Ave Beach. I watched more than a few brave souls try to sneak up on the waves only to get engulfed in what I can imagine was bitterly cold h20. It was so cold and so windy on that October day.
The rest of the day was spent in the kitchen making crostini with caramelized onions, brie & fig jam, homemade spaghetti, tomato basil sauce and chicken with breadcrumbs and banana peppers. Our kitchen was transformed, with lighting and camera equipment and lots of technology things I know nothing about. Luckily, we had the most fun crew on hand (Hi, Guys!) and without them, I know the whole experience wouldn’t have been half as fun or fulfilling. It was a busy day…but in the best way possible.
Sidenote: let’s also talk about the fact that I learned I don’t smile while cooking on camera. Weird, considering I’m generally a very enthusiastic person, especially in the kitchen. Looking back, I just want to shake that girl in the plaid and plaster a smile on her face! YAY, cutting garlic is so fun! YAY, crying while chopping onions! I mean, honestly, look at that focus. Would you believe me if I told you I was smiling on the inside?
After a few hours of cooking, we took a break where I sat down with the producer & director (Hi, Jake!) to do a 45-minute interview that would essentially be edited into content for the voiceover. We sat in my parents living room and talked about all my favorite things: food, family, writing and cooking. As nervous as I was to be speaking in that foreign voice of mine, I found the whole experience very therapeutic. Funny how that works…
As the filming began to wind down and our time spent cooking came to an end, I realized how lucky I was for this opportunity. The whole day was a such a blur, doing so much, so fast. Looking back though, what I loved about the whole thing was being able to give everyone a glimpse into my life in the kitchen. The reason I love to cook (and write!) is because I’m able to share my passion and enthusiasm with others. I so desperately want my dining companions to experience that same level of joy I get in everything from shopping for ingredients to prep work, cooking and plating the final product.
I am such a believer that coming together for a meal is one of the most special things you can do. Time slows down, just a bit, to where our senses are heightened and memories are made. I hope that you whether you take a Saturday afternoon to roll out some spaghetti or simply sit down with your loved ones over a plate of food, it’s filled with that same contagious and childlike enthusiasm.
On a final notel, I’d like to thank my #1 chef, family & boyfriend that sat at the table eating slightly cold spaghetti* with smiles on their faces, rubbing their bellies & cracking jokes even though I told them the video was going to be shot without sound.
*Note: Filming + Re-Filming + Re-Re-Filming the plating of the pasta = Slightly Cold Spaghetti
Homemade Pasta Dough (Middle-Class Not Quite Golden), adapted from Lidia’s Family Table
*Lidia has 3 kinds of fresh pasta, the Rich Mans Golden Pasta (best served with butter & parmesan), the Middle-Class (served here, best with marinara or bolognese sauce) and the Poor Man’s Two-Egg Pasta (best for lasagne)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 large eggs
- 2 Tbs. extra- virgin olive oil
Fit the regular steel cutting blade in the bowl of a food processor. Measure the flour into the bowl; process for a few seconds to blend and aerate.
Drop the egg yolk into a spouted measuring cup or a small bowl; beat briefly with a fork to break up. Mix in the measured amounts of oil. To minimize the chance of overheating the dough, use eggs right from the refrigerator.
Start the machine running with the feed tube open. Pour the wet mixture into the bowl quickly; scrape all the egg drippings out of the cup into the processor, too.
Let the machine run for about ½ minute. A dough should form quickly; most of it should clump or ball up on the blade- some may spread on the sides of the bowl- where it will twist and knead. Let the machine knead the dough for about 10 seconds (no more than 40 seconds total processing). Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for another ½ minute or so, until it’s smooth, soft and stretchy.
If you have problems in the food processor – if there’s no apparent clumping after 30 seconds, or the dough stiffens up very quickly – stop the machine and feel the dough. Adjust for stickiness or dryness by working in either flour or water in small amounts. You can continue to work the dough in the machine, but don’t process for more than a total of 40 seconds – or turn the dough out to correct the consistency and finish kneading by hand.
Form the dough into a disc, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest for ½ hour. Store, very well wrapped, in the refrigerator for a day, or a month or longer in the freezer.
Rolling the dough by pasta machine
Have your dough at room temperature for rolling. Cut 1 lb. of dough into 4 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered. Have a large tray or baking sheet nearby, lightly sprinkled with flour, on which to lay thin dough strips. Smooth kitchen towels are also useful as resting surfaces and to separate layers of strips. Have flour for sprinkling and a knife or sharp pastry cutter handy, too.
Turn the knob to the widest setting, you’ll be working at this setting for awhile. Start with a small piece, fold it in half, and roll it through the machine two times. Fold that elongated piece in thirds, turn the dough 90°, so the fold is on the side, and roll it through. (Catch, fold and roll six more times to strengthen and smooth the dough. It will then become more resilient and workable). Keep changing the settings, folding and rolling the dough to the consistency you like, Perhaps almost see-through. Set the finished strips down, lightly floured and not overlapping, in the big trays. If necessary, cover a layer of strips with a floured kitchen towel, and rest more strips on top.
Cooking the pasta:
For 1 lb. of pasta, bring 6 qt. of water to a full boil and stir in 1 Tbs. of kosher salt. Before cooking the pasta, shake off excess flour, using a strainer or colander or just shaking it in your hands. Drop the pasta into the boiling water in several batches, stirring with each addition to separate pieces. Cook at the boil at least until the pasta rises to the top; at that point, many pastas are done ( but some are not ). Remove and taste a piece when it surfaces. Fresh pasta is cooked through when they are tender all the way through and you have tested them!