In our last episode, the evil insane cook had wrapped our heros in cheesecloth and hung them up in the basement to dry. Listen now as the cook’s wife says, “And you’re positive that eating this won’t kill us?”
The transformation from fresh meat to proscuitto is pretty remarkable. Fresh chicken is pale and squishy while the salted and dried version has a deeper color and is firm enough to thinly slice. The latter also has a more concentrated flavor than fresh chicken. It’s also very salty probably because the pieces are so thin. I think when I make this again, I’ll cut the salting time down.
The dish I choose to make with my proscuitto was Pasta alla Carbonara which apparently translates to pasta made in the style of the charcoal makers. If true, charcoal makers eat pretty well. The dish consists of mixing hot pasta with eggs and cheese — the heat from the pasta soft cooks the eggs and melts the cheese. Extras for the dish can include pancetta, olives or in this case proscuitto.
Considering I’d made proscuitto from scratch, it didn’t seem right to use pasta from a box so I took a slight detour to make the pasta. The first step is grinding wheat into flour (did I mention this detour is in the spirit of Carl Sagan’s recipe for apple pie from scratch?) The grain is hard white wheat which I think tastes better than hard red wheat. Going from wheat berries to flours takes three passes though the mill, with the burrs set closer together for each pass.
The general rule for making pasta dough is to allow 225 grams (about a cup) of flour and one egg per person. It also tastes better with a fat pinch of salt. To make the dough, the flour is piled on a board and a well hollowed out in the center. Break an egg into the well and mix flour into it with a fork. The pile will want to flatten out so the free hand is used to push flour into the center. As each egg is incorporated, add another until all the eggs and flour are combined into a stiff dough. If the dough is sticky, add flour; add water if the dough is too dry. Then the dough ball goes in the fridge for an hour or two wrapped in plastic. This gives the flour time to hydrate and form a protein network.
I probably should have added more water to the dough but a bit of kneading made if pliable enough to work. The dough was divided in two and each half rolled out to about the thickness of a dime and then cut into rectangles. From there the pasta went in a big pot of salty boiling water. Unlike dry pasta which takes ten to fifteen minutes to cook, this is done in about five — it would have been even faster if I’d used AP flour. One other thing about cooking fresh pasta — drop the pieces into the water separately or they turn into a wad on the bottom of the pot.
While the pasta cooked I made up the rest of the dish. Sliced proscuitto went in a pan to crisp up and brown. The chicken proscuitto was fairly lean so it was accompanied by a good splash of olive oil. Once it was pretty nearly done, I added a few cloves worth of sliced garlic and let them cook long enough to be fragrant. At this point the pasta was drained and mixed with the proscuitto followed by the eggs and cheese — one egg and an ounce or two of grated cheese per person seems about right. The easiest way to get an even coating is to the beat the eggs, add the cheese and stir the mixture into the pasta. Serve with more grated cheese on top.
The final dish had a good combination of flavors (salty, chickeny against the bland sweetness of pasta and tangy cheese) and textures (firm pasta against the creamy egg and cheese sauce). Like I said, charcoal makers eat pretty well.