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The real deal - homemade pasta and sauces

August 11, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

BOONSBORO - It was 20 years ago that homemade pasta maker Sabrina Blair decided to think outside the meatloaf.

Part of the reason was that neither she nor her husband were subjected to anything adventurous as kids - unless you consider fried chicken, Chef Boyardee or meatloaf to be daring. So when you've got a family of your own and you're meatloafed out, you need something to bail you out at dinner time. Something approachable and quick.

For Blair, homemade pasta saved the day. She tried making it in the late 1980s, to good effect.

"We've been hooked on it ever since," said Blair.

Blair is a science teacher at Boonsboro Middle School, and her husband is a home builder. They live near Boonsboro and have three children. The youngest, Chiara, 6, is already well-versed in the ways of pasta making. On the day The Herald-Mail visited, little Chiara was pressing out the pasta dough, while her mother did the cutting. Chiara took great care not to get flour on her pretty black dress.

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Blair's noodles are made from a basic recipe of flour, water, egg and a bit of salt. Once the ingredients are kneaded together - either by hand or machine - the dough is left to dry for a bit in the fridge. She rolls out the dough and cuts the pasta wide or skinny.

Sometimes Blair will add carrot juice, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese or even spinach to the pasta to add color and flavor. Sometimes, she stuffs the pasta to make ravioli. Whichever way it's made, homemade pasta is quick and easy. No fuss. Cooking only takes two or three minutes.

And once the pasta is done, you've got a great blank canvas for a sauce.

The noodles aren't squishy and tasteless, as you might find with the boxed variety. Blair's were softer and had a richer, buttery taste. She tops her noodles with carbonara or with pesto made from basil she grows in her garden. She serves her pasta with a batch of homemade bread, another food she's passionate about.

Blair shared her love for pasta making during a recent visit with The Herald-Mail, along with a few recipes.

Q and A with Sabrina Blair



So, how'd you get into this?

I did not grow up in an area where we had any different multicultural foods at all. I think I grew up on Chef Boyardee, things out of a box. It was after college when I started traveling, eating pasta from places and thinking it was really terrific. I learned how to make it when we were young and poor. It was a way to eat several meals a week. When you have little kids, they'll all eat it. And about 20 years ago I really got interested in it and that's when the kids bought this (pasta machine) for me one Mother's Day, and that was it.

Do you have a favorite kind of pasta?

I actually like the carbonara the best. It's just such a simple sauce. It's supposed to be that sauce made of little bits of things, you know if you're at the end of the week and you don't have much left in the refrigerator.

I can't ever say that I've had homemade pasta. What would you say is the difference?

I think it's got a lot more flavor than the store-bought. When you dry it, you lose some of the flavor. And we cut it in big ribbons. We like the big ones to roll around with your fork.

Which are the hardest?

Well, if you want to cut fancy, like angel hair - that's probably the hardest because you have to be so careful. I like to cut fettuccine because it's forgiving. You can cut it nice and wide and say you meant it to be that way.

Pesto



Into a blender add:

1 1/2 cup basil leaves
2 to 4 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients and pure until smooth.

Store in regrigerator and bring to room temperature before using. Toss with pasta using1 tablespoon for each serving.

Carbonara sauce



8 round slices of pancetta (purchase at grocery store; or substitute bacon)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup pasteurized eggs
2 tablespoons cream or half and half
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup cupped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta, hot

Chop pancetta and saut in olive oil. Pour into large serving bowl. Add eggs, cream and cheese. Toss hot pasta in egg mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well to "cook" the eggs.

Serve with parsley and additional cheese to taste.

Pasta



1 1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons water

Mixing by hand:

Blend the dry ingredients and pour onto counter. In a bowl, beat eggs and stir in olive oil. Make a well in the center of the mound of flour and pour egg mixture into the center. Using a fork, stir slowly, pulling some flour in with each stir. Work until all the flour is incorporated into the egg. Add water as needed, if dough is dry. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes. Add flour if sticky.

Mixing with stand mixer:

Add dry ingredients to the mixing bowl. Raise beater and make a well in the center. Pour beaten egg and oil mixture in the center. Lower beater and blend on low speed, adding water if needed. Dough should form a loose ball. Let machine knead dough for about 3 minutes and then knead 5 to 10 times on counter. Add flour if still sticky.

Cutting pasta:

Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Roll by hand or machine. Blair suggests passing it through a pasta machine seven times. Let sheets of dough dry for about 1 hour. Cut by hand or machine.

Cooking pasta:

Cook in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

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