All words: Brandon Weight
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Fresh pasta always seemed…overwhelming. Most recipes and instructions lack the detailed hands-on instructions needed to turn aspiring Italian-stlye chef into a full blown Stega Nona. Perhaps it was the wine flights and Aperol Spritzes that kept arriving at our table, but having a chef demonstrate how to use equipment most people drool over at Williams Sonoma let the information fully sink in.
Urbana’s monthly cooking classes, more inexpensive than those around the District, lets attendees inside the mind of Chef Ethan McKee. For $45 in November (with another class in December focusing on sweet dough treats), McKee walks chefs-to-be through some of Urbana’s acclaimed processes and recipes while they’re perched up at Urbana’s pizza bar.
No need to bring an apron – Urbana’s format allows anyone to ask infinite questions and hold dough in their hands without having to beat eggs and flour themselves. Even better, attendees are also restaurant patrons at these events, so along with the instruction, three plates were brought out to taste.
Digging into the spinach pappardelle with mushrooms and pancetta, it’s easy to see why fresh pasta tastes incredibly better than the dollar-a-box dry variation. The ability to add any sort of purée (in this case, spinach) to the dough doesn’t overshadow the inherent silkiness and richness of a freshly prepared noodle. The al-dente noodle remains toothy, but still melts like butter along with sauces and adornments.
Truly, McKee made the process look simple. With the aid of a stand up Kitchen Aid mixer and tabletop pasta cutter, you can even follow his recipe at home to make your own noodles from scratch. Without the mixer, but with a little bit of arm strength, here’s a recipe to follow thanks to McKee:
Spinach Pappardelle with Mushrooms, Pancetta, Zucchini and Parmesan
• 8 oz. all-purpose flour
• 8 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup spinach purée
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 cups assorted mixed mushrooms
• 1/4 cup diced pancetta
• 1 tsp. sliced garlic
• 1 zucchini, sliced thin
• 1/4 cup shaved parmesan
• 2 tbsp. chopped fine herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon)
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Prepare the pasta dough by making a mound of flour with a well in the middle. Mix the yolks with the spinach purée and add the mixture to the well. Use a fork to gradually incorporate the yolk mixture into the flour. Once the dough starts to come together, use your hands to knead the dough into a ball. Continue kneading the dough for about 10 minutes, adding a little flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface. The dough should have a smooth texture when you are finished. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out with a pasta machine (Alternatively, pasta dough can be maid in a KitchenAid with a dough hook attachment).
Prepare the sauce by heating the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta to the pan and cook until it starts to brown. Add the mushrooms to the pan and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook the mushrooms until they are lightly browned. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for another minute. Add the zucchini to the pan and cook for another minute. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for about a minute and then add it to the sauce with about a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the butter and herbs and toss to incorporate and emulsify the butter into the sauce. Garnish with parmesan, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.