Exponents and Empanadas

The only time Cynthia mentioned any form of math was when she taught us to make empanadas. Though we used packaged dough - much quicker and foolproof for the unfamiliar American clan she was hosting - she bestowed on us the secret precisions of the homemade equivalent. Cynthia is a woman who acts most often by feel and intuition. She's this way when kneading bread, and when sensing the spoonful of honey she adds. She knows it's right by feel. Yet certain things, I observed, seeking for rhyme or reason, she believes have a way certain way of being done. One such thing is the process for making her barres de cereal. There is an order in which she toasts the ingredients in a large pot on the stove, a set amount of this and that which are permanent additions.

The other certain thing, it seems, is rolling empanada dough. Four to the fourth - quatro a quarto - she told us. We squinted our eyes, wondering if we understood correctly. An exponent? In the kitchen? In Spanish? Si. We devoted quite some time that day to deciphering exactly what she must have meant, and several conversations there after to the same subject. I thought I understood it at the time - the process of rolling the dough through a pasta machine, folding it over itself, rolling, and then folding again. Now, though, nearly five months later, I can't remember why one would want to repeatedly fold the dough.

I do remember imaging, though, how delicate the dough must become. This was the image that came to mind making a batch of pasta on Sunday. I notched up the settings. The dough became thinner and thinner, quadrupling in size.

With each pass through the roller the dough thinned, remarkably so. I envisioned empanadas.

Handmade Homemade Egg Pasta

1 1/2 c flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
3 egg yolks

On a large board or clean counter space, measure out the 1 1/2 c flour and salt. Form a large well in the middle and add the eggs and yolks. Beat the eggs with a fork, slowly and gradually incorporating the flour a little at a time. When the fork ceases to be effective, use your hands to combine. When all of the flour has been mixed in, knead the dough, pushing it with the heel of your hand and rotating at 90 degrees until the dough has formed a smooth ball. The dough should not be sticky at all and when you pull off a piece it should stretch before breaking off. If it breaks off immediately, continue kneading.

When the dough is ready, sprinkle it with a little of the reserved flour and cover with plastic or a cloth. Let rest for about 30 minutes. You can also store it in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, until you are ready to roll it out, for up to 24 hours.

Set up your pasta machine and sprinkle the surface lightly with flour. Cut off about one third of the dough. Wrap the rest in plastic or a cloth while you work. Roll the dough lightly in flour and use your hands to flatten it into a rectangle about the width of the machine. Set the machine to the highest (thickest) setting and roll the dough through. Repeat. If it sticks, dust with more flour. Set the machine to its next-thickest setting and repeat.

Continue to work your way through the settings. If at any point the dough tears badly, patch it together and start again. Use as much flour as you need, but in small amounts each time.

After passing the dough through the thinnest setting, flour it lightly, cover, and set aside. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds of the dough.

Roll the dough through the cutting section of the machine or cut by hand into broad strips. Cook right away or hang the strands to dry for several hours.

To cook the noodles, drop them into salted boiling water. They'll be done in less than 3 minutes, likely less than two, when they are tender. Sauce immediately and serve.

Pasta in Oil and Garlic

2 tbs minced garlic
1 or 2 dried chiles, or to taste
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil (good quality!)
1 lb long thin pasta (like Handmade Homemade Egg Pasta)
1/2 c fresh parsley leaves, chopped

While the water is boiling, put the garlic, chiles, oil, and salt in a small skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the garlic sizzle a little, shaking the pan occassionally, just until it puffs and turns golden.Turn off the heat.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving some of the cooking water. Reheat the garlic and oil if necessary. Dress the pasta with the sauce, adding a little more oil and some of the cooking oil if it seems dry. Toss with parsley if using it. Serve hot.

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