Fresh Pasta and Sauce – Is It Worth It?

I’ve long had a sense that the food manufacturers in the United States were poisoning us with preservatives.

Grab a random can in the soup aisle at the grocery store, and you’ll likely see that there’s enough salt in the soup to fill your daily requirement of salt and much of potassium. Did you know that the average age of an apple in the grocery store is anywhere between 10 and 14 months? And lets not get started on the pink slime that goes into fast food burgers and what things like Chicken McNuggets are made out of. If you want a truly eye-opening experience, take a look at this video here.

I started making my own bread and lunch meat years ago. My bread comes from unbleached white flour and generally has very few ingredients to it (a little salt, a little butter water and yeast). One thing I quickly noticed, in addition to the obvious freshness, was the cost difference. I bought a high-end breadmaker for $125 from Amazon. It costs me roughly $0.75 to bake a loaf of fresh bread. If you purchase bread from the bakery at a Safeway and Giant, you’ll pay around $4-5. Even if you just stick with the low-end (and highly preserved) Wonder Bread, it’ll be at least a buck. The breadmaker allows me to assemble a loaf in about three minutes, and it bakes it unsupervised for 4-6 hours.

Likewise with lunch meat. If you avoid the preservative filled meat in the lunch meat aisle and go to the store deli, you’ll pay $6-9 a pound for what is mostly cured lunch meat – meaning meat with a ton of salt in it, more than you should eat on a daily basis. However, you can purchase organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for less than that (I freeze a lot) and grill them on an electric grill in five minutes. This way, I get fresher meat and I know exactly what’s in it.

I stopped buying jar tomato sauce for pasta years ago as well; it’s relatively simply to make good marinara or bolognaise in about 10-15 minutes from canned tomatoes. But the acidity in tomatoes apparently breaks down the metal in cans, allowing the metal to mingle with the tomatoes on a molecular level. Doesn’t sound terribly good to me.

So I’ve long been interested in making sauce with fresh tomatoes (at least as fresh as I can get at the store – how old are these? I don’t know. Baby steps). So I tried that today, while also taking a crack at making fresh pasta from scratch as well.

First, I made the pasta, because your pasta actually needs some time to dry out before you boil it – that way it’ll hold up better in water. I used a simple recipe – I dumped out two cups of unbleached white flour onto my counter, then made it into a mountain. I cut a hole in the middle, and cracked two eggs into it. Slowly whisking the eggs with a fork, I gradually mixed in the flour. Once it all came together, I kneaded the dough like you would bread on a floured surface until it stopped feeling sticky.

Taking a ball of dough (roughly 1/6 of the full amount), I pushed into a tube, then ran it through the press side of a manual pasta maker six times to turn it into a sheet, which gradually got thinner and longer. Finally, I cut the sheet into linguine on the cutting attachment. Repeated with the remainder of the dough until I had about a pound of pasta resting on a floured surface.

Fresh Pasta

Turning to the sauce, I used a combination of grape and roma tomatoes, about three pounds worth. My wife provided an assist by cutting and seeding the larger tomatoes then adding them to an Italian tomato press. Essentially, the tomato press removes and grinds the skin of the tomato first then the tomato itself, pushing the fruit (vegetable?) down a chute into a bowl for collection. I kept going until I collected 28 ounces in total. (Truth be told, I ran out of fresh fruit before reaching that goal, so I was forced to fill in with some canned diced).

Tomato Press

To make my simple sauce, I sautéed a diced onion and some garlic in extra virgin olive oil on the bottom of a pot. Once done, I added the tomatoes with 6 oz of tomato paste. Then about a tablespoon of sugar, teaspoon of garlic salt, some crushed red pepper, basil and oregano for seasoning. Finally, I added about ¼ cup each of white wine and olive oil to smooth out the sauce and assist with the further breakdown of the tomatoes. Brought to a boil, then let simmer on extra low on my backburner for about four hours.

But get to the point: what’s the result?

Pasta - Final Result

The sauce was totally worth it – incredibly fresh and flavorful. I think it would probably be even better with truly fresh “farmers market” tomatoes. Like I said before – who knows how old these grocery store tomatoes are? (Side note: the difference between the fresh salsa at the Giant and Whole Foods is startling. The Giant brand has virtually no flavor in comparison).

The pasta was very good. But given the 30-40 minutes of prep time, this certainly won’t be an every week occurrence. For special occasions though, especially since it can be made earlier in the day, I will definitely be serving this again.

Though my wife thinks it needs a little salt.