Needle point pasta in light blue cheese sauce
IF YOU LIKE STUBBY AND CHEWY PASTAS, LIKE ORECCHIETTE, YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS
Are you still waiting for your simple, elegant, next go-to dinner party recipe that you can strut out in front of an impressed crowd and say “oh this? I just pulled it out of the fridge“?
Well, this one is mine.
In case you aren’t aware yet, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been and will be stuck with tiny and barely equipped kitchens in rented apartments all the way till early January. You know when they say, you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it? Well, I feel exactly the same about my kitchen. Because what I have now in my temporary possession is a bended cutting board, a non-stick skillet, and a knife that’s about as sharp as a letter-opener. But, strangely, it is always when I don’t have something, that I find myself wanting it the most.
Two days ago, like a crippled soldier standing amidst the desert, not the most convenient timing of all you see, I found myself really, really craving some homemade pastas.
Obviously, without any pasta machines, the pasta will have to be completely hand-shaped. But in case you haven’t noticed, all the best pastas are. I know it may sound intimidating, but listen, listen to me carefully. As someone who used to be just as intimidated as you are, I’m telling you this as a fact, that hand-shaping pasta is actually the easiest way to do it. It is. For one, these types of pastas are usually thicker-bodied, which requires a softer dough, which makes them much easier to knead. Then the shapes are supposed to be rustic, slightly un-uniformed, which makes them forgiving. Especially this one. I’m calling it “needle point”, because it is a shape inspired by a type of Asian rice noodle called “silver needle”. If you like stubby and chewy pastas, like orecchiette, then you’re gonna love this. It has the same pleasantly chewy and supple texture, but is much much easier to shape. Just a few seconds in between your palms, it is straightforward and fun. I mean, even a kid who’s good with play-dough could probably shape these.
Then there’s another beautiful yet convenient characteristic about great hand-shaped pastas, which is, they don’t need much else to shine. A little bit of mild, creamy blue cheese, and a good handful of grated pecorino romano, swirled together with a few splashes of pasta water plus a little specks of fresh chives, and what you’ll have is something that would normaly cost a good chunk of your wallet in a fancy Italian restaurant.
It’s funny how sometimes the best work is born out of desperations, and we wonder where it has been all our lives. Trust me, this is one of those.
- 1 1/2 cup Italian tip 00 flour (mine had around 10~11% protein)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 5 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1/4 cup mild and creamy blue cheese (ex: gorgonzola)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
- More grated pecorino romano and chili flakes to serve
- TO MAKE THE PASTA-DOUGH: Mix tip 00 flour and salt in a large bowl, then add the egg yolks and 5 tbsp of water. Stir the ingredients together and work it into a shaggy dough, then transfer to a working surface and knead vigorously for 5 min. By now, the dough should be very smooth, silky and supple, soft to the touch but not sticky (it should feel like a play-dough). If the dough is quite sticky, knead in more flour. If the dough feels hard and the surface still has folds and cracks, that means the dough is too dry. Add more water by wetting your hands, then work the additional moisture into the dough until it feels right. Wrap the dough with plastic-wrap and let rest for 30 min.
- Tear off tiny little nubs of dough, no more than 1/4 tsp each, until you have about 20~24 nubs to work with. Then roll each nub vigorously in between your palm (each should take only a few seconds), until it's short and stubby shaped with pointy ends (see the photo). Drop the pasta into a small pile of flour on the side of the counter, then repeat with the rest of the nubs. This will get pretty easy once you get the hang of it, especially if you have an assembly line going (one person tearing the nubs and one person rolling).
- Every once in a while, toss the pasta with flours to prevent sticking, but do not to curl them up in a messy pile. Arrange them in a single direction (like in the photo) so they retain their shapes. Repeat until you finish with the entire dough.
- TO COOK THE PASTA: Remove the rinds from the blue cheese and cut into small cubes. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook olive oil, minced garlic and freshly ground black pepper until fragrant, then turn off the heat and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water with a good pinch of salt to boil, then cook the needle-point pasta just until they float to the surface of the water. We want to undercook the pasta and let them finish cooking in the sauce. Now transfer the pasta into the skillet with a slotted spoon, then return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the cubed blue cheese and grated pecorino romano cheese, and a couple tbsp of the pasta-cooking water. Bring the content to a simmer and swirl the skillet until the blue cheese has melted, and the sauce becomes thick and creamy.
- Serve immediately with chopped chives, more pecorino romano and a few flickers of chili flakes.
I'm usually very diligent with weighing my ingredients, but because I didn't have my kitchen-scale with me, you'll have to depend a little bit on getting the right hand-feel for the dough.
Using only yolks and water, this dough is perfect for making fat and chewy types of pasta. But don't use it for thin pasta sheets (for ex, ravioli) because it will be too soft.