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Trofie al Pesto

Trofie is Ligurian pasta made with flour and water, no eggs. It is rolled by hand into little squiggly shapes and served with basil pesto. If you've never made fresh pasta before, this is a good one to start with for two reasons: you don't need a pasta machine, and trofie is almost impossible to buy outside of Liguria, so your efforts will be rewarded with a dish you can't just order in a restaurant. Cutting the dough into little pieces and rolling each one between your palms is somewhat labor intensive, so plan to serve this dish the Ligurian way - in small portions as a first course. A good way to cope with the task of shaping pasta is to enlist the help of your family. Kids find it particularly fun, and you'll be done in no time.

4 first-course servings

Dough (can be made the day before):

You will need:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt (or 1 tsp table salt)
1 cup cold water

  1. Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the water.
  2. Using a fork, start mixing the flour into the water keeping the wet mixture in the center of the well. When the mixture gets too thick for a fork, mix the dough with your hand until all the flour is incorporated and the dough looks cohesive.
  3. Clean your hands and press your thumb into the dough. It should feel tacky, but your thumb should come out clean without any dough stuck to it. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour, kneed for a minute and test again.
  4. Once the dough is the right consistency, it needs some serious kneading. Place it onto a clean work surface and knead for 8 minutes by folding and turning 90 degrees after each fold. Always turn the dough in the same direction. Do not short cut this step! You should end up with dough that is as smooth as a baby's bottom.
  5. Form the dough into a thick disk, sprinkle with flour, wrap in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Shaping trofie (1-2 hours before serving):

You will need:
Semolina flour for sprinkling finished pasta
All-purpose flour for sprinkling the work surface

1. Sprinkle a large cookie sheet with semolina flour.

2. Sprinkle clean work surface with all-purpose flour. Place the dough on floured work surface and keep it covered with plastic wrap except when using.

3. Cut a 2/3" strip from the dough with a knife or dough scraper.

4. Roll it on lightly floured surface with 2 hands into a 1/3" thick rope.

5. Cut it into 1/4" wide pillows.

6. Pick up one pillow with your right hand and place it at the heel of your left hand. Hold your left hand in place over the cookie sheet. Roll your right hand forward in a fast motion applying pressure. Your piece of pasta will turn into a little cylinder with tapered ends and drop onto the cookie sheet. Don't roll your hands back and forth or you'll untwist the pasta. Repeat with remaining pieces dropping them all over the cookie sheet so that they touch as little as possible.

7. Sprinkle trofie with extra semolina flour and gently roll them around to coat.

8. Move finished pasta to one side of cookie sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough. When the cookie sheet gets too crowded, start a new one. Pasta can be shaped 1 hour before cooking and kept uncovered at room temperature.

Cooking trofie

You will need:
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup pesto
Finely grated parmesan for sprinkling on pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (at least 4 quarts). Season heavily with salt (pasta will be in the pot for less than a minute, so your water has to be salty enough to season it).
  2. Pour the pasta from cookie sheet to a colander and shake to remove semolina.
  3. Prepare a small bowl to reserve some pasta water.
  4. Make sure your colander is ready in the sink, the pesto, and butter, and grated cheese are waiting on the counter, and you have serving bowls handy before you cook the pasta. Even half a minute can make a difference between perfect and overcooked pasta, so watch it carefully.
  5. When the water is at a rolling boil, pour the pasta into the pot, give it a stir and cover. After 30 seconds, start testing every 15 seconds until the pasta is desired tenderness. It should be supple with a little bite. This usually takes 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the size of your pasta and how long it sat on the cookie sheet.
  6. Reserve 2 spoonfuls of pasta water in a small bowl, and drain the pasta.
  7. Put pasta back in the pot and mix with 1/2 cup pesto, 1 Tbsp pasta water, and 2 Tbsp butter. Serve immediately sprinkled with grated parmesan.
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