Tokyo Table

Culinary Adventures at Le Cordon Bleu, Tokyo

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

You might be surprised to see that today is all about pasta and pasta sauce.  I was delighted when I read the recipe book for the Le Cordon Bleu program and found a day devoted just to pasta.  My husband was just as thrilled, because now I can use my “must-have” pasta machine.  This beautiful, shiny, awkward and heavy machine has been a fixture in our kitchen cupboards for years.  When we were registering for our wedding gifts over 20 years ago, I convinced him that we needed a pasta machine.  “Think of the creations I could make and the dinner parties we could have,” I told him.  And so it was given to us as a gift and has loyally travelled with us through every move including England, Colorado and twice to Asia. 

In that time, I have twice used the machine.  Both times the pasta was a success, but the cleanup was more that I wanted to deal with.  I also found the process very time consuming and wondered why I insisted on this machine.  Today, I’m hoping, this will change and I can learn how to make fresh pasta on a moment’s notice with minimal mess.  I know these are high expectations, but after all, it’s Le Cordon Bleu!

The second half of today’s pasta lessons is our first introduction to sauce.  And not just one, but five: Mornay, Tomato, Pesto, Bolognese and Carbonara.  As I look at the recipes, I realize how brilliantly the Cordon Bleu staff have arranged the lesson: These simple sauces (simple for French cooking) have few ingredients and the techniques are simple but varied.  One sauce is hot and thickened with eggs and cream, another is thickened by reducing, a third is simply cold ingredients in the blender and another is cooked by the warm pasta.   I have made these sauces for years, but I’m looking forward to new techniques.

I arrived at the demonstration class early to get a seat towards the front; I didn’t want to miss any part of the pasta preparation.  And just like it said on my machine instructions, it’s as simple as one, two, three.  Except for one detail: know how the dough should feel before rolling it into the machine. Too hard and it will crack; too soft and it will stick and gum up the machine.  As I go home and prepare for tomorrow’s practice, I realize the trick to pasta— experience.  So it’s just that I haven’t given it enough tries.  But at least I know what the two extremes are and why they happen. 

The next morning I was a little nervous since this is only my third try at homemade pasta.  Organization and cleanup are not my strong suits and if I get the pasta-making wrong, I could spend the entire practical cleaning and scraping dough off my work surface and have nothing but a floured face to show for it.  We have 2.5 hours to complete our program and the last time I made pasta (a few years ago) it took me well over 3 hours.  So I arrive at 8:30AM and collect my ingredients.  I try to work neatly but quickly.   So far, so good; the dough is made and resting in the fridge.  I cut my vegetables for the Bolognese Sauce and tidy up my work station. 

Chef sees me working at a record pace and tells me to “breathe.”  I pull out the dough and begin to work with the flour.  I flour the workstation and the dough and start rolling.  So far it seems ok.  I put the machine together (identical to the one I own at home) and start rolling the dough through the machine.  To my surprise, it works!  It’s never gone so smoothly.  I put it through the machine again and again until the dough is the proper thickness.  Chef is now getting very worried and comes back over and again says, “breathe.”  But he doesn’t understand; he has no idea how much mess I can make with this dish and I need the extra time for clean-up. 

Now it’s time to cut the pasta.  Simply change the roller to the cutting blades and roll some pasta through – it’s linguine!  Wow—before my very eyes!  Now toss the fresh-cut pasta with flour, gently turn it so it looks like birds’ nests, cover and back in to the fridge. It’s done.  And minimal mess.  How can that be?  I’ve never worked so quickly or so neatly!  Now I wonder, should I tell my husband I can work this neatly?  Maybe that’s why he’s been so supportive of me attending Le Cordon Bleu: he gets good food and a cleaner kitchen!

But at that moment I don’t care what anyone thinks of my past messes.  I’ve done it; I’ve made homemade pasta quickly and neatly.  This is new territory for me.  The rest of the practical goes smoothly.  I feel like I’m floating as I smell the room wafting with tomato sauce, garlic and minced beef.  These are the smells of my childhood and my house. This is what dinnertime smells like; this is the inviting aroma of a family meal!  Though Chef said I needed to breathe, he didn’t realize I was savoring every moment.  My presentation dish was filled with a sauce that is full of sweet memories along with a new memory, perfect homemade pasta al dente!

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