ATK at Home
Why Making Pasta Is My Quarantine Project of Choice
At the close of each work-from-home day of cooking projects for ATK, I turn to a cooking project just for me.
04-27-2020
Steve Dunn
Steve Dunn

Like many of you, I’ve found the past month very challenging. For an America’s Test Kitchen test cook like myself, working remotely is particularly tricky as so much of my job is team-oriented and collaborative. I can certainly cook for work in my home kitchen, but without my Cook’s Illustrated mates here to critique my dishes and provide feedback, recipe progress is slow going. On top of this work disruption, my wife and I also had to rush to repatriate our daughter, who was studying abroad in Barcelona, before restrictions prevented her travel. As they say, when it rains, it pours. Thankfully, we got her home safely and completed the prescribed two-week quarantine. We’re all feeling fine, with nary a sign of a fever save the cabin variety that so many of us are struggling with these days.

Suffice to say that this new reality has taken some getting used to, with lots of adjustments and adaptation by all of us. I hope you’re all coping well with the changes in your lives. For me, cooking in a fast-paced, collaborative environment is what has given my workday purpose and structure for years, and without it as an anchoring element, I’m feeling a bit adrift. I’m not particularly good with adrift, so as the pandemic interrupts my daily, work-cooking routine, I’m feeling the need to replace it with something that fills that gaping hole in my day. To that end, at the close of each work-from-home day of kitchen testing and writing for ATK, I roll into what can best be described as a mental-wellness cooking project just for me. 

You see, cooking calms me and encourages a focus that forces me to turn away (at least temporarily) from the anxiety-inducing uncertainty that is dominating our world at the moment. It offers me an hour or two where I can feel in control of at least a little something, and I must say that feels pretty good. During this time, I turn off the news, pop on some tunes, and throw myself into a cooking project that centers me, and I suspect, makes me a more agreeable person with whom to be quarantined. Almost any cooking will do so long as it requires a bit of undivided attention, but these days my heart keeps pulling me in the direction of making pasta.  

Ravioli

One of my favorite scenes: freshly filled ravioli about to be trimmed to size.

To me, making pasta is about more than putting a delicious meal on the table; It’s a connection to my Italian Nonna who instilled in me my love of cooking when I was just a kid. Making pasta immediately transports me to her kitchen. I’m 10 years old again, and her kitchen is a lovely place where I feel safe, and I’m happy to spend some time with her there these days. I can hear her voice, smell her Sunday gravy bubbling gently on the stove, and feel the rustle of her apron as she glides past me to reach for eggs in the fridge.

Making pasta provides me with a needed respite from the news of the day and anchors me for a while in my kitchen where I feel most at ease. Like bread baking, pasta making is a meditative and tactile act, an elemental, hands-on exercise that slows me down, connects me to my roots, and makes me smile. If you’re a practiced pasta maker then you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, let me suggest you become one. 

Pasta
Ravioli

My favorite distraction—only three ingredients and infinite possibilities.

Making pasta is a great new kitchen skill to learn while we're all doing our part and staying home. I can’t tell you how many times someone has swooned when I served them a dish made with fresh pasta and said, “I’ve always wanted to learn how to make it but have never had the time.” Well, guess what? Now we’ve all got PLENTY of time, and I have a recipe to share that requires just three pantry items—flour, eggs, and olive oil—and doesn’t require a pasta machine. 

My recipe for Fresh Pasta Without a Machine makes a super-easy dough that comes together in seconds in your food processor, and you then simply roll it out with a rolling pin. Once you’ve got your sheets of pasta, you can hand-cut it into strands, quickly cook it, and either toss it with your favorite pasta sauce or try one of these six on for size. If you’re enjoying the distraction the project offers and want to dig in deeper, extend it by trying your hand at one of my homemade ravioli recipes: Three-Cheese Ravioli with Browned Butter-Pine Nut Sauce, Meat Ravioli with Quick Tomato Sauce, or Artichoke-Lemon Ravioli with Browned Butter-Pine Nut Sauce.

Regardless of how you decide to use your pasta, the rewards will be many. You’ll not only enjoy basking in the adoration of those around your table as they marvel at your pasta-making prowess, but you’ll have added a great new skill to your kitchen repertoire. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have provided yourself a healthy break from the stresses of your day and cared for those you love in the best possible way, by providing them a delicious meal served up in the warmth and security of your family home. Be good, be safe, and keep cooking!