At Flour + Water in San Francisco, Chef Thomas McNaughton’s cooking achieves this breathtaking balance between refinement and rusticity. That’s the quality of McNaughton’s handsome new book (with Paolo Lucchesi), Flour + Water: Pasta, with beautiful photographs by Eric Wolfinger. It’s a 250-page guide—with a name that reads like a simple equation—to making pasta dough, hand-rolling and machine extruding, shaping, cooking, and building sauces. And while that’s potentially textbook material, McNaughton makes it look artful, like standing on that knife’s edge of refinement and rusticity, which, in fact, skilled pasta-making is.
Last week, McNaughton let photographer Chris Rochelle and me come visit his studio kitchen upstairs from the restaurant. He made one of the recipes from the book, Pumpkin Tortelloni with Sage and Pumpkin Seeds (complete recipe here), as he chatted about the benefits of “00” flour in pasta, boar hunting, and the challenges of making a really good book. We were kind of awed by what we saw, and ultimately tasted. I left feeling like I wanted to get home and pull my pasta machine down from the cupboard. Enjoy the photo journey.
McNaughton makes a well in Italian “00” flour, adds a couple of whole eggs, half a dozen yolks, and a tiny bit of olive oil, then gradually incorporates the flour “walls” in to the eggs to form the dough.
“The dough will barely come together,” McNaughton says as he kneads. “It’s a pain in the ass.” If the dough isn’t difficult to handle at this point, it won’t result in good pasta.
You have to rest the dough at this point, at least 30 minutes, while the flour particles continue to absorb moisture. The dough on the left is freshly mixed, the one on the right is properly rested.
Laminating—folding the dough onto itself and rolling—is the final step in mixing.
Roll the dough through the machine, widest setting to thinnest. Try to keep up an even rolling pace, McNaughton says, to avoid inconsistencies in the final texture.
McNaughton uses an expandable cutter to form even squares for the tortelloni. A single wheel cutter or a knife works just fine.
A pastry bag helps McNaughton place even amounts of the tortelloni filling on the pasta squares. The filling contains roasted and puréed Cinderella pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, apple cider vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a touch of honey.
Misting with a spray bottle to keep the dough moist, McNaughton forms the tortelloni by folding so opposite corners meet, creating a triangle. Then he stretches two corners around his fingers and seals, to create the ring-shaped dumplings.
McNaughton boils the tortelloni in salted water until they’re almost done, then scoops them into a sauté pan in which he’s lightly browned butter and added some of the pasta’s cooking water. He adds a chiffonade of sage leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds and the dish is ready.
Photos and animated GIFs by Chris Rochelle