Just about every year at this time – the onset of holiday binge shopping – someone debuts an appliance guaranteed to make life easier, turn family meals into Rockwell-worthy vignettes, and save time, fat, flavour or nutrients. The latest gadget to catch The Globe and Mail's eye is the Philips Pasta Maker. I took it for a test run, and here are the results:
The promise: This substantial – heavy and solid – machine offers a fully mechanized, electronically timed and controlled way to make homemade pasta in 10 to 15 minutes – no mess, no rolling, or hand-cranking. The set comes with several "shaping mouths" for making spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagna and penne, and the included recipe book explains how to make not just wheat-flour pasta, but soba, squid-ink, spinach and other varieties.
How it works: Setting up the unit takes a bit of thought the first time, but after that it's super-easy and smooth. But do read the instruction booklet. Once it's set up, just add the ingredients to the main chamber, press start and stand by with a dish for catching a cascade of fresh noodles. Don't panic when the first inch or two emerge looking ragged, it'll soon start to look just fine: I can't stress this enough – follow the instructions for good results.
Cook's notes: The mixing chamber has a clear lid for keeping an eye on the action inside; the non-stick auger rotates, mixing and forcing the ingredients through the shaping mouth. After the cycle ends, there will be some dough left behind, lightly clinging to the auger or sides of the chamber bowl; the machine offers a short cycle to extrude this stuff too, so waste is minimal. In fact, I took a liberty or two, discovering that any dough not extruded made delicious dumplings when hand-rolled into small balls and dropped into simmering soup.
When I made squid-ink pasta, I found the colour not evenly blended when extruded, so, pausing the cycle, I added the patchy-looking fettuccine back into the chamber, and extruded it for a second time, resulting in silky smooth, beautifully black noodles. I'm not sure this sort of thing is officially sanctioned, but the noodles were perfect. Of course, the taste of the noodles is only as good as the quality of ingredients used, but the texture is great and, when cooked, there's no comparison to the dry, grocery-store stuff.
The verdict: Addictive. The machine delivers what it promises and, at least during the honeymoon phase, the risk of producing batch after batch of pasta is high, which is perfect for a houseful of hungry teens or carb-loading football players, not such a great idea for a singleton trying to keep a skinny-jean figure. I'm left with one lingering question: Does the arrival of the home pasta factory mark the official end of carb-phobia?
For $299.99 from thebay.com.