Photo by Leslie Kelly
All hail the pasta queen!
You've probably heard it before, but the true genius of a great pasta maker is all


When It Comes to Making Tender Pasta, Martha's Going for the Feel of a Baby's Bottom

Photo by Leslie Kelly
All hail the pasta queen!
You've probably heard it before, but the true genius of a great pasta maker is all about getting the right touch. Just like making bread. This isn't something that can be taught. It's something you learn over the course of making buttery-soft pasta for nearly 14 years. That's how long Martha Francis has been making all sorts of noodles for Tom Douglas restaurants. She's about take the leap from the kitchens at Palace Kitchen and go high-profile at the Cuoco, Tom's new Italian place, scheduled to open next month on Terry Avenue, smack in the heart of the booming South Lake Union neighborhood. Read part one of this week's Grillaxin Q&A for more.

SW: Can you describe how the perfect pasta feels?

No. Seriously, it should be smooth and resilient. I hate to say it, but the old "baby's bottom" bit does apply.

What makes some pasta tender, some tough?

I really couldn't say for sure. My deep, dark secret is that I really only know how to do what I've been doing. I don't have a lot of knowledge about how anyone else makes pasta, including Italians. I can theorize that the flour you've used is high in protein, or you've worked the dough too much, but they are just theories. I'm learning a lot from Stuart Lane, the chef they've hired for Cuoco, who has been trained in Italy by masters.

What kinds of things do you cook at home?

Pasta. Seriously, I do cook pasta at home. Even after making it for so long, it's still one of my favorite things to eat. I usually do something simple, with garlic, butter, and cheese mostly. I also love udon. Most Sundays I cook something like a lasagna or a pot of soup to last for part of the week and to freeze. Last week I made posole; the week before, it was chicken and dumplings. I've been craving a meatloaf, mainly for sandwiches, so I think I'll tackle that next week. This week, I've got a cold and have ordered hot and sour soup and chow foon. It's my sure-fire cure.

Do you watch cooking shows?

I don't watch "how to"-type shows, but I love competitions like Iron Chef, Top Chef, and Chopped. I love watching people perform under pressure, and then am glad I am not them. I also really enjoy Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and The Best Thing I Ever Ate and have lists of ideas for meals whenever I travel.

Where do you like to dine around Seattle?

I don't eat out that much anymore, and when I do It's usually a little ethnic place. I love Ethiopian food and anything Asian, also Middle Eastern. For fine dining, I confess I tend to go to Tom's places. I know I'll get my money's worth and be treated like a queen, even if they have no idea I work for the company. Which is one of the big changes between when I started and now. Then you knew everyone, now there are just too many of us.

Have you been to Italy?

I haven't been out of North America, though I would love to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice. For the art and history as much as the food.

Cats or dogs?

CATS. They insisted on the emphasis. I have two, a 15-year-old part Maine Coon, who is so big he makes his adopted brother look tiny. The brother is a 13-pound 5-year-old. There names are Buster and Nate. And, yes, I have pics.

Check back for part three of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from pasta maker extraordinaire, Martha Francis.

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