From Scratch: Fresh Pasta

Like many foods, a lot of people think that making pasta is beyond their capabilities. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Certainly there is some effort involved, but it’s nothing that you can’t handle!

Ingredients:

3 large eggs

2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp of salt

Seriously, that’s it for the ingredients.  I sometimes substitute semolina flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour, but it’s not necessary to use any at all.  The semolina makes the pasta a bit trickier to handle, but gives it a nice texture.  You can also add things to flavor the pasta, such as tomato paste, dried herbs, or pureed peppers.  Just mix them in with the rest of the ingredients.

Making The Dough

You can start by putting the flour, salt, and eggs into a big bowl and mixing them together, but I like the old school method of doing it on the counter.  First, you make a mound of flour and dig a well in the center of it.  Then you place the salt and eggs in the well.

Next, start to mix the eggs together using a fork.  Then slowly start mixing flour from the walls of the well into the eggs.  The idea is not to break the walls of the well, but it’s not the end of the world if you do.

The egg and flour mixture will start to become a very loose dough, at which point you should probably start using a dough scraper or bench knife.  At some point, you need to get in there with your hands to bring the dough together.  You should knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it forms a fairly smooth ball.  You may need to add flour or water if the dough isn’t the right consistency.  Just add it in very small increments!

Once you have your dough ball, wrap it in plastic and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.  You can also keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.  Then unwrap it and split it into three equal parts.  The rest will give the dough some time for develop its gluten, and for the flour to soak up the moisture in the eggs for a more even dough.  When you’re ready to use it, split your dough into three equal balls.

Rolling The Dough

The next step is to roll the dough out into sheets.  The thickness will vary depending on what kind of pasta you plan to make.  If you’re making linguini, the dough will be very thick.  If you’re going to make ravioli, it will be much thinner.  You can certainly  use a rolling-pin to roll out your dough, but I’m going to show you how to use a pasta machine.

This pasta machine is one that you crank by hand.  It gets clamped to the counter and then you run the dough through it.  First, take one of your dough balls and flatten it out a bit so that it will feed into the machine.  Set your machine to the thickest setting, which is 1 on this machine, and start slowly cranking.  Place the dough between the rollers and feed it gently into the machine.

You can run it through a few times until you get a rough rectangle, folding it in thirds the long way each time. Now you’re going to send the dough through on the next thinnest setting.  Continue rolling the dough with thinner settings until you have the thickness that you want.  You’ll end up with a smooth sheet of dough for each ball.  At this point you can trim them to square them off for a nice finish or just leave them the way they are for more rustic pasta.You should then dust the sheets with a little flour and let them dry for a few minutes so they’ll be easy to handle.  Now you’re ready to shape the dough into whatever type of pasta you are shooting for.  There are several methods of shaping, so I’ll show you a few.

Manually Cutting Pasta

For simple pastas like fettucine and linguini, or sheets for ravioli or lasagna, you can cut them by hand.  You can cut a sheet in half or to the length that you prefer your pasta.  Then you want to fold it so that you can cut it with a knife.  Fold each long end into the middle, and then fold it again in half.  Just ignore the folds marks going the long way in the picture below, I folded it the wrong way the first time!

Then you cut off pieces of dough the width of the pasta you are making.  Linguini is about 1/4 of an inch, while fettuccine is wider.  Start slicing off pieces of dough, and then unfold them.  You’ve got pasta!

If you’re making sheets for lasagna or ravioli, you can just cut the dough to whatever size you like.   A helpful tool for this is the pasta bike.

Pasta Bike

The pasta bike is a tool with adjustable wheels that you roll over the pasta dough to cut it into shapes.  It allows you to cut strips or circles, depending on how you set it up. To demonstrate, I cut some squares.

Pasta Machine Attachments

Another method is to use the pasta-cutting attachments on the dough machine.  The process is very similar to how you rolled out the pasta, but the attachment cuts and molds the dough into the shape you want.  Put the attachment onto the machine and insert the crank, then start feeding a sheet of dough into the attachment while gently cranking.  Your pasta, in this case spaghetti, will come out the bottom!

You can see the dough sheet became crimped going into the machine. That caused the spaghetti to be irregular in length but otherwise delicious.

Unless you’re cooking it right away or making any kind of stuffed pasta, you’ll want to dry it.  Some people even recommend that you let it dry it a bit before cooking it.  You can use a pasta drying rack, or you can improvise something.  Some people drape their pasta over a broomstick propped between two chairs.  Others just lay the noodles on a cooling rack or a sheet pan.  Many people make a “nest” with their pasta and let it dry that way.  What you’re trying to achieve is exposing the noodle to the most air possible.  Here’s my most recent improvisation:

If you’re going to store it, you should let the pasta dry for at least 24 hours.  If you store the pasta when it’s not completely dry, it may develop mold.  If you want to give it some help, you can lay it on a sheet pan or cooling rack in the oven with the light (or pilot light) on for the extra warmth and dryness.

I hope you’ll try making your own pasta noodles after reading this.  I don’t know if it’s just the sense of accomplishment, or if the pasta actually tastes that much better, but I always find it to be a treat!

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