I’ve given you two pasta sauce recipes of late: the meat and tomato ragù recipe I posted last week and the Sugo Finto (‘fake sauce’) before that. So maybe you’d like to know how to make the pasta itself, instead of buying that dried, hard stuff at the store. Note: there is nothing really wrong with the dried hard stuff at the store – just buy the quality kind.
The quick and dirty: you don’t need a pasta machine to make any kind of flat pasta noodles or flat filled pasta like ravioli. All you need is a lot of counter space and some time. And, in my case, enough energy left over to clean up all the flour in the kitchen.
However, if you make a habit of turning out homemade pasta, you’ll want a machine to save time and biceps. If you want to make extruded pasta shapes like macaroni and penne, a machine that extrudes dough is essential, like a pasta attachment for a KitchenAid stand mixer.
Homemade pasta is surprisingly easy to make. And the recipe, though there are variations, is the same whether you want spaghetti, wide pappardelle or wider lasagne noodles. By the way, peppardelle are ribbons as wide as two fingers; tagliatelle are one finger wide.
Before we get started, you should know a little about flour. If you’ve visited the baking aisle at the grocery store lately, you’ll know that there is everything from all-purpose (AP) flour, to bread flour to cake flour to self-rising flour.
In truth, a lot depends on the quality of your flour, the season, the climate and the ambient temperature and humidity in your kitchen when you make the pasta. My advice is to experiment with what you think sounds interesting and arrive at your own conclusions.
I’ll give you the quick and dirty: AP flour is just fine for making fresh pasta at home. That said, mix in a little semolina with the AP and the texture of the cooked pasta will be more pleasing. Keep in mind that the higher the ratio of semolina, the harder the pasta dough will be to work with. More semolina means a chewier, more substantial texture. From experience I can tell you that using 100% semolina makes the dough very, very hard and quite difficult to roll out. I personally recommend using not more than one part semolina (or less) to two parts AP flour.
You should definitely make as much pasta as you can each time. It is fairly time-consuming and requires attention and physical work. It’s easily stored, and you won’t regret having made as much as you could at the time.
The quick and dirty about which pasta goes with which sauce: the wider, flat noodles like pappardelle and tagliatelle are best with rich sauces, like the meat sauce and “fake” sauce I posted, or this wonderful pork and kale sauce from Fattoria di Corsignano:
One more quick and dirty: you need lots of clean counter space to make pasta. And an apron.
For a starting point, here’s the basic recipe:
Flour – about one cup (about 142 g) for each serving; use part semolina to part AP – your choice
Eggs – one for every cup of flour
Salt – a pinch for every cup of flour
Olive oil – a dash for every cup of flour; optional
Sift your flours together if you are using more than one type. Mound the flour on the counter. With your fingers, make a well in the middle all the way to the counter underneath. It should look like an extinct volcano school science fair project.
Break the eggs into the well in the center. Add the salt over top of the eggs. Add the olive oil if you are using it.
With your fingers (or a fork), begin mixing the eggs in the center without breaking through the flour around the sides.
As the eggs become a uniform mixture, begin incorporating the inside walls of the flour into the eggs. Here’s lovely friend Cyndie demonstrating:
Proceed gradually incorporating the flour until all of it is mixed with the eggs. The dough should be soft and pliable. If it’s too hard, add a teaspoon of water at a time until you achieve a good, workable consistency.
Let’s face it: you’ll have some dough stuck to your fingers. Rub a small bit of flour on your hands to get the dough off and press it into the ball of dough.
Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes with the heel of the bottom hand. Push the dough down and away from you. Turn the dough over and push down and away again. This is kneading. Here’s my lovely friend Carmela demonstrating:
It helps if you place one hand on top of the other; this gives you more leverage and strength.
Cover the dough with a clean towel and let it rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. (This is a good time to wash your hands and get your glass of wine refilled.)
Now you are ready to roll out the pasta. Separate the dough into as many sections as cups of flour in the recipe. For example, if you started with 6 cups of flour, separate the dough into 6 equal portions.
As you roll the dough, form it into long, wide, flat sheets. In one cooking class, Andreas, the instructor, taught us how to hold one end of the sheet in one hand just off the counter and exert opposite force with that hand while pressing down on a rolling pin in the other hand to roll in the opposite direction. This facilitates pulling the sheet of dough right off the table and dropping it on the floor.
Once you achieve the thickness you want, the dough is ready to cut into noodles. You can freehand it with a knife for flat edges or a nifty pasta cutting tool like this one, which gives the noodles a crinkle edge:
With a pasta machine you can choose the width you want and feed the sheets of dough through the machine to get your noodles.
You can cook fresh noodles immediately, though I like to dry them first; I think the texture is better. Homemade pasta, fresh or dried, takes much less time to cook than the dried pasta from the supermarket.
You should have made lots more pasta than you plan to use immediately, so now all that’s left is to dry it. You can hang it on a wooden rack manufactured for the purpose:
Or improvise with beer glasses and toaster oven racks:
Or you can make “nests” by wrapping a handful of noodles loosely around an inverted glass. Remove the glass and let the pasta dry in that form.
Once the noodles are completely dry, you can cook them or seal them in an airtight bag or container for storage. They are very brittle and fragile once they dry, so use caution when putting them in the containers. Pasta nests are easier to put in bags or containers than straight noodles. Store the containers in a cool, dry place or freeze them.
There you have it. Now I expect you to serve fresh pasta with authentic Tuscan sauces at your next get-together. It would be nice if you invited your instructor!