I hope to one day master fresh pasta, but for now I'm happy with just getting it right. There are tips and tricks in every cookbook and article about it, but really all it is, is this: flour. salt. egg. There are techniques for drying, rolling, shaping, and blending the dough using all kinds of devices and utensils that the average person simply doesn't have lying around.
Pasta is easy, and so very rewarding and delicious; I want to make sure everyone knows they can do it without all the fancy-schmancy stuff the cookbooks call for. Full disclosure: I do, in fact, own many such tools that you rarely see outside of cooking stores, courtesy of my culinarily-inclined mother who allows me to routinely raid her extraordinarily well-stocked collection of pots, pans, rollers, kitchen doohickeys, and chef-ly doodads in the name of broadening my horizons (and I'm pretty sure cleaning out her kitchen cabinets).
This allowed me to do the recipe without and then with the special gear. I'm not going to lie, the pasta roller is nothing short of fun. It makes it easier to roll out the pasta, if not simply because I'm a bit of an inept rolling pin user, and some have nifty attachments to cut the dough, as well. I am also particularly fond of the way it glistens when the sun comes through the window just right, making me feel like I am an old Italian woman rolling pasta in a villa in the Sicilian countryside, as opposed to standing barefoot on the linoleum in my suburban West Ashley house, turning up the Frank Sinatra in my headphones to drown out the sound of passing firetrucks. You don't need the roller, though. A rolling pin and a knife will do just fine.
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
Measure the flour out onto a table in a mound, making a well to hold the eggs. Crack the eggs into the well and add the salt on top.
Slowly mix the flour into the eggs, beginning with the flour that is touching the eggs in order to avoid a mess.
Once the eggs, salt, and flour are combined into a dough, knead it for 10 minutes.
If you've done the kneading correctly, you will look forward to this next step: let the dough and your arms rest for 30 minutes. Place a kitchen towel over the dough so that it doesn't lose too much moisture while resting. Pour yourself a glass of wine, and wonder who's going to clean up this mess you've made in the kitchen.
After 30 minutes, divide the dough into four sections.
If you do not have a pasta machine:
- Use a rolling pin to roll out each section of dough on a lightly floured surface. Continue rolling until the dough is approximately ⅛" to 1/16" thick, or in the absence of a ruler, use a piece of dried pasta already in your cabinet as a guide for thickness.
- A knife or pizza cutter is the best way to cut the rolled-out dough, but even with a ruler I found it difficult to make nice, uniform strands of fettuccine, so I made farfalle (bow ties) instead, which hide little inconsistencies in cutting quite well. Simply cut the dough into 1 ½" strips, and then cut those strips at 1 ½" to make squares. Tightly pinch the middle of the squares to make the bow-tie shape.
If you do have a pasta machine:
- For each of the four sections of pasta, flatten it with the palm of your hand. Set your pasta machine to the largest setting, and send the pasta through the rollers. Fold the dough in half, and roll it through again. Turn the machine to one setting smaller, and send it through. Keep putting the dough through the machine, decreasing the thickness setting until you have reached your desired thickness. For me, that is one size up from the smallest. If the dough begins to crack in the middle or have any tears, fold it in half and repeat on the same thickness setting before stepping down to the next size.
- If your pasta machine has an attachment for cutting pasta, run the sheets of dough through the attachment the same way as you did the roller, making sure to catch the strands as they come out, or else you will have a huge tangled mess at the end.
Once you have cut your pasta, allow it to dry for at least an hour. Shaped pasta can dry on a paper towel or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and strand pasta does best when hung over a dowel (or a pasta dryer, or your favorite wooden spoon weighted to the edge of the counter with a heavy book, pasta hanging from the handle).
Fresh pasta will cook about twice as fast as the dried stuff from a box, so when you cook it keep an eye on it! My farfalle took me 7 minutes, whereas the fettuccine from the machine took about 4 minutes.
Farfalle tossed with garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil, topped with a bit of freshly ground pepper,toasted pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano cheese.
Why do you dry your pasta? I never do; I just throw them in the hot water, and it comes out just fine (including leftovers). I heard that it is a regional thing to dry pasta. That in the north of Italy, they dry the pasta and that the southern Italians don't (or vice versa haha).
I certainly am no expert, but it seems that drying the pasta a bit makes each piece cook more evenly. When making farfalle, it can take some time to make all the little cuts and pinches in the dough, so some pieces may already dry (and take longer to cook) as a result. On the other hand, sometimes I like to test myself and see how long I can get my fettuccine before it breaks when using my pasta machine. In such cases I have often wondered if it would just be easier to roll it out straight into the boiling pot of water, and spare the drying and attempted transportation to a pot later!
Note that my Italian cooking instructor (Gabriela) gave me: once you have your dough rolled out (in the absence of a pasta roller), flour it to prevent sticking and then accordion fold it at ~1.5 inch intervals. Then you can make single slices to yield long, even width tagliatelle etc.
That is a great idea. I will be sure to try that next time!