I’m not trying to scare anyone off from trying their hand at homemade pasta; but I’m not going to lie to you either. Homemade pasta is time consuming, it requires some patience to master and some elbow grease (even if you use a stand mixer and electric roller). You probably will not end up with enough *good* pasta for dinner the first time you try this, so have a back up meal plan for that night.
To those I’ve already scared off, THE Italian expert Marcella Hazan says,”Dry pasta from factories is not necessarily less fine then the fresh pasta one can make at home. On the contrary, for many dishes, factory made pasta is the better choice, although for some others, one may want the particular attributes of homemade pasta” (The Essentials of Italian Cooking). If Marcella says you don’t have to make homemade pasta to achieve a great Italian dish, then you don’t have to make homemade pasta to achieve a great Italian dish. She knows this stuff. So if you’re not feeling the homemade pasta thing after all, I suggest proceeding directly to Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter for an excellent dinner you can actually serve tonight.
[bctt tweet=”Not going to lie, handmade pasta is time consuming.. Yet, so worth it! “]
That all being said, I personally think homemade pasta is so worth it. It really is impossibly delicious. And boy, oh boy, will you feel like you achieved an impressive kitchen feat when you serve your own scratch made pasta for dinner!
Also a word of encouragement: I promise you will see dramatic improvements in your pasta making skills with practice. You will master the techniques. You will get faster. You will have dinner before you know it! (I actually got a meal worthy batch by my second attempt.) So, I say brace yourself and bravely continue on!
Here we go with Homemade Pasta 101. Here’s what we’re going to be covering:
- First, the down and dirty on the pasta stuff you should probably know.
- Then, a recipe for a basic egg dough which can be used for serval different types of homemade pasta.
- From there you can travel to other articles in this series and turn your dough into whatever type of pasta your heart desires.
There are a lot of different shapes and sizes of pasta, as I’m sure you’ve noticed when browsing the grocery store shelves. Many that are on the more intricate side such as Cavatappi (corkscrew) are only produced commercially as they would be near impossible to create in a home kitchen. However, there are plenty of different sizes and shapes suitable for making at home.
Today’s basic egg dough is intended to produce a wide hand cut noodle like pappardelle or tagliatelle; a machine cut fettuccine or angel hair, or stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini. As a side benefit your scraps can be used to make Maltagliati.
A handy dandy noodle reference guide:
- Pappardelle is one of the favorite cuts of noodle in Bologna. It is around one inch wide and six inches long. A pastry wheel is a great way to cut this pasta, and provides pretty scalloped edges to the noodle, though a knife cut works just fine as well.
- Tagliatelle is also a traditional Bolognese noodle. It is most commonly served with Ragù alla Bolognese. The noodles are generally about 1/4 on an inch wide and the full length of whatever dough you have rolled out.
- We all know Fettuccine. But for your reference you should know it is generally 1/8 inch wide.
- Maltagliati actually means “badly cut” and is made from the scraps leftover from other pasta making projects. It is made in all different shapes and sizes and is great for tossing in soup. (Or letting your kids play with.)
- Angel Hair (Capellini) a very thin noodle shaped just like spaghetti. You will need a cutting attachment for some sort (i.e. for your stand mixer) to make this noodle.
- Ravioli a stuffed square or round shaped pasta. You can use a ravioli mold or a pasta cutting wheel to make ravioli.
- Tortelli a stuffed square shaped pasta similar to ravioli from Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Tuscany.
- Tortellini small ring shaped pasta originally from Bologna or Modena. No one really knows which but, both cities claim to have invented them. They are usually stuffed with a meat and cheese mixture.
Believe it or not, this can actually get fairly complex, as there are a zillion types of flours you can make pasta with. There are wheat based flours including all purpose, 00 Italian flour, durum and semolina. There are other flours including whole wheat flours, faro, spelt, chestnut, chickpea, buckwheat, rye… it goes on. Protein percentages in the flour, particularly gluten can affect your final product in dramatic ways. You can mix and match different kind of flours to create your pasta…. you get the drift. For more in depth information about different flours in pasta making I highly recommend reading Making Artisan Pasta, by Aliza Green. But, to get started you pretty much only need to know and work with one type of flour: 00 Italian flour.
In Italy flour is measured by it’s fineness. 000 is the finest grind. 2 being the coarsest. 00 flour is what you need for making homemade pasta. Before you even ask me, yes you really do need it. Yes, it is more expensive then plain old all purpose. Suck it up and buy it. Getting the right flour is one of the best things you can do to ensure you get good results! This flour is a little harder to find in the U.S. but you can buy it on Amazon my friends so no excuses!
Water & Eggs
I’m not going to go into any depth about water or eggs, other to say that variations in both can completely change your pasta. For this recipe we are going to use basic large eggs (white or brown) and tepid tap water. If you choose to play with different types of eggs, try to keep them to approximately the standard large size. To much variety in size will require an adjustment to the balance of dry to wet ingredients. Though, if this is your first time making pasta I recommend working with the original ingredients, following the recipe closely, and then trying variations on later attempts after you have some idea of what you are looking for in each stage of the pasta making process.
Methods For Homemade Pasta Making
Homemade pasta can be made 100% by hand. As in you mix, knead, roll, and cut, all by hand. This is the most time consuming (duh) and traditional method. You can also work with various equipment, i.e. mixers, food processors, and pasta rollers (both hand cranked and electric) that seriously speed up the process. If you want to be all crazy authentic feel free to do everything by hand little ole’ Italian grandmother style. Good for you! But, if you’d like to use the modern marvels that speed things up, I also say feel free, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.
I took a pasta making class in Bologna, Italy where the chef taught us to make the dough using a kitchen aide mixer, admittedly much to the horror of our more traditionally minded guide. (I also got to see a chef demonstrate the handmade method too.) I asked the chef what was up with the whole mixer thing. He shrugged and basically said (I’m translating/paraphrasing but…), “Why shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of modern technology when I want to?” He noted that the mixer made perfectly good homemade pasta, he used it himself at home, and he said he seriously doubted many people could tell the difference. Though for meals served in the restaurant he did make the dough by hand and used a hand cranked pasta roller for flattening.
Anyhow, the point is do what you feel like. I’ve included directions for both 100% handmade pasta, and the stand mixer with an electrical roller. (FYI A hand cranked roller works pretty similar to the electric, you just do the cranking yourself, and don’t ever want to stop cranking in the middle of flattening a sheet or you’ll get uneven pasta.)
Basic Egg Pasta Dough, By Hand
Yields: about 1/2 lb. of pasta. Adapted from: Making Artisan Pasta, by Aliza Green
- 1 and 3/4 cups 00 pasta flour
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1-2 tablespoons tepid water
Making the dough:
1. On a wooden board or counter top create a mound of flour. Make a “crater” in the middle of the mound. Crack the eggs into the crater. Add the egg yolk as well. Use a fork or your hands to whisk together the egg. Using your hands, pull flour in from the sides of the mound, start to incorporate the flour into the egg. Do not allow the egg to leak out of the mound. Continue incorporating until all the egg is part of the flour. Continue to mix with your hands until very coarse, floury crumbles, begin to form. The egg will not yet be well distributed.
2. Add the water one tablespoon at a time into the flour/egg and mix the water into the flour mixture using your hands. Continue adding water one tablespoon at a time and mixing until a crumbly dough forms. If the crumbs still have dry flour on the outside of them you need to continue adding water. Once the crumbs look mostly moist, stop adding water and keep mixing. The water will continue to distribute and a real dough will begin to form. In dry climates you may need more water then the recipe calls for, follow the same process of adding one tablespoon at a time and mixing. Do not add any more water then you need for the dough to come together.
3. Begin to knead the dough using the heal of your hand to push down dough, until the dough becomes smooth. This will take about ten minutes. You will know the dough has been kneaded well when small bubbles begin to form on the surface of the dough; and the dough is smooth and slightly sticky but not wet. Once fully kneaded form a ball by tucking the edges of the dough underneath itself. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. This will allow the dough to relax and make it easier to work with. Moisture will also continue to distribute through the dough as it sits.
Rolling out sheets with a rolling pin:
1. Divide your ball of dough in half into two smaller balls (or even four parts if you don’t have a lot of workspace). Rewrap one ball and and set aside. Lightly flour your work surface and the top of the ball of dough. Place your rolling pin in the center of the ball of dough you will be working with first. Using even pressure roll the pin upward and downward again and begin to flatten the dough. Continue this back and forth motion. Only roll upward and downward, not side to side.
2. Rotate the dough 90*. Repeat the motion described in step one. If your dough starts to stick to the pin at any time lightly dust with additional flour.
3. Continue rolling and rotations (90* each time) until dough reaches approximately 1/4 inch in thickness.
4. Begin to stretch the dough on each rotation: Hold the edge of the dough closest to your body down with one hand. Place the rolling pin at the top side of the dough and roll the dough back onto the pin. Instead of rolling back down push the pin back gently, stretching the dough. The dough should gradually expand to take up more surface area and thin out. Try to avoid wrinkling the dough while you stretch. When the dough is about 1/16 of an inch thick and you will be able to see your fingers through the dough and the sheet is thin enough.
5. Most types of noodles or stuffed pasta recipes will begin with the dough trimmed into a rectangle about three times as long as it is wide, like you would get from a pasta roller. You can use a sharp knife of pasta cutting wheel to do so. If you only divided the ball of dough in half rather then fourths you should be able to get two rectangles from what was rolled out. The cut sheet(s) is then ready to be cut into noodles or stuffed. Use the cut sheet of dough promptly and do not allow it to dry out before cutting or forming stuffed pasta. Once it dries it can no longer be manipulated.
Please see: Pasta 101 – Tagliatelle, Pasta 101 – Tortellini, or Pasta 101 – Tortelli for directions on how to cut and/or shape your pasta sheet.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 with the additional ball(s) of dough.
Basic Egg Dough, With A Stand Mixer
Yields: about 3/4 lb. of pasta. Adapted from: Making Artisan Pasta, by Aliza Green
- 2 and 3/4 cups 00 pasta flour
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 egg yolk
- 2-3 tablespoons tepid water
Making the dough:
1. Add the flour to the bowl of your stand mixer. Add one egg and begin mixing on low speed. Add the two eggs and yolk, one at a time, mixing well before adding the next egg. Continue to mix until very coarse, floury crumbles, begin to form.
2. Add the water one tablespoon at a time into the flour/egg while continuing to mix on low speed. Continue adding water one tablespoon at a time and mixing until a crumbly dough forms. If the crumbs still have dry flour on the outside of them you need to continue adding water. Once the crumbs look mostly moist, stop adding water and keep mixing on low speed. The water will continue to distribute and a real dough will begin to form. In dry climates you may need more water then the recipe calls for, follow the same process of adding one tablespoon at a time and mixing. Do not add any more water then you need for the dough to come together.
3. When a loose dough that still has some crumbles, but pulls away from the side of the bowl has formed turn the dough out onto a wooden board or counter top.
4. Begin to knead the dough using the heal of your hand to push down dough, until the dough becomes smooth. Pull any loose crumbs into the dough. This will take about three to five minutes. You will know the dough has been kneaded well when the dough is smooth and slightly sticky but not wet. Once fully kneaded form a ball by tucking the edges of the dough underneath itself. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. This will allow the dough to relax and make it easier to work with. Moisture will also continue to distribute through the dough as it sits.
*Note: You can use a large food processor following the same steps you would for the stand mixer.
Rolling out sheets using a roller attachment for the stand mixer:
1. Divide your dough into four parts. Rewrap the three parts not in use. Shape the first part into a flat-ish rectangle with rounded ends. Lightly flour both sides of the rectangle. Set your roller to the second lowest number and turn on (ex. if your roller starts with a 0, begin at 1). Feed one of the rounded ends of the dough into the roller allowing the rollers to grab the dough and pull it through. As the dough comes out the other end catch it with one hand, moving gently with the rollers motion to allow the rest of the sheet to come out.
- If you dough shreds or comes out with holes from the roller it may be too dry. Allow the dough to finish coming through the roller the rest of the way. Wet your hand and rub it over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough in half so that the wet dough is inside. Knead the dough for a moment to distribute the water, then reform the rectangle described in this step and run it through the machine again. If your dough is very dry you may need to repeat this more then once until you achieve a non-shredded sheet.
- Alternatively dough that is too wet can also produce a shredded dough. Allow the dough to finish coming through the roller the rest of the way. Reform the rectangle described in this step and heavily flour the outside of the dough, run the dough through the roller again. Repeat as needed to achieve an non-shredded sheet.
2. Set the rolled sheet on your work surface and fold into thirds, so that the open ends are just shy of the width of the pasta roller.
3. Run the folded sheet through the roller open sides first, following the directions in step one.
4. Adjust the roller up to the next number (if you started on 1 move up to 2) and run the sheet through the roller again. As you get thinner you may need to lightly dust the dough with flour again as it will get stickier the thinner it gets.
5. Repeat step three, moving the number on the roller up one each pass through; until your desired thickness is reached and the piece of dough is about three times longer then it is wide. On a Kitchen Aide stand mixer with a pasta roller attachment you will want to roll up to about a 7. A 7 on a Kitchen Aide attachment is suitable for most pasta types such a hand cut tagliatelle or stuffed pastas like tortellini; and reasonably easy to work with without damaging the dough. Though you may find some recipes will call for a different thickness. For example some stuffed pasta recipes may call for a thinner dough or some handcut pasta recipes may call for a thicker dough. If a recipe doesn’t specify 7 is a safe bet.
*Note: Different brands of equipment may have a slightly different range of numbers. Always start the dough one up from the lowest number. Generally stopping at about 1/16″ thickness (the dough is thin enough to see your hand through, but not so thin that it is difficult to handle) unless your recipe specifies otherwise works well for most pastas.
6. When your sheet is thin enough it should be in the shape of a rectangle with slightly rounded ends. Most recipes for different types of pastas will call for completely even rectangle shaped sheets, so trim off the edges as needed with a sharp knife or pasta wheel cutter to form a neat rectangle. The cut sheet is then ready to be cut into noodles or stuffed. Use the cut sheet of dough promptly and do not allow it to dry out before cutting or forming stuffed pasta. Once it dries it can no longer be manipulated.
7. Repeat steps 1-6 with the additional ball(s) of dough.
*Note: You can use a hand cranked pasta roller following almost the same method as that on the electric roller. The major difference is that you will be making the rollers turn yourself with one hand. Crank at a medium speed with your dominate hand. Begin feeding the dough through the top with your less dominant hand until the rollers grab the dough. Then move your less dominate hand to catch the dough from underneath as it emerges. Move gently with the motion of the rollers allowing all the dough to make it’s way through the rollers. Once you begin feeding the dough through the rollers do not stop cranking or you will end up with uneven dough.
Authors Note: This post was originally published in February 2014 and has been completely updated to provide greater accuracy. The original scope of this post was probably too large, so for ease of use I’ve ended splitting things up into several posts to create a small series dealing with different aspects of homemade pasta.
Note: This trip was fully paid for by Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board. However, any opinions expressed here are my own.