All About Homemade Pasta

Sunday September 18, 2016

Dedicated to la belle cucina, Marcella Hazan.

Pasta is a dish that is gloriously impromptu, especially with a batch of your good sauce in the freezer, and is popular because of its good nutrition, quick preparation, and well, it just tastes so good. In Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, NYMSC Entertaining, and NYMSC Family Favorites, we have given you a nice handful of Italian-style sauces.  We say Italian-style since pasta and its wonderful sauces are now thoroughly part of American cuisine, despite it being an import.  You have your choice as to using commercially made fresh pasta available packaged in the supermarket, buying fresh pasta from an Italian market or pasta shop, or using dried.

Don’t cross off dried from your list of wonderful foods: Italian dried pastas (including farro pasta) and a host of specialty pastas made from different flours (quinoa, corn, rice) that cater to allergy sufferers, are really good products.

But, making your own pasta dough is a satisfying culinary adventure and a serious cook should attempt it at least once in a lifetime. The holidays is a perfect time to make that special dish with homemade pasta. Pasta is the generic term for a dough made of flour and water, which is then cooked in boiling water.  Made with fresh flour and eggs in northern Italy, or with no eggs in the south, fresh pasta dough is easily to mix by hand or in a food processor.  You make the dough, let it rest, then roll it out by hand or with a pasta machine.

Egg noodles are made from unbleached all-purpose flour, which makes a nice tender pasta.  A standard rule of thumb is 2/3-cup pasta flour per egg. The easiest home noodle is cut from a sheet into various sizes from pasta sheets good for lasagna to ribbons of fettucine and the thin strands of tagliarini.  Each shape can be served with any of our luscious sauces, or simply with butter and Parmesan cheese.  We like the egg pasta as the best beginners pasta dough; the eggs tenderize the often very stiff dough.

For pasta-making, you will need a plastic dough scraper, and wooden or plastic pastry board or marble slab upon which to do the hand mixing, known as the la fontana method of making a mound of flour and placing the wet ingredients in the center. You can also use a food processor if you like; much less messy.

For shaping, you need a long hardwood rolling pin (if rolling by hand) or pasta machine (Hand-cranked models from Atlas and Imperia are the simplest and inexpensive.  Simac Pasta Matic and Kitchen Aid Food Preparer that attaches to the Kitchen Aid stand mixer are able to cut and extrude pasta).

You will also need a parchment-lined baking sheet (or wooden drying pole or rack, or kitchen towels), colander (for draining the cooked pasta), and slotted spoon, wooden pasta fork, or Chinese mesh strainer for stirring the pasta while it cooks.

Homemade Pasta

This is the basic recipe to use for ravioli, macaroni, and for cut noodles like spaghetti, etc.  It is excellent with all sorts of fresh or cooked tomato sauces like ragù, marinara, and meat sauces, meatballs, vegetable sauces, pesto, cream sauces, and for use in baked pastas, cannelloni, and manicotti.

“Once in awhile I get creative and make a fancier dough,” says Beth’s friend Bunny Dimmel, who contributed her recipe here, “but this plain and simple dough is delicious. I have frozen the whole little ball of dough before (after it is kneaded and ready) and used it the following week.  I will make bunches of spaghetti, and as it comes of the rollers, I wrap them in nests onto floured parchment paper that I dusted with my flour wand (a tool that dusts a surface lightly with flour as you shake it).  I cover them with plastic and freeze them like that, and then when they are frozen I put them in a ziploc bag.  You make me hungry for some.  My kids love it and are spoiled.  They like the homemade better than any commercial fresh pasta, which can be bland and dense.”

“I warn you that once you eat homemade pasta,” advises Bunny, “you will not like the other anymore.  And don’t invest in one of those high-fullutin’ pasta machines.  They don’t work.  You need el cheapo that you crank by hand and adjust the rollers, although I make so much pasta I finally broke down and got a small motor to attach to mine.”

Makes 1 pound, 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons warm water

Instructions

1. To Make By Hand (La Fontana Method): Dump the flour (mixed with the salt) on a work surface–a wooden board, a clean counter, large plastic board, or slab of marble–and make a well.  Crack the eggs into the center and begin swirling with a fork to mix the flour into the egg. Add the oil and some water. Keep doing this till you need to pick up your plastic dough scraper and mix it with that.  Don’t worry about adding all that flour, as you may not need it.  When the eggs are no longer runny, you must start kneading by hand. The whole process takes about 20 minutes and requires plenty of hand strength.  The very moment you have a soft, pliable dough, scrape your board and get rid of the rest of the flour.  Start kneading, and knead it for 8 minutes; knead it just like bread.  Push your finger in the center, if it comes out barely moist the dough is ready to be rolled out.  If it is sticky, need it some more.

To Make in the Food Processor: Place the flour and salt in the work bowl fitted with the metal blade and pulse a few times.  Place the eggs in a small bowl and beat well.  Add the eggs and pulse quickly. Add the oil and some water. Since the dough will vary with the size of the eggs, the moisture in the flour, and the temperature of the day, you must take care to watch the consistency and not over process.  Think of the dough as delicate.  Use one-second pulses, counting in your head one-thousand-one, using 4 to 6 pulses; never continuously run the machine or you will have mighty tough dough.  The dough will form a bead-like texture.  Open the lid and remove a tablespoon of the mixture to the palm of your hand.  Squeeze.  If it holds together, it is ready.  Remove from the work bowl and form into a ball.  If the dough is soft and sticky, add 2 tablespoons of flour and pulse a few times only.  If it is too dry and crumbly when you test, drizzle  more water over the top of the dough and use half-second pulses until beads form.  Pasta dough is not very forgiving; too dry and the dough won’t roll out easily. Too wet and the dough is a sticky mess. Remember that the difference between dough that’s too wet and one that is too dry can be just tablespoon or two of liquid.

2.  Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature 30 minutes; it will have a soft, even texture.  If it sticks to the plastic wrap, dust with some all-purpose flour as you run through the rollers.  The dough is now ready to roll out and cut as desired.  (The dough can be refrigerated at this time for up to 3 days, but bring to room temperature before rolling out.)

3.  To roll and cut the dough by hand: Dust your work surface with all-purpose flour.  Divide the dough into 3 equal portions, keeping the reserved dough balls covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.  Place the ball of dough on the work surface and with the rolling pin, roll back and forth.  Then begin to roll in one direction, away from you, then make a quarter turn and roll in the other direction until the dough stretches into a rectangular circle about 1/8th inch thick.  Roll the dough around the rolling pin and unroll to stretch the dough further (this is how the old Italian grandmothers do it).  Keep the dough as thin and as light as possible.  Work quickly, as the dough dried out.

4.  Bring the 2 opposite ends together in the center and sprinkle with flour.  Repeat 2 times more, until you have a tight double jelly-roll of pasta.  Using a sharp chef’s knife, hold the roll with one hand and slice with the other into 1/8, 1/4, or 1/2 inch wide thin, medium, or wide noodles.  You can slip the dull edge of the knife under the center of the dough and lift the noodles, they will unravel over the knife, or lift with your fingers.

5.  To roll and cut with a hand cranked pasta machine: Attach the pasta machine onto your counter and set the smooth rollers at the widest opening.  Dust your work surface with all-purpose flour.  Divide the dough into 3 equal portions, keeping the reserved dough balls covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.  It dries out very fast and if that happens, will becomes impossible to work with. Place the ball of dough on the work surface and press to flatten, no wider than the machine.  Run through the machine.  Dust with flour as necessary.  Fold in thirds and run through the machine again.  Repeat 2 more times, but don’t fold the dough again.  If the dough comes out slightly broken, fold the dough and roll it through the widest notch and start all over.

6.  Set the notch on the machine to the next smallest setting and run the dough through the rollers.  Continue rolling and stretching the dough, using a smaller setting each time, until the smallest setting is reached.  Most machines have 6 graduated settings.  You can skip some settings.  The dough strip will be long, no longer than 15 inches, and delicate.  When your pasta is satiny and thin, transfer to a drying rack or a broom handle suspended between two chairs.  Depending on humidity, the pasta should be dry enough to cut in about 30 minutes. Now you can cut your own strips with a chef’s knife or use cutter attachments on your pasta machine.

7.  Insert the crank handle into the desired cutting head.  Adjust the cutting mechanism to the desired width and run the dough through to cut.  Press one end of the dough strip onto the cutter head and quickly roll it through.  You can run the cut pasta directly out onto a baking sheet.  Continue with the remaining dough balls.  To ease the strain on your wrist and arm muscles, use a pasta machine motor. While the motor activates the rollers, it frees your hands to guide the pasta dough through the rollers.

8.  Transfer your cut pasta to a drying rack, a broom handle suspended between two chairs, or just twirl as they come out from beneath the cutters into loose little nests and place on a floured towel or a parchment-lined floured baking sheet.  As one layer is filled, place a sheet of parchment over the pasta on the baking sheet, and continue to layer the pasta and sprinkle lightly with flour to keep them from sticking.  Let air-dry at least 20 minutes, until brittle.  Now pasta is ready to serve. It is best to make the pasta at least a day in advance so it will be ready to cook.  You can freeze your noodles in single-serving bundles, twisted around like a loose nest, on a baking sheet, then transfer to a plastic freezer bag.

Directions for Mixing & Cutting Pasta in a KitchenAid Mixer

The KitchenAid mixer, designed to be a professional mixer in a home kitchen, has a number of stainless steel attachments that expand its ability to make many different dishes, including pasta. The set of 3 includes a pasta roller, a fettuccine cutter, and a linguine fine cutter. The set of 5 include a pasta roller, spaghetti cutter, fettuccini cutter, angel hair cutter, thick egg noodle cutter, and ravioli maker. The extruder attachment has 6 inerchangeable pasta plates to make make spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni, fusilli, and small or large macaroni. Using the Italian-made pasta roller attachment can save you hours of work making the dough in the mixer and then cutting the different shapes letting the motor run the attachments rather than hand cranking.

1. Add the flour, eggs, salt and water to the mixing bowl.

2. Mix the ingredients together using the dough hook set on Speed 2 until they are thoroughly incorporated.

3.Knead the dough by hand, pulling it apart and folding it over itself. You can do this directly in the bowl or on a lightly floured kitchen counter. Continue to knead the flour until dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough sticks to your hands while kneading, sprinkle it with a little flour.

4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap. You can cover the top of the bowl completely or use the plastic cover if you prefer. Let the pasta dough rest for at least 30 minutes, up to 24 hours to relax and rise slightly. If it is going to rise for longer than 1 hour, place the covered bowl into the fridge.

5. When ready to make the pasta dough sheets, attach the pasta roller attachment shaft into your KitchenAid mixer. You will remove the small metal cover on the front of the motor, flipping up the cover or lossening the knob, for the attachment nub. When attachment is in proper position, the pin will fit into the notch on the hub rim. Tighten the attachment knob.

6. Cut the dough into sections about 3/8-inch wide. Flatten each piece slightly.

7. Set the width adjustment knob on the roller to 1 to roll out the dough. Turn the KitchenAid mixer on to either speed 2 or 4.

8. Feed one piece of dough from the top into the pasta rollers. Fold the dough in half or thirds and feed it through again. Continue doing this until dough sheet is soft and pliable. If needed, lightly dust the dough with flour.

9. Switch the roller to setting 2 and feed dough through the rollers to continue flattening it. Repeat this, changing the setting to a higher number each time until your pasta reaches the desired thickness. KitchenAid recommends setting 3 or 4 for egg noodles; 4 or 5 for lasagna, fettuccine, spaghetti or ravioli; 6 or 7 for tortellini, thin fettuccine or linguine fini; and setting 7 or 8 for any type of angel hair or capellini pasta.

10. Repeat Steps 8 and 9 on each section of the pasta until all of the pasta dough sheets are the desired thickness. Exchange the pasta sheet roller attachment for the desired cutter attachment. To dry, lay strands of pasta in a single layer on a towel or drying rack, and completely air dry. Store dried pasta in an airtight container. To freeze, let pasta air dry for one hour before freezing in an airtight container. It is not necessary to separate strands of pasta before freezing, just dust with flour and form into “nests.”

11. After cutting, remove the attachment and replace the hub cover and tighten the attachment knob. Do not wash the attachments. Follow the manual directions for cleaning. Directions courtesy of KitchenAid manual.

Recipe Variations

Vegan Pasta Dough

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 teaspoons olive oil

4 Ener-G Egg Replacer “Eggs”

6 tablespoons water

Follow the directions for making fresh pasta by hand, in the food processor, or by KichenAid stand mixer.

The following are some of the most simple shapes cut from homemade pasta.  The easiest are sheets for lasagne or ravioli or long thin shapes, like spaghetti, linguine, and fettucine.  Remember that they will look different than extruded pastas, which can be made into tubular shapes like penne and ziti.

Fettucine

Also call tagliatelle, this is the most common homemade noodle.  It is rolled up and cut into a width of about 1/4-inch.

Tagliarini

The thinnest noodle, they are cut into a width of 1/16th of an inch.  Capellini d’ angelo, or angel’s hair is the thinnest tagliarini and must be cut with a machine.

Pappardelle

Cut with a fluted pastry wheel to a width of 5/8th of an inch, pappardelle are cut from flat sheets of rolled out pasta dough.  This size is a standard “noodle.”

Lasagna

Pasta sheets suitable for lasagne are 2 to 3 inches wide to the width of your pasta machine and cut to the length of your baking dish.  They are long strips cut from flat sheets of rolled out dough.  You don’t need to precook fresh lasagne noodles before assembling the dish as long as you add extra sauce and cover the baking dish in the oven.

Manicotti

Cut from flat sheets of rolled out dough that are ultra-thin, 4-x-4-inch squares cut out of thick strips of dough, used to wrap fillings in the manner of a crêpe.

Ravioli, Tortellini, Half-Moons, and Cappelletti

These are filled pastas that need to be cut from a large sheet of dough.  The dough is folded into different shapes around a mound of filling.  Many of our friends are enjoying Saturday afternoons making their own ravioli these days.  Consult an Italian cookbook for specific directions and fillings.

To Cook Fresh Pasta

To cook the pasta, boil 4 quarts of water for each pound.  Bring to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add a tablespoon of oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt.  Then immerse the pasta in handfuls.  Cook for a 2 to 3 minutes, stirring a few times to separate the strands, then as the water comes to a boil again, begin to taste test.  Stir a few times to keep from sticking. The pasta can be enjoyed fresh (cooks in 6 minutes in boiling water), frozen, or dried for later (cooks in 7 minutes in boiling water). Noodles can be cooked directly from freezer into the boiling water, but the cooking time will be about 2 minutes longer. This is fast so don’t leave the pot unattended!  Tubes will cook faster since the water can go inside the shape, but solid shapes, like radiatore and orecchiete take longer.

Taste one piece and go for firm to the bite rather than a visual.  All pasta will swell in size and thickness after cooking.  Pour the cooked pasta into a colander in the sink to drain.  Don’t rinse with cold water or it will wash away the flavor.  Also don’t allow it to sit in the colander, or it will become gummy and stick together. Return it to the pan in which it was cooked and toss with some butter or oil, then serve as soon as possible with your sauce.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2002, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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