With everyone is stuck at home it is a great time to learn to make homemade pasta. It is something that I began making regularly last fall. Somewhat of a surprise to me, it is much easier that I thought it would be when I started. With a bit of practice, you can make homemade pasta to be proud of.
There is only one specialized piece of equipment you will need. You need something to roll the pasta dough into sheets. I am fortunate to have an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. I got it as a gift years ago, but never used it until recently. Or, there are hand crank rollers available. If all else fails, you can always roll it out by hand. There are some that say this is the most traditional way of all. I don’t cover that method. But if you are up for it, this book here is the best on the market to walk you through the process of hand rolling pasta.
Years ago, I used to travel to Milan for work. I always enjoyed my trips because the food was always excellent. But back then, I couldn’t tell you why — I just knew it was much better than what I could find or cook at home. At some level, it has always puzzled me.
A better understanding
Fast forward fifteen years or so, and I found the answer. Last September, the Elegant Baker and I spent the month in Italy. Our first night, the first dinner that we had, and I had my answer. We were dining at a small restaurant in Florence. I ordered Cacio a Pepe, a popular Italian Dish. The pasta was excellent — unlike anything I’d had since my travels to Milan. But now that I cook and understand the food better, I could tell you why it was so much better than what I was used to. The pasta had texture and bite. It was somewhat thicker than I was used to and had more flavor. Most importantly, it offered the slightest hint of resistance when I bit into it. I needed to learn how to make pasta this way!
When I got home, I tried cooking my boxed pasta different. I was hoping to achieve what I experienced in Florence. Maybe if I cooked it shorter to be “more” al dente? Or what if I salted the water more I could get more flavor? None of it worked. I realized the only way I was going to have pasta like I did in Italy was to ditch the store-bought pasta. I was going to have to make my own from scratch.
Time for Homemade Pasta
So began a process. I now make homemade pasta at least once a week, and feel I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I am by no means as expert as an old Italian Nonna or a chef from Milan. But I feel confident enough in what I’ve learned to share some of it with you. I keep it pretty basic, but as you learn on your own you can branch out to add variety.
As I’m sure you know, there are almost endless shapes and varieties of pasta. Some variation of dried strips, tubes, sheets and strands. They are all abundant on the pasta aisle of any modern grocery store. “Fresh” pasta can often be found in the refrigerator case or at a specialty store. Egg pasta, eggless pasta, whole wheat, gluten free, and brown rice pastas are all available. But pasta doesn’t have to be complex. With a few easy to find ingredients, you can make a fresh homemade pasta. You will find the taste very close to what you can find in a cafe in Italy.
Three basic ingredients
At its most basic, pasta is three ingredients. Flour, liquid and salt. You can make the most basic pasta dough with simple flour and water, with a pinch of salt. From there you can jump off to something a bit more. I make my homemade pasta dough using a blend of flours and an eggs for my liquid.
The blend of flours that I use is equal parts “00” flour and Semolina flour. I believe that this offers a good ‘bite’ and stability in the dough when I cook it. I find that it doesn’t dry very well — it gets too brittle. What I have dried has all ended up broken up into soups. This dough is best cooked and eaten the day it is made.
“00” flour is a variety that is ground more finely than typical flour. This allows it to absorb moisture more readily. That in turn helps form a better structure for pasta than regular AP flour. I use Caputo Tipo “00” flour.
Semolina is a variety of Durum wheat, which is a higher protein wheat. As a result, it has a higher gluten content which helps pasta made with Semolina hold its shape better. I use Bob’s Red Mill Semolina flour. I find Bob’s products good quality and reliable.
The two flours I use are also fairly easy to find. I can find both the Caputo Tipo “00” and Bob’s Semolina flours at my local “budget” grocery store. They are on the aisle with the other baking supplies. If you can’t find them at the grocery store, you can always order them online.
Two key things for great results
When you make homemade pasta, there are two key things to get right to make good pasta. One — it is the right ratio of flour to egg. Two – be sure to knead then let it rest before shaping.
First, the ratio of flour to egg is 100g to one egg. I strongly recommend measuring flour on a scale. Use metric for the most accurate measurement. If you are using ounces, it is 3 ½ ounces. With a measuring cup, it is 0.8 cups of “00” and 0.6 cups of semolina. If you can at all avoid using ‘cups’, please do. It adds unnecessary complexity and it is less accurate.
To make pasta for two, I use two eggs and 200g flour. Since I use a 50/50 blend of flours, that means that I use 100g each “00” flour and Semolina flour. I weigh them together in a small bowl, and then using a whisk I combine them into a single “blended” flour. I pour the flour through a mesh strainer to make a small pile on my counter top. The strainer makes sure that there are no clumps in the dough that might affect the final quality of the pasta.
As for the eggs, I have found it best if they are at room temperature when making pasta. They tend to blend better with the flour. I usually take my eggs out of the refrigerator an hour or two before making pasta and let them sit on the counter. If you are at all worried about the safety of that, keep the eggs in the refrigerator and use cold. You may need to knead a few minutes longer, but you’ll be fine.
Time to mix the dough
Turning back to the pile of flour, I flatten the pile, and make a small well in the middle for the eggs. I use my fingers or the bottom of a small measuring cup. I crack the two eggs and put them in the center of the well.
Using a fork, I begin to blend the eggs together. As they start to come together, I begin pulling a bit of the flour from the walls of the well. Start small and pull in a little to begin with. Stir with the fork until it is incorporated. Bring in more a bit at a time. It will begin to turn into a pasta dough and will have a bit of a soupy consistency.
Next, with a bench scraper or the flat side of a spatula, pull the remaining flour into the dough you are forming. Keep pulling together, and then chopping randomly to break up the dough. Continue this process for several minutes until you have a ragged mass of dough on the counter. It will not be wet evenly, but it will help in bringing the dough together.
Don’t skimp on the kneading
Now you will begin the process of forming the dough by hand and kneading it. Pull the ragged pile on the counter together into a loosely formed ball. Not all the flour will stay in the ball, but keep as much as you can. Using the heel of one hand, press down on the ball and push it away from you. With the other hand, bring the ball back on the counter and press with the heel again. Repeat the process for the next 10 minutes. Do not skimp on the time. This is important for a good pasta dough. You will notice the consistency of the ball get smoother and smoother the more you knead.
I find it helpful to have a small bowl of cool water handy when kneading the pasta. If you find that the pasta is getting too dry, lightly touch the surface of the water with one hand. You will pick up a little dampness on your hand, and move it back to the dough ball. It will provide a slight bit of water to help the dough ball. Depending on the humidity of the day, I find that I do this three or four times during kneading.
At the end of the ten minutes kneading, you’ll see that the dough ball is much more smooth and consistent. Spray a small bowl with non stick spray, put the dough ball in there and cover it. Let the dough rest for thirty minutes before proceeding to roll it out.
The instructions for rolling are for using the pasta attachment on my stand mixer. They will be similar, but not identical for a hand crank roller. The difference will be determining when the finished pasta is at the thickness you want.
Roll the dough to pasta sheets
After thirty minutes, take your dough ball and divide half with a sharp knife. Return one half to the bowl, and start working with the other half. Using both hands, shape the half ball into a thick rectangle, about ¼ to ½ inch thick.
Set your pasta attachment on the widest setting — 1 — and turn the stand mixer on to the slowest speed. Feed the short end of the rectangle into the pasta attachment with one hand. Position the other hand to catch the dough as it comes out. When the dough comes out after the first pass, take the resulting sheet and fold in thirds like a letter. Run this folded sheet through the attachment. Repeat this process four more times, for a total of five passes with folded sheets. Set the final sheet aside on a piece of parchment or on a baking sheet. Repeat the entire process with the remaining dough ball in the bowl. This step does two things. It begins to flatten the dough and provides a bit of a second kneading to help the dough structure form.
After you are done this step, you will have two sheets of dough. Set the roller attachment to the next thickest setting — 2 — and turn the mixer on again at the slowest speed. Pass each sheet through the attachment three times. No need to fold this time — just run the full sheet.
Once done on “2”, I often find it easier to divide each sheet in half, so that I now have four sheets of dough. If I don’t, I find they get too long and unwieldy to handle as I continue the process.
Resetting the pasta attachment to “3”, repeat the process above. Run each sheet three times. Finally, reset the attachment to “4” and repeat the process again. I stop at “4” because I find that it gives me the thickness that I like for most applications. However, feel free to run pasta sheets at thinner settings if you’d like.
Cook and Enjoy!
From here, I’ve used the full width of homemade pasta sheets for lasagna. If cut them by hand to wide pappardelle, or tagliatelle. I’ve cut into large, irregular squares for use in a soup. I’ve used it in non-Italian dishes like beef stroganoff and casseroles. For the dinner I’ll be making tonight with these I will be cutting them to a fettuccine. To do that, I cut each sheet to about a six inch length, and then change the attachment on my stand mixer. I have a special cutter (it came with the set I received) and use it to turn my pasta sheets into fettuccine.
To cook the pasta, bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to the water then add the pasta. Fresh pasta cooks quicker than dried, so stay nearby. Start testing the pasta for doneness at about 5 minutes. Depending on the size, shape and thickness of the pasta, it should cook in about 5 – 8 minutes. Perhaps a bit longer. When done, drain it, and toss it with the sauce of your choice.
No matter the shape or the thickness of your pasta, I know you will find it different from store bought dried pasta. That is not to say you won’t use the boxed stuff again. I do. Frequently. But once you get the hang of homemade pasta, you will find it difficult to resist making it from time to time. It’s just too good.
- Pasta Roller, either hand crank or mixer attachment
- 100 g "00" Flour
- 100 g Semolina Flour
- 1 tsp kosher Salt
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 2 TBSP Kosher Salt for pasta water
- Place both flours in a small bowl along with the salt and whisk to combine
- Sift the flour onto a clean, smooth work surface
- Using your hands, create a small well in the middle of the flour pile
- Add the eggs to the flour well and using a small fork, begin to stir to combine
- Slowly begin pulling some of the flour from the sides of the well into the egg
- Continue pulling more and more flour in until the mixture is a thick, sturdy consistency
- Using a bench scraper, pull the rest of the dough into the mixture and "chop" it all for several minutes to combine the rest of the flour into the dough
- Using your hands, begin to form the loose dough into a ball
- Knead the dough ball for 10 minutes. If the dough gets too dry, lightly wet the surface of one hand and use it to add moisture to the dough
- Knead for a full 10 minutes, until the dough ball is smooth and elastic
- Place the dough ball in a small bowl sprayed with cooking spray and cover. Let rest for 30 minutes
- At the end of 30 minutes, cut the dough ball in half. Return one half to the bowl and begin working with the other half
- Flatten the working dough with your hand and form into a rough rectangle shape
- Setting your pasta roller on its widest setting, run the dough rectangle through the pasta roller
- Take the rolled sheet and fold it in thirds (like a letter) and run through the pasta roller on its widest setting again. Repeat this step 4 more times
- Reduce the setting on the pasta roller one thickness level and run the pasta sheet through three times. No need to fold from this point forward
- Reduce the setting on the pasta roller another thickness level and run the pasta sheet through three times.
- Repeat reducing the thickness level and running sheet three times until desired thickness of pasta is achieved.
- Reset the pasta roller to the widest thickness and repeat the whole process with the second dough ball.
- Cut all pasta sheets to the desired shapes by hand or with a pasta cutter
- Heat 4 quarts of water to a boil and add salt to water before adding pasta
- Add pasta and cook to taste. Time depends on shape and thickness of pasta as well as preferred consistency of finished pasta
- Drain pasta and add to sauce or other use as desired