La sfoglia is the generic Italian term for a finely rolled, almost transparent fine sheet of pasta or pastry. The verb sfogliane means to leaf through (as in a book) and thus brings to mind the idea of light paper pages rustling softly. In Italy, it is now rare to find anybody making fresh pasta on a daily basis; it is a practice saved for festival days and holidays, when there are enough pairs of hands in the kitchen to help with the work. The quantities are given per person, because that is how quantities of pasta are calculated—in “eggs worth”—one egg being enough for one person.
Place the flour in a pile on the countertop and plunge your fist into the center to make a hollow. Break the egg into the hole and add apinch of salt.
Using your fingers or a fork, beat the egg thoroughly, then begin to knead it roughly into the flour. Using your hands, knead everything together. This is not like making pastry, so this is not the moment for a delicate approach, but if you are too heavy handed you will cause the dough to dry out too much and it will never roll out smoothly!
Continue to knead until you have a really smooth, pliable ball of dough. Rest under a clean cloth for about 20 minutes. This will relax the gluten and make the dough more manageable.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured countertop as thinly as possible with a strong long rolling pin. Continue to roll it over and over again until the dough is elastic, smooth, and shiny. It should cool down considerably as you work it, and you will feel it dropping in temperature as you go along.
When it is ready the sheet of dough will feel like a brand new, wrung out, damp chamois leather, but must not be brittle. When you are not working with the dough cover with a slightly damp clean cloth to keep it moist.
Alternatively, use a pasta machine. Knead the egg and flour into a rough textured ball of dough. Rest the dough for 20 minutes, then cover it with a very slightly damp cloth. Break off apiece of dough about the size of a small fist and flatten it out with your hands.
Push the dough through the widest setting on your pasta machine and fold this in half and then repeat. Do this three times. Move the machine down to the next setting. Repeat another three times. Continue in this way, changing the setting after every three times until you hear the pasta snap as it is going between the rollers. At this point you can forget about folding it in half each time as the surface tension is now correct.
Continue to wind it through the rollers to the last or penultimate setting on the machine, depending on how fine you want it to be. Lay the sheet of pasta carefully on a floured countertop.
Take another lump of dough the size of a small fist and begin again. Repeat with all the pasta. Keep an eye on the sheets of pasta you have rolled out. Place them on a floured countertop to dry, but remember they will not be easy to cut if they are too dry. Cover with slightly damp, clean cloths to keep them moist.
You can cut your pasta into the desired shape as soon as it is dry enough to roll up without it sticking to itself. Once cut, you can use the pasta immediately or let it dry out further. If you are making a filled pasta shape such as ravioli you must use soft, moist pasta otherwise it will not be possible to close each one securely. In this case, fill the pasta immediately, then leave the shapes to dry.