All the recipes in this chapter that call for pasta can be made successfully with a box of dried pasta, or store-bought fresh pasta. But the results will be just a little different with homemade pasta, and this is one good reason to make it yourself. Another reason to make it is that it’s fun. Just be sure you have enough time, because if you’ve got time constraints, you won’t enjoy yourself. (This is true of any cooking that takes a little time.) And by time, all I mean here is an hour or so start to finish, from the time you pull your eggs from the fridge to pouring the oil on a steaming bowl of noodles.
When I learned to make pasta in Italy, they had a simple ratio: 100 grams flour, 1 egg, a dash of olive oil. And we mixed it right there on a plastic tablecloth. For my book
Many teachers and cookbooks instruct you to form a well of flour on your board and crack the eggs into it, but I always wind up with egg running over the well and off the counter onto my foot, so I always begin the mixing in a bowl and finish by kneading it.
Kneading the dough is the most time-consuming part of making the pasta. You need to knead it by hand until it is luxuriously smooth, which takes about 15 minutes by hand. If you’re making a larger amount, you can use a standing mixer to get at least half of the mixing done, but you almost always need to knead by hand to some degree.
Next, the dough needs to rest. All that kneading has developed the gluten and gotten it in line for such smooth dough. If you try to roll it right away, it will resist you. It’s telling you to be patient. You can’t rush gluten formation any more than you can rush a pot of water to boil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a towel and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature or up to 4 hours in the fridge.
Now you can roll it. Using a rolling pin is possible, but it’s difficult to get it thin enough. I used to own a pasta rolling pin, which was about 3 feet long and tapered (you can get one online from Vermont Rolling Pins), and this worked well for hand-cut noodles; there are some good YouTube videos of old Italian women rolling it by hand this way. But a hand-cranked machine or standing mixer attachment is the most common and best choice for everyday pasta making.
This recipe makes enough pasta to serve four people; see the instructions below if you’re making pasta for Classic Five-Layer Lasagna.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir with your fingers or a pair of chopsticks until it all comes together. Pour the dough out onto a clean counter and knead it for 15 minutes, or until it is so smooth you don’t want to stop kneading because what was once shaggy and dry is indescribably smooth and wonderful to touch.
Cover the dough or wrap it in plastic and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. If it will rest for more than an hour, refrigerate it. Always make the dough the day you intend to roll it. When you’re ready to roll, cut the dough into quarters.
If you’re using a pin, roll it out till it’s very thin, using plenty of flour to keep it from sticking, then roll it up and slice the roll crosswise into noodles of whatever thickness you wish. Toss the noodles on a board with some cornmeal to prevent sticking. This is what I would do if I wanted nice, thick pappardelle.
If you’re using a pasta machine, put the dough vertically through the roller once on the thickest setting. Then fold the dough into thirds and run it horizontally through the machine, again on the thickest setting. The idea is to make each piece as wide as the roller is. Repeat with the other three pieces, dusting with flour as often as needed.
Roll the dough through successively thinner settings till you have the desired thickness. I find that the thinnest setting on my machine makes the dough so thin that it sticks and doesn’t cut well, so I usually stop at the penultimate setting. All machines are different; experiment with your roller and use what works best.
If you’re cutting the pasta for noodles, it’s a good idea to let the pasta sheets dry for 10 or 15 minutes before sending them through the machine’s cutter. If you’re making lasagna, cut the pieces to size.
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