The Machine

Method

The Two Admissible Kinds

The basic pasta machine has paired steel rollers of two types: one is smooth and serves to compress and thin out the dough; the second set has parallel grooves that can cut the flattened dough into ribbons. Of this last set there are always two different pairs, a broad-grooved one that produces fettuccine and a narrower one that makes tagliolini. A movable handle can be inserted into different positions depending which of the rollers is to be turned.

Less common now than it was before the introduction of the wretched extruding machines is the electric machine made by Bialetti. It works on the same principle as the hand-cranked version, over which it has two major advantages: the rollers are of plastic material with a gritty surface that makes pasta with a livelier texture and better sauce-absorbing qualities; it is electrically driven and faster so that it is both easier to use and kinder to the dough, which wants to be worked as rapidly as possible.

No other kinds of machines than these two are suitable for making pasta at home.

Those who already own a hand-operated machine can now buy an ingenious little motor that replaces the crank, converting any hand-turned machine into an electrically driven one.

Rolling out the Dough with the Machine

Flattening a ball of dough into a thin sheet is the pasta machine’s primary function. To perform it, it has several settings that bring the thinning rollers gradually closer together.

Thinning the dough can be compared to reaching the sidewalk from a building’s sixth story. The fastest way is to jump, but you will be a mass of shattered bones. One of the reasons that pasta made by shops is generally so mediocre is that the dough is flattened all at one time, rather than step by step: its body is smashed, its vital sinew broken, it is inert. Walking down the steps is one safe way: it corresponds to the heedful use of the machine’s graduated thinning notches. Even less jarring would be to take the elevator: in making pasta, that would be the hand-stretched method.

If you are thinning a ball of dough made with 2 eggs, divide it into 4 equal parts, or proportionally more parts if it is a larger amount. Cover the counter beside the machine with clean, dry, cloth kitchen towels.

Set the thinning rollers at their maximum opening. Flatten 1 of the pieces of dough with your open hand and run it through the machine. Fold it in thirds, give it a quarter turn, and pass it through the machine again. Repeat the operation 2 or 3 times, then lay the flattened pasta strip on the towels. Take another piece of dough and flatten it as described above. Lay it next to the previously flattened strip on the towel, but do not let them overlap or touch. When all the dough has been flattened you can begin to thin it progressively.

Close the opening of the rollers one notch and run the first of the flattened strips through it once. Do not fold it, but lay it flat on the towel. Repeat the procedure with all the other flattened pasta strips. When all are done, close the opening down another notch and thin all the strips again as has just been described. Continue thinning the pasta one notch at a time until it reaches the desired thinness. (Note: If you are making stuffed pasta, and you work slowly, take each piece of dough all the way through the thinning process, stuff it, then do the next piece. Keep the dough waiting to be thinned wrapped in plastic wrap.)

Cutting the Pasta

If you are making lasagne., cannelloni, and any stuffed pasta, use the pasta immediately, as described in the appropriate recipe. For any pasta that encloses a stuffing, such as tortelli, tortellini, raviolini, the pasta must be cut and stuffed as soon as it is made, while it is still soft and sticky. Its softness makes it easier to shape and the stickiness is necessary to produce a tight seal, preventing the stuffing from spilling out during the cooking.

For any kind of noodle, however, allow the strips to dry on the towels for 10 minutes or more, depending on the temperature and air circulation of your kitchen. Turn the strips over from time to time. The pasta is ready when it is still soft and pliant enough that it won’t crack when cut, but not so moist that the noodles will stick to each other.

Use the broad cutters on the machine to make fettuccine, and the narrower ones to make tagliolini. Tagliatelle, the classic Bolognese noodle, is slightly broader than fettuccine. If you are set on duplicating the Bolognese model, the pasta strips must be rolled up loosely and cut by hand into ¼-inch-wide ribbons.

The most interesting noodle cut of all is tonnarelli. It is as thick as it is broad, thus a cross section of it would be square. Its slightly greater thickness gives it the marvelous firmness and “bite” of spaghetti, while its surface has the texture and fine saucing qualities of all homemade pasta. The machine does a perfect job of making tonnarelli, but you will have to think ahead when you are thinning out the dough. The thickness of the pasta strips that will subsequently be cut into tonnarelli must be equal to the width of the narrow grooves of the cutting roller. On many machines the corresponding thinning notch is the second before the last, but it is advisable that you measure and check for yourself.

As you cut the noodles, whatever their shape, separate them and spread them out on the cloth towels. To cook, pick them up with the towel itself, pulling its 4 corners together, and let them slide into the boiling water from the towel, releasing 2 of its corners.

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