Basic Homemade Pasta

In Italy pasta is a primo or first course. The average Italian wants his pasta daily but in appetizer-sized portions. However we think of pasta as a main course, so we eat a larger portion (but not every day). My servings for these recipes are entrée portions. In my experience, one large egg and one cup flour makes two reasonable entree-sized portions of pasta or three to four appetizer-sized portions.

Whether you make the pasta by purist or expedient technique is up to you. Are you someone who likes to work with your hands? Does kneading dough relax you? Will you feel guilty if you “cheat” and assemble the dough in a food processor or electric mixer and knead it with the dough hook? If it’s too easy will you feel like you didn’t really do it? As a Jewish mother with many years of experience, I know how to make guilt work. But as your pasta “therapist” with a more modern outlook (after all, I’ve been living in California for over twenty-five years), I feel free to say do what feels right at the time. Of course, if you have been trained from childhood to roll out pasta by hand, you may be able to distinguish a hand-rolled noodle from one that is rolled through a machine. But I suspect that neither your guests nor family could recognize these subtle differences. So … if you have a spare hour and you want to assemble the dough by hand, great! But if you want fresh pasta and don’t want to work at it, then use the processor or mixer to assemble the dough and the hand-cranked pasta machine to roll it out.

You will find that my recipe for fresh pasta yields a drier dough. There’s a good reason for that. A drier pasta is a lighter pasta. It is easier to roll because it doesn’t stick and it will be less gummy when cooked. In fact, if you associate fresh pasta with thick chewy noodles, you are in for a pleasant surprise. While dry is better, it is, of course, a little harder to work. That is where resting comes in. Not you . . . the pasta dough. A resting time of about an hour will allow the gluten in the flour to relax and make the rolling easier. If you don’t have an hour, a half hour will do.

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Ingredients

For 2 Servings

  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (see Note)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons water, or a bit more if needed

For 4 Servings

  • 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (see Note)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons water, or a bit more if needed

For 6 Servings

  • 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (see Note)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water, or a bit more if needed

Method

Mix the flour and salt on a work surface and shape it into a mound. Make a well in the center and drop in the egg and water. Stir the egg and water together gradually mixing in the flour from the side of the well. Knead the dough with your hands until very smooth, 10 to 15 minutes. Or you may mix the flour and salt in a food processor or in a mixer bowl with the paddle. Add the egg and water and process or mix for a minute. The dough will be dry and crumbly. Knead it by hand about 15 minutes or with the dough hook of the mixer on low speed 8 to 10 minutes. Add a drop or two of water if necessary. Put the dough in a plastic bag and let it rest at room temperature about an hour.

When the dough is ready to be rolled, cut it in half if making pasta for 2, or quarters for 4 and so on. Flatten each piece into a rectangle about the width of the rolling bars on a hand-cranked pasta machine and thin enough to insert into the widest setting. A rolling pin may help.

Now roll the dough through the machine. Fold it in thirds and roll it through 2 times. Fold it in thirds again and roll it through once more. Now proceed through all the settings, making it thinner and thinner until you’ve rolled it through the thinnest setting. If you want the dough to be even thinner, let the dough rest covered for a while, then put it through the last setting again.

Cut the sheets of dough into 8-to 9-inch lengths, then cut into noodles, using the cutting bars on the machine or rolling it up like a jelly roll and cutting it by hand with a sharp knife. Toss the cut noodles with rice flour or Wondra. You may cook the noodles immediately and let them sit at room temperature for an hour or so before cooking. To store the noodles any longer, spread them on baking sheets and cover loosely with plastic wrap. They will keep in the refrigerator for a day.

To make lasagne: Roll out the dough up to (but not through) the thinnest setting. Cut into lengths the size of your pan. If you are not cooking them right away, lightly flour the noodles. Store on baking sheets lined with baker’s parchment and covered loosely with plastic wrap.

To make ravioli: Roll out the dough into sheets 15 to 18 inches long and as wide as the rolling bars, going through the thinnest setting for light fillings and through the second to the thinnest setting for dense fillings like potatoes. Fold one sheet lengthwise in half just to mark it and unfold. (Keep the other sheets covered with plastic wrap.) Place mounds of filling on the bottom half of the dough every 2 inches. Spray lightly with water, using a plant mister, and fold the top half over the bottom. Press between the mounds of filling to seal them but do not press the bottom edge. Cut into ravioli with a ravioli wheel, starting from the top and pressing the air to the bottom edge where it can escape. Press the bottom edge closed and trim it with the wheel. Pinch all the ravioli to make sure they are closed. Place the ravioli, without touching, on baking sheets lined with parchment and lightly sprinkled with rice flour or Wondra. Sprinkle the tops with flour too. These can be stored in the refrigerator for several hours, but do not cover them or they will get gummy and stick to the paper and each other. All of the ravioli recipes serve 6, so make a 3-egg batch of dough.