Rolling Pasta Out by Hand

Producing egg pasta that is not just homemade, but handmade, is a craft. I have seen some of my students master it right away. Others take a little longer. Some never get it at all. Why do it? Because if you succeed, you will possess one of the most precious skills that a cook can command, and from your hands will come a product without compare.
When you roll out egg pasta by hand, you are stretching the dough, with a rapid succession of motions, over the length of the long pin. In the machine method, the dough is compressed between two cylinders. There is a difference in color—the color of hand-stretched pasta is considerably deeper than the color of dough squeezed out by machine—and a more important difference in structure.
The surface of hand-stretched pasta is etched by a minute pattern of intersecting ridges and hollows. When cooked and tossed, the pasta draws in sauce and exudes juiciness. On the palate it has a succulence that no other pasta can match.
If it seems worth trying, get a lumber dealer to supply you with a 1½-to 2-inch-thick, 32-inch-long hardwood dowel. Round off the ends with sandpaper so that there are no sharp edges that might tear the pasta. Into one end, screw an eye hook from which to keep your pin suspended so it won’t warp. Protect it from dents. Before using it the first time, wash it thoroughly, dry it with a soft cloth, then rub it lightly with food-safe oil. When the oil has seeped into the wood, rub the pin with flour. To maintain the pin in good condition, repeat the treatment once every dozen times the pin is used.

I asked Carla Grimaldi from Bologna, who has been making pasta since she was twelve, to come up to Venice and demonstrate for the photographer, Alison Harris, the motions involved in making pasta by hand. The illustrations that follow, along with the descriptions, should make the detailed instructions easier to grasp.

When you are just learning to roll pasta, work with dough using two eggs. A one-egg dough would be awkward to handle, but more than two eggs might be a waste. Be prepared to waste quite a lot of eggs and flour, until you find you have made something edible. Keep in mind two important points:

  1. Work quickly because as pasta dough dries, it loses its elasticity and cannot be stretched.
  2. Never apply downward pressure on the pin. You are going to thin the dough not by pressing it against the table, but by lightly stretching it along the length of the pin. Making pasta on a pin requires not strength, but just quick hands.
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