One of the big things I’ve been hearing about the Real Food Challenge is the desire to make homemade pasta. I’ve been making pasta at home for 6-7 years. It’s my go-to quick meal when I’ve got company coming. Fresh homemade pasta is so delicious you don’t really even need to make a sauce for it. I often simply toss fresh pasta with some good flavorful olive oil and grated cheese, sometimes I throw an egg in there as well to thicken it up a bit. It’s quick, easy and best of all – people think it’s wonderful. They’re super impressed with homemade pasta not realizing it’s actually quite quick and easy to make.
It does take a few tries to master it though, rolling the dough can be a bit of a challenge until you get the hang of it. I’d highly recommend buying a pasta roller, it will come in handy not just for rolling/cutting pasta, but also for rolling out crackers & flatbreads. I bought a cheap one at a kitchen outlet store, I paid less than $20 for it, but I’d recommend investing a heavier duty model, like this one that gets great reviews at Amazon. I’m hoping to upgrade to one of these soon, mine’s not super great quality often pulls the dough in crooked, which is frustrating. Of course you don’t need a machine, plenty of people choose to do all the rolling by hand. I like using a machine.
Pasta is generally made from 2-4 ingredients. I’d recommend starting with basic egg and white flour pasta (some recipes also call for salt and olive oil, some don’t). You can use whole grain flour, but it makes the process a little more difficult and the end product different. I’d definitely recommend starting with white flour pasta until you’ve mastered pasta making and then move on to other flours and flavors. Paul Bertolli has a bunch of great ideas for using different kinds of flour (even chestnut flour) in his book Cooking by Hand. I really like making spinach pasta (as you can see by the photos) and cracked peppercorn pasta.
Pasta dough isn’t difficult to make, but there’s definitely a learning curve. You don’t want to add all the flour called for in the recipe or your dough might be too stiff, which makes it frustrating to work while rolling. I usually save out at least 1/4 cup of flour and often more when mixing up the initial dough. You want the dough to be smooth and slightly tacky, not tough and dry. I like to lightly dust my work surface while rolling it out, this helps incorporate the final flour into the dough, but keeps the dough smooth for easy rolling. You also don’t want your dough to be too soft, or it will be difficult to roll and cut in the machine. After making it too dry once and too wet once, you’ll figure out what the perfect balance is.
Rolling out the dough is fairly easy if you’ve kept it soft enough. Divide the dough in half and roll it out into an oval that’s about 1/2-1/4 inch thick. Then you’ll put it through the rollers on the widest setting. Do this with each piece. Then fold dough into thirds like a letter, roll to thin again and put through the machine. Do this 8-10 times until the dough is smooth and not too soft & tacky. After making pasta a few times you’ll get a feel for what’s the right texture for the dough.
After you’ve run the dough through the machine 8-10 times at the widest setting you’re ready to start thinning the dough. I usually roll each piece through then adjust the rollers. As the piece gets thinner it will get longer and longer and can become a bit unruly. Feel free to cut down to a more manageable size. I usually keep mine in one piece until I want to cut it, then I cut into shorter pieces. It’s a personal preference thing really, whatever you feel comfortable doing. It may be easier at first cutting it into shorter pieces, then as you get more comfortable with the rolling process you can keep the pieces long. Roll them to the desired thinness, I generally roll mine down to the thinnest or the second thinnest setting.
Next you’ll cut the pasta into whatever shape you want. You can make ravioli by using the sheets, you can cut them into spaghetti, thin or thick. I usually make thin spaghetti or fettuccine. Occasionally I make ravioli, but I find cutting the pasta in the rollers to be so quick and easy and I’m usually short on time.
Some cookbooks will tell you hang the pasta to dry on a rack, I never do. I usually toss mine with a little flour to keep it from sticking together if the water isn’t ready yet. Check it every so often, by tossing a bit to make sure it’s not sticking together. Feel free to dry it a little if you want, I just never wanted to buy a drying rack and I don’t really have room in the kitchen for it.
I won’t reinvent the wheel and add a pasta recipe here (perhaps later when I have some time I’ll do a post with my favorite recipes), there are tons on the web:
All Recipes – Making Fresh Egg Pasta
All Recipes – Video tutorial on making fresh pasta
Epicurious – Fresh Egg Pasta (this is very similar to my usual recipe)
Jaime Oliver – Fresh Egg Pasta
Have you ventured into making your own pasta yet? How’d it go?
Any tips & tricks for the rest of us?
Susy can also be found at Chiot’s Run where she blogs about organic gardening, local eating and all kinds of other stuff, like sugaring your maples.