Though it's often easier to buy pasta in a store, there is something special about making it from scratch at home: the quiet rhythms of kneading the dough, the exertion of rolling it out, the concentration involved in cutting the pasta into strips -- "Short bills and long tagliatelle, say the people of Bologna, knowing whereof they speak, for long bills frighten husbands, while short tagliatelle are proof of the inexperience of the person who made them, and look like left-overs when served," wrote Pellegrino Artusi a century ago...
In short, making pasta at home is satisfying. Moreover, you can make precisely the shape you want, and make specially flavored pastas that are quite difficult to find in stores. To make enough home- made pasta to serve four to six as a first course, you will need:
- 7/8 pound (400 g, or 3 1/3 cups) fine white flour (grade 00 if you wish to use Italian flour, or American bread flour, which has slightly more gluten and is thus better because it will make for somewhat firmer pasta)
- 4 eggs (you can also increase the number of yolks while decreasing the volume of whites proportionally to make richer pasta)
- A healthy pinch of salt
Make mound with the flour on your work surface and scoop out a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the hole, add the salt, and work the eggs and the flour together till you have a smooth dough, adding just a drop of water if necessary, and no more. Knead the dough for ten to fifteen minutes, until it is smooth, firm, and quite elastic. Don't skimp on the kneading or the dough will tear while you're rolling it out.
You are now ready for the hard part: separate the dough into two pieces. Flour your work surface (the marble counter tops in Italian kitchens are ideal for this, though wood or Formica work as well -- a pastry cloth gets in the way) and start to roll out the dough, rolling from the middle, flipping it occasionally, and flouring it as necessary to keep it from sticking. To keep the sheet from breaking, once it has reached a certain size, roll it up around the rolling pin and then invert the rolling pin; you can, as you are unrolling the sheet, gently stretch it by holding the unrolled part firm and pulling gently away with the rolling pin. Keep on flipping and rolling till you have a sheet that's almost transparent -- as thin as a dime, or thinner, if you can manage it (the pasta will almost double in thickness while cooking). The Emilians, acknowledged masters of home-made pasta, say your backside should work up a sweat as you're rolling out the sheet.
Once you've rolled out the sheet, either use it to make stuffed pasta such as ravioli or tortellini, for lasagna, or cut it into strips. If you choose the latter course the easiest thing to do is roll the sheet of dough up into a tube, then slice the tube into rounds of the desired width and shake the skeet out with your hands to free the strands; set them to dry on a rack or between two chair backs, supported by a towel (you often see this in the country). Roll out the second piece and cut it as you did the first.
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water. Since it's fresh, it will cook in three to five minutes. Do not let it overcook! Soft wheat flour has much less gluten than the durum wheat used in commercially prepared dry pastas, and will consequently become flabby if it overcooks.
Making pasta by hand does take effort and practice, and if you do it often you may want to invest in a pasta machine. There are two kinds:
- Hand operated:
These clamp to your work surface, and require that you make the dough. Then you crank it through the rollers until it reaches the proper thinness. They're limited to making flat types of pasta, such as spaghetti, tagliatelle, taglierini, and lasagne (which can then be used to make ravioli and the like).
With the electric models, you pour the eggs and flour into the machine and it does the rest. Depending on the nozzle you choose, you can also make cylindrical types of pasta such as penne. There are also attachments for making ravioli and such.
While pasta machines won't work for everything (tortelli di patate, for example, are made with thicker sheets of dough), they're a big help.
The next page is dedicated to colored pasta.