How to make Fresh Pasta: The Basics and the Dough

Making fresh pasta at home is a very rewarding experience. I find that all preparations that demand a little more of your time than usual are. This is why pasta was usually made in every Italian home on Sunday mornings, when everyone was off work and could dedicate the whole morning to it, often engaging kids and relatives in the process. Some of my fondest memories involve my mom and grandma making pasta on Sundays for 10 to 15 people, and us kids helping (or messing) around.

And – no matter how good the pasta you buy can be. Nothing compares to the pasta you make yourself.

It is not a complicated process, but it does require attention and sticking to some basic rules. There are a series of little details that will make or break your pasta. Most of all, though, what you need is practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts are not great. Time and practice will turn you into a wonderful pasta-maker!

I would like to be exhaustive, but nobody likes looooong posts. Therefore, I will start with this article with a focus on the dough, and then write a second one specifically about the tools for cutting and shaping. I will go in-depth for every singular kind of pasta, making them for specific recipes along the way, with tips for pairing with sauces.
Here we go!

THE INGREDIENTS

No ingredient list has ever been simpler.
Every 100g of flour will make pasta for one hungry person or, in the case of stuffed pasta, for two.
300g of flour will serve 4.

BASIC DOUGH
(Good for any kind of pasta, and for dough that will have some coloring agent added to it)
For every person, you need:

  • 100g of ’00’ Flour (or 30% Semolina and 70% regular flour)
  • 1 Egg
  • Water, in case you need it.

RICH DOUGH
(Good for stuffed pasta)

  • 150g ’00’ Flour
  • 150g Semolina Flour
  • 2 Eggs
  • 4 Yolks
  • Water, in case you need it.

VERY RICH DOUGH
(This dough will get you an extraordinary texture for pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle and tagliolini, which will be very ‘meaty’ and with a bite, gorgeous for picking up sauces)

  • 300g ’00’ Flour (or 30% Semolina and 70% regular flour)
  • 1 Egg
  • 7 yolks
  • Water, in case you need it.

EGGLESS DOUGH
(Used especially with alternative flours)

  • Flour, or a mix of flours of choice (keep flours with gluten to at least 60% of the total amount)
  • Lukewarm water, as you need to incorporate all the flour into the dough
  • A little olive oil, to help with texture.

Consider that:

  • You might need the tiniest amount of water to help incorporate all the flour flour, depending on the quality of your ingredients. But the hardened bits of flour that will inevitably form do not count! Scrape those off the board and toss them. Wait until you kneaded for at least 5 minutes before adding water.
  • The classic recipe does not call for salt. Homemade pasta was usually paired with very rich condiments, and, especially if you are making some kind of stuffed pasta, you will see it is not necessary at all. Still, if you find it necessary, add a pinch.
  • You might add a tablespoon of olive oil (in 300~400g flour) to help make the dough smoother.

THE FLOUR
if you read the post about flours, you might have gotten an idea of how things work. Pasta needs the finest flour available (in this case, Italian ’00’) which also needs to have a decent gluten content, or it will be impossible to roll out. ’00’ flour is so finely milled that it almost resembles talc – which is perfect to get the most supple dough.
This is the only case in which using ’00’ flour will really make a difference. So, if you can and want, definitely go ahead and look for it – you can also buy it online. But if you are just starting out, all-purpose will do the trick. You could try mixing in a 10% pastry flour, for texture.
Some people like to mix in some semolina flour to add texture and color. If you want to try, you could mix 30% semolina and 70% regular flour. Some others even use 100% semolina, but that produces a very, very rough pasta.
If you find that you love making homemade pasta and make it often, definitely try a ’00’ flour, and see how things change.
It is always best to sift your flour, to avoid any lumps and unwanted bits of stuff.

THE EGGS
We are using ‘large’ eggs, here, weghing about 70g each. If using smaller eggs, you might need more.

USING ALTERNATIVE FLOURS
if we avert our sight from tradition and technique, mixing more wholesome flours into your pasta is a great idea. Some of the most loved pastas in Italy are made out of spelt, buckwheat, chickpea and chestnut flour. Alternative flour pasta can also be made without eggs, like in the case of Ligurian pasta.
All these pastas, though, are still made by mixing flours, as the low (or absent) gluten content in some flours would make it impossible to stretch. If you are using a flour with gluten – like farro spelt or whole wheat, you could substitute all of it.
Keep in mind that you might need a higher hydration for these flours. Keep some water on hand.

Mix for alternative flours

  • 30% semolina
  • 30% flour of choice
  • 40% ’00’ flour.

Or

  • 30% flour of choice
  • 70% ’00’ flour.

For gluten rich alternative flours

  • 30% ’00’ flour,
  • 70% flour of choice.

GLUTEN FREE PASTA
I am not an expert on gluten free pasta, but if you are making pasta out of a 100% gluten free flour, adding xanthan gum will probably do the trick. I will deepen my knowledge and probably dedicate a chapter to gluten free pastas in the future!

THE DOUGH
The texture you want in your pasta is smooth, supple, and velvety. the kneaded dough shouldn’t feel dry or too hard, but rather soft and it should leave a sensation of humidity in your hands. Do not worry if it’s not perfectly smooth or elastic after you kneaded it, as the dough will fully develop after resting. It needs to rest at least an hour on the counter, or you could make it the night before and store it in the fridge. After resting, it needs to be re-kneaded for at least 10 minutes.

WORKSPACE AND METHODS FOR ROLLING IT OUT
The ideal workspace is a nice, large wooden board. A spacious marble countertop will also work, but working on a rough wood surface will give you the best texture: porous and slightly wrinkly, so the pasta will absorb the condiment incredibly well. There are specific boards for pasta, which are purposely left with a rough surface.

If you’re working on wood, flour the board every time you feel the pasta is about to stick. When you’re done, scrape all the bits and flour with a scraper and clean it with a damp towel. This is the board used for pasta in Italy. You can find something similar online or in many kitchen supplies shops.
(Tip: do not get the reversible ones. the edges would be an obstacle for the rolling pin)

If working on marble or steel, just clean the surface well before you start, to avoid any bits and crumbs of sorts that might ruin your dough.

Rolling the dough with a rolling pin
Rolling out the dough with a rolling pin will get you the best results. The reason why homemade pasta is so good and absorbs condiments so well is because you work wood-on-wood, which creates an amazing rough texture. Using the rolling pin requires practice: one needs to work fast and efficiently. If you’re too slow the dough will dry out, and if you’re imprecise it will be thicker in some spots and thinner in others. But worry not! after 3 or 4 times you will improve greatly, and you will start to really understand how things work. Start with no more than 3 eggs worth of dough, for practice.
Ideally, you will need a pin like this.

Rolling the dough with a machine
Unfortunately, cold steel will not get you the same results as wood, but a machine is still a great way to make pasta if you’re shorter on time, space and patience. I have never used one, but I am pretty sure every machine comes with detailed instructions.
GENERAL TIPS

  • Avoid working where there are air drifts or in windy places. The dough dries out very easily, and it’s impossible to work with a dried out dough.
  • Knead your dough for at least a full 10 minutes. You can’t compromise on this! The end result will really depend on how you kneaded the dough.
  • Always allow the dough to rest for at least an hour, either covered with a damp towel or sealed in a ziplock bag, to retain humidity. During resting time, the dough ‘relaxes’ and the gluten has time to stretch out. If you’re only using a piece of dough at a time, or making stuffed pasta like cappellacci or other formats that require pre-cutting your dough and not letting it dry (unlike tagliatelle), keep whatever dough you’re not using well covered.
  • Add a pinch of salt or a bit of oil to your preference. If you have a rich sauce, definitely skip the salt.
  • Always sift your flour.
  • If making stuffed pasta, always prepare the stuffing before hand, even the day before.
  • Non-stuffed pasta formats will need to dry after cutting. You don’t need to have one of those ‘hangers’: just use a floured tray, and leave your pasta there to dry. Spread it evenly and flour it to prevent sticking. Do not pack it together!

All right, let’s get to work!

How to make Fresh Pasta

Tools you’ll need

  • All the ingredients for the kind of dough you want to make;
  • A wooden board and rolling pin, or a flat metal or marble surface and a pasta machine;
  • Damp towels for keeping your dough from drying;
  • A long, flat knife for cutting;
  • Cutting wheels and other tools, depending of the kind of pasta you want to make;
  • Trays For arranging your finished pasta;
  • Extra flour, water and oil.

KNEADING

  1. On your clean workspace, arrange the shape in the ‘fontana / fountain’ shape: make a mound of flour and dig a hole in the center. Break the eggs into the hole, and add the oil, if using.
  2. Either beat the eggs with a fork, or start working with your hands. You should incorporate the flour into the eggs a little at a time, so that no egg spills onto the board. Start kneading. If there is flour you can’t incorporate, add a bit of water. Do not flour the board unless the dough really sticks too much. There will probably bits of hardened flour that you can’t incorporate…don’t add water to incorporate those! Just scrape them off the board and toss them. Only add the bits that are still soft.
  3. Knead the dough, using your own body weight and the heels of your hands. The dough wants the warmth of your hand, and stretching and applying pressure to the dough will help develop gluten. Knead until the dough elongates, then fold it upon itself, turn it around, and start again. Do not push the dough on the board – rather, take it from the bottom, and push it forward (kind of like the technique for folding egg whites). Once it starts to really come together, slam it a few times onto the board, to help develop gluten even better.
  4. After 10 minutes, you should have a supple ball of dough that is not too hard. It should be a bit floppy when you hold it, and feel humid. If it’s too hard, add water by the teaspoons until you reach the right consistency. It’s ok if it’s not completely smooth: it will acquire a velvety texture after resting.
  5. Put your dough in a ziploc bag and allow it to rest for at least 1 hour.
  6. Once rested, take it back and knead it again for 5 minutes. At the end, you should have a very smooth ball of dough, ready for rolling.
Dough Kneading

From upper left: 1; 2; 3; 4

ROLLING WITH A ROLLING PIN

I realize that explaining, no matter how well one might do it, does not compare to actually showing how it’s done. While I prepare my own, I looked for a couple of explicative videos: This one demonstrates pretty well the technique I use. This other video is a bit long and the girl here uses a different technique, but I really encourage you to watch this!

  1. Shape the dough into a ball and flatten it out on the board with your hands. Start rolling it from the center and going outwards, and constantly rotating it. Do not roll it like you would pie dough! Start from the center, and work your way outwards. This will get you a round, even sheet of pasta. (img. 1)
  2. Once it gets large enough, put the rolling pin on the upper edge of the dough, and roll that upper edge around the pin. (Img. 2) Put both the heel of your hands on the center of the dough, and ‘swipe’ them outwards. Do this quickly, rolling downwards until all the dough is rolled around the pin. This quick ‘swiping’ motion is what stretches the dough. Apply the right amount of pressure to stretch it out, but don’t be too harsh.
  3. When all the dough is rolled around the pin, rotate it 90˚ and quickly roll the pin on the board, so that one edge of the pasta goes ‘slap!’ Unroll it, flour if needed, and repeat, always rolling from the center outwards. (Img. 3)
  4. Once you can see the board through the pasta, it is about ready. You should roll the dough thinner for stuffed pasta, and coarser for regular pasta. (Img. 4)
  5. Your pasta circle is now ready for shaping!

 

How to roll pasta with a rolling pin

From upper left: Img 1; 2; 3; 4.

SHAPING

Shaping is a very wide subject. I will dedicate another post to tools used for shaping and more tips, as well as other posts about the single formats. in the meantime, here are a few pointers:

  • TAGLIATELLE, TAGLIOLINI, PAPPARDELLE AND OTHER LONG SHAPED PASTA:
    Once you have your round dough, roll the upper edge like parchment paper, flouring often, until you get to the middle of the circle. Do the same with the lower edge. Using a flat knife, cut ribbons of pasta of the desired thickness. Count 20 to 30, depending on the thickness you’re cutting: that makes one pasta nest, and roughly one, one and a half serving. un-roll the ribbons, lightly slap them on the board to fully un-roll them and shape them into a nest, that you can leave to dry on a tray.
  • STUFFED PASTA: Cut squares or circles of pasta, stuff them and close them as per the recipe you’re using. A quicker technique for ravioli is to brush half your sheet of pasta with egg wash, spread a layer of stuffing evenly, and fold the other half over it, closing the edges. You can then shape your ravioli with this tool and cut them with a wheel.

DRYING
Stuffed pasta does not need to dry, but other formats do. Drying time largely depends on temperature, climate and humidity level. It might be ready after 10 minutes in the summer, or after 1 hour in a foggy day. Just feel it: when it actually feels dry, well, it’s ready. Simple as that.

STORING

  • If cooking straight away: Prepare a large pot with plenty of water. Bring it to a rolling boil (lid on), and add a handful of coarse salt. Boil the pasta for about 5 mins, or until it floats to the surface. Thinner formats like angel hair might even need just 3 minutes. If you have a large amount, cook in batches: if you overcrowd the pot it won’t cook properly and it might stick. I do not find necessary to add oil to the water, but go ahead and add a tablespoon if you wish.
  • If freezing: arragne your pasta in a tray, without crowding it too much. Put the tray in the freezer as is, and once it’s fully frozen you can transfer it to a ziploc bag. You mustn’t thaw it beforehand when you want to use it – just dump it in your pot of boiling water straight from the freezer. Once the pasta is out of the freezer or it has been thawed, it cannot be frozen again.

And that is it for now. There is a recipe involving stuffed pasta coming very soon. I hope you try making pasta and have fun!

Flouring the pasta

 

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