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

 

  1. Great explanations, lovely pictures and a story I adore. What you are doing is a long standing dream of mine, look forward to more stories about the farm. Hopefully, soon, I will also move to the hills and build an organic farm. Meanwhile, I am sure I can learn plenty from you and few other brilliant people who are doing such gorgeous stuff.

    • Hello!
      I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my stories. When you do your big move, make sure to move prepared! Growing organic stuff can be a bit confusing at first, but nothing beats the feeling of going into the garden, picking your own vegetables and cooking them straight away!
      I am preparing a post about the joys and woes of organic and biodynamic farming. Stay tuned, and if you have some reading suggestions for me please share away! :)

  2. I am loving all your posts. I have been quite passionate about organic farming and agricultural biodiversity for 15 years now. Initially, it was more academic plus activism, I made my masters thesis film on a group of women organic farmers I spent an year with. Now I just try to organically grow as many greens, herbs and veg as I can in pots in my balcony. I read a lot online, will try to pull links from my tumblr and pinterest likes etc to share, you might actually know most of that stuff already, though. One writer/ organic warrior I would suggest for reading is Vandana Shiva. They also have an organisation called Navdanya, I not only purchase a lot of my groceries from their organic store, I have also picked up a lot of knowledge about earth friendly growing from them.

  3. Oh my, you’re such a champ for 10 minute kneading and hand rolling. I’ve only made fresh pasta a few times and am a weakling even with the machine roller.

    • Bahahah, If I have people around me I take advantage of their presence to knead the pasta! It requires a lot of strenght. No wonder most of our great pasta makers are these big a$$ women with the expression of a truck driver who just covered Milan-Bucarest!

      (Yes, they are. I should publish pictures at some point.)

  4. Congratulations on a visually beautiful web site, beautiful pictures, text and formats look elegant and sophisticated, and yet have a romantic and rustic charm, all very nice. I only found you by accident when I was trying to find out my Ravioli was tough and seemed to take a long time to cook. I’m still looking for a conclusive answer there seem to be a number of possibilities as to way it was on the hard side, but the taste was great?
    Best Regards
    Roy

    • Hi Roy!
      I’m really happy you stopped by here, and thanks for the compliments! *blushes*
      As for your ravioli problem, there could be more than one explanation. Did the rolled dough get dry and was breaking on the edges? You might have rolled the dough too thick, or you might not have used enough water in the dough (there are kinds of flour that soak up more water than others), or you might have left the dough out for too long before making the ravioli and cooking them. Did they taste good though? Some people actually love their pasta a bit on the tougher side!

      Did you use a pasta machine? What recipe did you use? I’m sure I can give you a definitive answer if you share a bit more details :)

  5. I’m so grateful for finding your blog specially after failing at ravioli few weeks ago :/ then I made tagliatelle and…well those were gorgeous :) congrats on your win win,you deserved it,your blog is beautiful,pics and stories

    P.S. could you post something about how-to-make pasta with spinach or nettle (green pasta :) )

    • Hi Jelena! Thanks for stopping by!
      How come you failed at ravioli? What happened? Sometimes it’s easy to overdo it with the filling…but yay for tagliatelle!
      Great suggestion – I was actually thinking of making green/colorful pasta very very soon! Ever heard of ‘paglia e fieno’? That’s when you mix regular and spinach pasta :)

  6. Yes I ate it when I was visiting my friend in Trieste,his mom made them and those were awesome-I would like to make them by my self,of course :) and for the ravioli..well the dough was a disaster,it was hard and dry and i could not roll it out, and after reading your post on pasta i figured the eggs were too small so lacking moisture was main problem (even after adding water!?)
    Again thank you for this blog,with your tips I’m a master of pasta making at home :D

    • You know, with pasta you can’t really stick to a recipe…if you feel the dough needs and extra egg, add away! Also, that teaspoon of olive oil helps a lot in rolling it out. Water doesn’t always seem to do the trick…but yes, happy I can be of help! :D

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  8. Hello! After I boiled my fresh pasta, it’s like a bit tough and not that soft and buttery.. what should I do? Thank you. :)

    • Hi Jose,
      You might have undercooked it! was it still a bit white inside? Or, you might not have used enough water in the dough. Was it easy to roll out and cut without breaking? Pasta dough should be really pliable. I hope this helps, let me know!

  9. Valentina,

    Hello, yet again, from India! Thanks to this guide (and our conversation), I’ve been busy making tons of pasta and feeding everyone I know. It’s been great so far – they absolutely love it. Really well made pasta is hard to come by in restaurants where I live; most places buy the ‘cheap’ boxed pasta and overcook it, use ‘cheap’ canned tomatoes (although we get lovely fresh tomatoes here) and boxed tomato puree to make their basic tomato sauce, and ‘garnish’ every sauce with loads of bechamel. I use locally grown durum wheat, mill it into semolina myself, and make the dough entirely from scratch using just the semolina, water and a pinch of salt. I use the freshest of vegetables and herbs for my sauces, keeping the recipe as simple as I possibly can, and the result has been amazing!

    Anyway, long story short, I’m very keen on expanding my knowledge of pasta making to include gluten-free pasta. You’ve mentioned here that some xantham gum ought to do the trick and that you’ll share a more detailed post on gluten-free pasta making. I’m just wondering if you can help me with this?

    Can’t possibly thank you enough for all the help :)

    Ooh, in return, I’d love to share traditional South Indian recipes that have been passed on in my family for generations :)

    Sneha

    • Hi Sneha!
      Ahaha, there are no words to describe how amazing you are! It’s so cool that you even mill your own flour! I am about to start doing that too :)
      And actually, I am keen on expanding my knowledge to gluten free pasta too, because, well…I have NO idea about it! I have never made it yet. But yes, you need to add xanthan to make the dough stretch. So, sorry I can’t help you yet :/ guess we’ll have to learn this one together!
      I’d LOOOOOVE to learn some indian recipes from you! I love love love indian cuisine, and cook indian things myself, because there’s not a single indian restaurant in sight here where I live )well, there is one, but everybody says it’s kinda bad). I often try my hand with dahls. If you could send a recipe to my mail I’d be the happiest person ever!
      And thank you so much for all your great comments :)

  10. Valentina, I posted a note to you a few days ago on one of your posts (when I randomly found your website while searching for cauliflower recipes!) and have since been pouring through your wonderful website, reading every story and food description!!! I’m happy to say that I’m now a devoted follower!!!

    I have a question: I have Celiac disease, which is basically an extreme allergy to gluten (which is present in all wheat, rye and barley grains). I’m so sad about this because I was raised vegetarian, and pasta dishes of all kinds have always been some of my favorites! But now I have to resort to gluten free flours… which is a problem in many ways, as they do not act so wonderfully as gluten grains do in binding and making those wonderful pasta dishes!

    I was just curious if you have had any exposure to the gluten free issue, and if per chance you might entertain the idea of creating some recipes for making gluten free pastas from scratch? Your Italian touch would be wonderful for me and others out here who love pastas! If you ever do, please let me know!

    Vicki

    • Vicki, thank you so much for your kind comments!! I am so happy you like it here! :D
      I am really sorry you have Celiac disease. You’re not the first person who requested recipes for gluten-free pasta, so I’m working on it! I have got to learn myself, but it’s coming soon. What I know now is that, to the quantities that I indicate in the recipe, you should add a tsp of xanthan gum and the pasta will probably come out well. Stay tuned though, recipe coming soon!

  11. Oh dear! I just reread your post and realized that I must have somehow skipped over the comment you made about gluten free pastas! So sorry!!! Vicki

  12. Hi! I loved this one!! Your pictures are stunning!
    I have a question. I tried to make raviolis froms scratch for the first time ever. I was going ok, until I cooked them… The came out with a great flavor and all, but the problem was the looks :O The got all wrinkled :( Do you know what might have caused this? :(

    Thank you SO much <3

  13. EXCEPTIONAL !!!! 😊
    My dear , i’m falling in love with you and your site , recipes, your explanations…
    VERY WELL DONE !!!😊
    Me – your fan forever!
    Keep going and the other beautiful recipes from your country..
    Yours Daniela
    Una bella serata !😊

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  15. Hi Valentina, I love your blog, your photos and your stories. I was wondering if you have any suggestions or tips on using the ravioli rolling pin? I’ve tried several times to use it and find that sometimes the raviolis don’t close correctly and the filling comes out of the sides. Am I putting too much filling in? Thanks :)

    • Hello Kelly! Well the ravioli rolling pin can actually be quite useful. You must leave a good amount of space on the borders – at least an inch – and not add too much filling. Then when you use the rolling pin you must apply a good amount of pressure to make sure that the edges seal. The filling will naturally move to the center of the formed ravioli. Make sure to use a good amount of pressure when you cut the ravioli with the dented wheel. I even found a good video about it but I’m in mobile and having difficulties adding the link now, but I’m sure you’ll find something on YouTube if you type ‘ravioli rolling pin’ .
      Please let me know how it go s next time you try! :)