Recipe: Basic Handmade Pasta

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When I was preparing to teach a pasta-making workshop recently, I was delighted to learn that humans have been making pasta since Neolithic times. That's basically when we figured out that wheat is edible once the chaff is removed.

Each cup of flour serves 2 to 3 people

    • 1 cup of flour
    • 1 egg
    • 1 egg yolk

That's it!

(You may need to further wet the dough with more eggs, yolks, or water depending on your preference. I always fortify my dough with extra yolks for richness and color.)

Basic pasta technique

Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board, or in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the egg and yolk. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you incorporate the eggs, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (don't worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any leftover dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for three more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another three minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature. Roll and form as desired.

Rolling pasta dough

Divide the rested dough into fist-sized pieces and flatten with the palm of your hand. Set the rollers on the machine to their widest setting and pass the dough through the rollers.

Resist the urge to be hypnotized by the pasta as it comes out of the rollers. Instead, focus on the pasta as it enters the rollers, using one hand to ensure that it goes in straight and doesn't ripple or overlap onto itself. When you are done rolling the piece, pick it up and fold it neatly to roll it again.

Consider this first rolling an extended kneading of the dough, so continue to fold the dough in thirds and re-roll it until it is smooth, silky and even-textured. Do your best to make the sheet the full width of the machine.

Once the dough is silky and smooth, you can begin to roll it thinner. Roll it once through each setting, flouring as needed, until the pasta is about 1/4-inch thick.

When the pasta is about 1/4-inch thick, begin rolling it twice through each setting to help the gluten "remember" to stay thin instead of just bouncing back to the previous thickness.

As you roll, make sure to sprinkle flour on both sides of the pasta to prevent it from sticking to itself.

Thickness of the pasta

Depending on the shape of pasta you are making, and what sauce you are serving it with, you will want to roll it to a different thickness.

The heartier the sauce you are serving with the pasta, the thicker the pasta should be to stand up to the sauce.

The more times you'll have to fold the pasta to create the shape, the thinner it should be so that the overlapped parts don't take too long to cook.

    • Tortellini: very, very thin
    • Ravioli: very thin
    • Tagliatelle, Hand-Torn Noodles, Pappardelle: thin to moderate, depending on sauce
    • Linguine: moderately thin
    • Farfalle: moderate

Wetness of the pasta dough

The ideal wetness of the pasta dough differs based on several factors, including:

The shape you plan to roll
Stuffed pastas such as ravioli or tortellini require wetter pasta dough than flat shapes because they have to be folded and will crack if the pasta is too dry. The thinner the pasta is, the more quickly it dries out, too. Farfalle, since it has to be pinched, should also be on the wet side.

The humidity or dryness of the air that day
The drier the air is in the space you're working, the more quickly your pasta will dry out, so adjust your pasta dough accordingly.

How quickly you can work to roll out the pasta
If it's going to take you a really long time to roll your pasta, make it a little wetter, because as it sits and waits to be rolled (unwrapped) it will dry out.

What you are using to roll out the pasta
If you are rolling out the pasta by hand, it should be as wet as possible. If you are using a hand-crank machine, it should be on the wet side. If you use an electric machine, it can be less wet.

While you roll out your pasta dough, it's a good idea to keep it the surplus covered with a lightly dampened towel to prevent it from drying out too quickly.

To read more about the history of pasta and Samin's Home Ec classes, click here.

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Samin Nosrat is a professional cook and freelance writer. She spent five years as the sous chef and "farmwife" at Eccolo, and her writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Meatpaper, and Edible San Francisco. More

Samin Nosrat is a professional cook and freelance writer who looks to tradition, culture, and history for inspiration. Trained at Chez Panisse, she then moved to Italy, where she worked with butcher Dario Cecchini and chef Benedetta Vitali. She spent five years as the sous chef and "farmwife" at Eccolo, and her writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Meatpaper, and Edible San Francisco, as well as on her blog, Ciao Samin.
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