Stand aside, from-scratch croissants. Out out, damn osso bucco! For all of the satisfactions of spatula-and-tongs-ing your way up culinary K2’s nothing produces quite the same glow as transforming 3 eggs, 2 cups of flour and bit of semolina into a pound of Fresh Tagliatelle*. Making your own pasta is akin to making your own pie crust, one of those notches on the wooden spoon that certifies you as a cook. Contrary to reputation, it is neither difficult nor arduous, and only mildly time-consuming (30 – 40 minutes, start to finish). We’ve wanted to do this post for awhile, if only to give everyone who makes one of our pasta dishes a place to go for instructions on making their own. After you taste your first batch of homemade, you’ll marvel at your abilities, those you feed will sing your hosannas (or you’ll kill them) and while you may not entirely give up buying commercial noodles, you’ll know that your own taste better.
We published an earlier version of this recipe in our book, IN THE HANDS OF A CHEF. A decade of additional pasta experience has led to some insights. We no longer resort to a food processor when making the dough. We make it by hand. To our taste, the dough that results from a food processor is never as elastic as handmade. It isn’t even terribly faster to make. What do you gain? Ten minutes? In a pinch–say, when prepping a double or triple batch, or there are nine million other things happening in the kitchen that require attention–we’ll pull out the standing mixer (we’ve included instructions). If you knead by hand, it’s almost impossible to overwork the dough, unlike in a standing mixer. Just keep kneading until your dough looks like the dough in the pictures.
Our original recipe divides the dough into 6 pieces, which are then rolled into sheets. This new version only has you partition the dough into 3 pieces (and you can cut that to 2, our usual practice, if you don’t mind handling comically long pasta sheets). Three pieces of dough instead of 6 means less time feeding a new sheets into the roller. Each piece of dough will take about 10 – 12 minutes to roll out. Try not to work slower than that or the dough will start to dry. When rolling the pasta, remember that semolina is your friend. Think of it as the magic fairy dust of fresh pasta. Sprinkle it on everything to prevent the curse of stickiness.
And the most important thing we’ve learned? Don’t shortcut your way through the rollers.
There are two stages in rolling pasta. In the first stage you repeatedly run the dough through the same setting, folding the dough into thirds each time before feeding it back into the rollers. This continues the process started in kneading, that is, increasing and lengthening the strands of gluten in the dough, making it more elastic. The second stage of rolling thins the pasta sheets until they’re ready to be cut. We now put the dough through the rollers 8 to 10 times in the first stage, twice what we originally called for. It takes a bit longer but makes a pasta with a much more developed gluten structure, contributing to its chewy, stretchy structure.
This post is VERY photo heavy. Old pasta hands already know the way through the woods, but we thought newcomers might like to see what each of the stages looks like. We want you to see exactly how we do it so you’ll try it on your own. A pasta attachment for a standing mixer is great, but the absence of one isn’t a serious obstacle. We learned on a hand-cranked machine (really old school means just using a rolling pin). An inexpensive, collapsible pasta rack with dowels makes things easier, but you can improvise with a laundry rack, the backs of chairs or even oven door handles (cover them with towels dusted with semolina first), or just lay everything out on towels or a sheet on the table, as long as you use a cloth with no flocking and have a liberal hand with semolina. You can make it work.
Oh, and don’t forget to take a batch of Bolognese from last week out of the freezer. Enjoy. Ken
*Tagliatelle and fettucine appear identical, but are not quite the same thing, although you can substitute one for the other. Tagliatelle is the flat rolled pasta noodle of the Emigia-Romagna (which includes Bologna) and Marche regions. Usually it’s made fresh, then cooked. Fettucine is the flat wide noodle of the same width, but theoretically a shade thicker, found in the cooking of Rome. It may be fresh, but is widely available dried.
Fresh Tagliatelle (Fettucine)
Makes 1 pound of fresh pasta
- 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 3 extra-large eggs
- a couple of tablespoons of semolina flour
- To make the pasta by hand dump the flour in a mound on the counter. Make a well in the center with your fingers.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Pour the eggs into the well. Stick your fingers into the eggs so they touch the counter. Start whisking your fingers around the edges of the well, slowly pulling the flour into the well. Continue until the eggs and flour have become a shaggy mass. At this point a bench scraper comes in handy to pull everything together. If the dough seems dry, add a tablespoon or so of water, on the other hand, if it is too wet, add a little semolina flour. At this point you can cover the dough with a plastic sheet and let it rest 10 minutes or so. This allows the flour to absorb the eggs and it makes it easier to knead.
- Using the heels of your hands, start kneading the dough. I like to use both my hands with a steady even rocking. Some people like to focus on one hand and use the second as a helper. Either way, work the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and there are tiny holes in the dough when you cut through the center with a knife. You will just have to be confident about figuring out the right texture, but rest assured, the dough is forgiving. This is going to take about 10 minutes, and you will have the double satisfaction of working your core while you knead.
- Cover the dough with a sheet of plastic and allow to rest 20 minutes.
- OR FOR A STANDING MIXER, dump the flour in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork. With the mixer running, add the beaten eggs in a steady stream. Process until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic and forms a cohesive ball, about 8 minutes. If the dough seems sticky, add a little more flour, if too dry, add a little water. Cover the bowl with plastic. Let rest 20 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Cover 2 of the pieces with plastic. Flatten the remaining piece of dough slightly with your hand, dust it the with flour and crank it through a manual or electric pasta machine with the rollers set at their maximum distance apart. Now fold the dough in thirds as though you were folding a letter. Run the dough through the machine again, feeding the narrow side into the rollers. Repeat the process of folding and rolling 8 or 10 more times. This process kneads the dough and prepares it for the next step of thinning it. Don’t hesitate to sprinkle the dough with semolina flour as you continue running it through the machine. You don’t want it to stick to the rollers. It is ready when it has a leathery texture.
- To thin the dough, begin passing the dough through the rollers again. Narrow the distance between the rollers with each pass of the dough. If the dough tears just patch it back together and roll it through the same setting again, a little slower this time. If the dough sticks to the rollers, sprinkle it with semolina. You will soon get the feel for the right speed and the proper level of moisture to keep the dough rolling efficiently. As each sheet begins to get unmanageably long, cut it in half and begin rolling each half individually. After you’ve rolled the dough through the next to last setting it should be thin enough to cut into any string pasta. (Dough for ravioli should be rolled thinner, that is, taken to the final setting, but that’s another story.) Cut them into 12 inch lengths.
- Hang the sheet to dry for 5 minutes or so before cutting noodles. Don’t let them get completely dry or they will break when you try to cut them.
- Put the tagliatelle cutter on the machine and run the sheets through the cutter. Catch them with a wooden dowel, or gather them in a loose bundle and transfer the cut noodles to a board or a sheet pan covered with a towel lightly dusted with semolina flour.
- If I’m not using the noodles right away, I will move them from the dowels to towel once I’ve cut all the noodles.
- Once all of the noodles have been transferred to the towel, I sprinkle them with a bit more semolina while giving them a little fluffing with my fingertips. It helps prevent them from sticking. If not using immediately I generally leave them out for a few hours, letting them dry completely before storing them *in plastic bags. Use within a day or two for the best flavor. They can also be frozen for a month or so.
- To cook, just add them to a large pot of salted boiling water. Taste after a minute, if the pasta is perfectly fresh; if the noodles have dried, they’ll still cook more quickly than conventional noodles, so start tasting after a few minutes. .
I love making pasta by hand. It’s a basic technique requiring only a few ingredients. And then you have this extraordinary thing–homemade pasta–that opens the door to so many other possibilities for noodles and ravioli. At Rialto we regularly replace some of the all-purpose flour with buckwheat, farro, wholewheat, or semolina flour. You can also use other liquids for flavoring or color: wine, spinach or beet purees, water. Then come the spices and seeds–caraway, mustard, saffron, etc. Making fresh pasta really is one of the most versatile things you can learn in a kitchen.