These days, great pasta is only a box away, but for those looking to push pasta to the limit, making it at home from scratch is a simple process. Chances are good you have all you need on hand right now.
Dried pasta is traditionally made of durum wheat and water, but fresh pasta’s deep-yellow color comes from the addition of eggs, especially egg yolks. Flour serves as the glutenous base that forms strength and structure as the pasta dough is kneaded, while eggs add protein to hold the pasta together as it briefly boils in salted water.
This is the biggest difference between fresh and dried pasta: Dried pasta absorbs water slowly, so it doesn’t need further structural agents to help hold its shape. Fresh pasta is already very moist, and without an egg, the pasta might dissolve in hot water.
At home, you can experiment with flavors by adding dried herbs or hot chiles into your pasta dough, but plain pasta on its own is a delightful treat. (However, here’s a secret for the best pasta ever: Add a little freshly grated nutmeg to your pasta dough. This tiny variation will yield fantastic results.)
Gather the ingredients
The trick to making pasta from scratch is to work patiently. Even with slow, intentional movements, the process can take less than an hour, depending on the shape of pasta you would like to make and the amount of time you allow the dough to rest. Methodical stirring of flour into eggs results in a supple dough, free of lumps. But don’t worry — if you do get lumps, you can simply work them out during the kneading process. You will simply need a bowl, fork, knife, measuring tools and a pasta roller. If you wish to forgo a pasta roller, you can use a rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a bottle of wine will work, too.
Remember, pasta is the food of the peasant and the king alike. The tools and ingredients you decide to use is up to you, but the technique is the same.
Basic Fresh Pasta Dough
Yields: 6 servings
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
In a large bowl or on a cutting board or clean countertop, with a fork, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg, if using. Make a wide, shallow well in center of flour mixture, making it more of a large pond than a deep volcano. Crack eggs into the well. If you want a little more elasticity in your pasta, add the optional olive oil.
With a fork, prick the egg yolks to open them up, then gently beat the eggs together. Flick a bit of flour from the outer edge of the well over the top of the eggs, then mix with fork to combine with the eggs. Continue drawing in the flour slowly to avoid lumps. When a loose dough starts to form, the flour and egg can be beaten together with more ferocity. Humidity and the slight variance in egg volume may require additional flour be added.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth ball, adding a touch more flour if dough is sticky. Wrap dough in plastic or beeswax wrap and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
If you are using a pasta roller, on a well-floured surface to prevent sticking, roll out the dough just enough to feed into the pasta roller at its widest setting. After feeding the dough through, fold it into thirds by folding one short end two-thirds of the way over the dough, then pull the other end over to reach the fold. Pass the dough again through the pasta roller on the widest setting. Continue to roll at thinner settings until you reach your desired thickness, or about ⅛-inch thickness for most cuts.
If you are doing this by hand, roll the dough into ¼-inch thickness. Fold in thirds, then roll again until you reach your desired thickness.
To cut long noodles, like fettuccine or tagliatelle, generously flour your sheet of pasta. Loosely fold the long side of the dough over itself every 2 to 3 inches to make a flat, spiraled “log”. Cut the log crosswise into desired widths. Loosely gather up pasta and gently shake to remove excess flour. Place small handfuls of pasta in little nests on baking sheet; let stand at room temperature to dry out while heating up the pasta cooking water.
Other shapes to try include stuffed mezzelune (or half-moons), orecchiette and garganelli. For mezzelune, cut out 3-inch rounds from pasta sheet; with your finger, lightly moisten the perimeter with water. Place about 2 teaspoons of your favorite filling in the center of each pasta round. Fold in half, then press edges firmly to seal.
For garganelli, cut pasta sheet into 2-inch squares. Generously flour the squares. Starting at one corner, roll the dough around a ¼-inch to ½-inch dowel towards the opposite corner, pressing corners firmly to seal. Repeat with remaining pasta squares.
For orecchiette, do not roll your pasta into a sheet. Instead, roll dough by hand into long ½-inch-wide ropes. Use a butter knife to cut ½-inch nuggets of dough from the rope. Using your thumb and forefinger, gently press each nugget into a fat disc, then use the cutting edge of a butter knife to press and drag into one edge of the disc towards you and across the pasta, making a small shell. (Orecchiette means “little ear” in Italian.)
Heat a large pot of water to boiling, adding 1 teaspoon of table salt per quart of water. Add the pasta in batches and boil for 45 seconds. Use a slotted spoon or spider-style skimmer to remove the pasta from the water. Place it on a platter while the remaining pasta cooks. Do not rinse the pasta. Serve immediately.