I worked at a gym through college and have been a fitness junkie ever since, trying everything from P90X to yoga to power lifting.
Whenever the subject of making homemade pasta arises, even the most daring of home cooks often demur, “Oh, no,” they protest. “I could never do that.”
Perhaps they're thinking that it's too hard, or too time-consuming, or simply the province of professionals and a thing beyond the grasp of an amateur. But they’re forgetting one cardinal rule: Never say never. It’s almost never true. Making pasta at home is a cinch. All you really need is a little know-how, a smidge of patience, and a few tools.
Read ahead, and I'll give you the know-how. The patience and the tools, however, are up to you.
Egg vs. Semolina: Which Is Best?
This lesson on pasta-making will focus on egg pasta, which is often more accessible to the home cook than other varieties.
A brief primer:
In southern Italy, pasta is often made with semolina flour, not white wheat flour, and it does not usually contain eggs. However, you also need special equipment in order to make it, since the semolina dough remains loose and unworkable without a machine to compress and cut it.
In northern Italy, egg pasta is far more common, with Bologna being the beating heart (or maybe beating whisk) of the tradition. In many regions of Emilia-Romagna (of which Bologna is the capital), home cooks still whip up a fresh batch of pasta fresh for lunch each day, and a lot of that is owed to the ease with which egg pasta can be prepared. It needs no special tools and can be done by hand or by machine, which gives the home cook much more flexibility.
Let's look at what you will need to make egg pasta.
The type of flour you use to make pasta is the most important aspect of them all. Not only will different types of flour change the flavor and consistency of the final product, rendering it more or less chewy, but it will also change how the dough behaves in your hands, how it rolls, and how much or little it sticks - to itself and to other things.
In Italy, there are two different types of white flour commonly available: type 00 and type 0. Type 00 is equivalent to American pastry flour, with a protein (a.k.a. gluten) content of around 9%. Type 00 is more similar to our all-purpose white flour, which has a protein (a.k.a. gluten) content of around 11%.
To make egg pasta, Italians use type 00 flour. In other words, they use what we in the United States would call pastry flour.
You may be wondering: Why is protein so important?
In a nutshell, the amount of gluten in a flour determines how elastic the dough can become. When kneaded, the gluten forms long chains, or strands, which gives baked goods like bread and pizza crusts their characteristic chewiness.
With pasta, however, this is a disadvantage. Think back to your last plate of pasta. Was it chewy, like bread, or was it more tender and toothsome, yielding with just a slight give when you bit into it? Chances are that it was the latter – and if it wasn’t, my condolences, because you were given a bad plate of pasta.
This is why Italians use flour with a lower protein content—despite the long kneading process, it does not form long gluten strands, and therefore remains less chewy and more toothsome.
So, when you make pasta, look for either a good all-purpose flour with a low-protein content, such as White Lily’s all-purpose flour, or good quality pastry flour, such as King Arthur’s unbleached pastry flour.
That brings us to the next key ingredient:
As I mentioned above, egg pasta is the most approachable type of pasta there is for the home cook, and the eggs are what hydrate the flour, bind the dough, and give this pasta its typical flavor and texture.
You will want fresh, flavorful eggs—but not too fresh, because too-fresh eggs have tougher, more rubbery whites. It seems counterintuitive, but if you have access to farm fresh eggs, let them sit for three to five days after laying. Your pasta will be better for it.
As for the tools you will need, you have a choice of either:
A Rolling Pin
Basic pasta-making needs no more than this.
Wooden rolling pins are best. They weigh more, their weight is generally very evenly distributed, and the wooden surface is just porous enough to leave the surface of pasta slightly rougher than anything that's rolled with plastic, metal, or marble.
Why is rough pasta a good thing? Simple: a slightly rougher surface on the pasta will cause the sauce to adhere better, which means that your final dish will be more evenly and deliciously sauced.
However, the desired thickness of most types of pasta is often very, very thin and can be both time-consuming and frustrating to attain by hand, which brings us to our second tool:
The Pasta Machine
The oldest and best-known brand of hand-cranked pasta machine is the Imperia, which has been producing its machines since 1932. These machines are sturdy and long-lasting, and will cut both tagliatelle and spaghetti with the standard attachment, as well as rolling plain sheets of pasta for lasagna and ravioli. The Imperia base model, with its attachment, can be found at Amazon for around $75.
If you’re understandably reluctant to spend that much on something you don’t expect to use often, there are cheaper models available, such as this CucinaPro, which will do the job just fine. The only caveat is that, with regular use, it may not last as long as the Imperia, but for beginners and home cooks who only make pasta once in a blue moon, it may be a better bet value-wise.
(Personal disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with either of the above companies, but I do own an Imperia pasta maker myself, which is now 10+ years old and still going strong.)
Step 1: Make the Dough
Today we’ll be making a two-person portion of tagliatelle, which are long, flat noodles similar to linguine.
- 2 cups low-protein flour
- 2 large eggs OR 2 medium eggs and 1 yolk, cracked and whisked together in a small bowl
- Generous pinch of salt
If you’ve ever seen a cooking show where the chef, having announced that he’d be making some beautiful egg pasta, formed a cone-shaped pile of flour on his kitchen counter, formed a well on the top, cracked his eggs into it, and expertly whisked up a ball of dough without spilling a single drop of yolk?
Well, guess what?
You don’t have to do that.
The volcano-of-flour-and-egg method may look pretty, but mixing your dough in a bowl will give you exactly the same results, with less mess.
- Whisk flour together with salt in a large mixing bowl, then form a shallow well in the flour.
- Pour your whisked eggs into the well.
- With a wooden spoon, begin mixing, incorporating flour from the sides of the well as you go.
- Keep mixing, pausing occasionally to scrape excess dough from your spoon with a spatula, until the dough has formed a shaggy ball with just a little flour remaining in the bottom of the bowl.
- Setting your spoon aside, gather the dough in both hands and begin kneading it lightly in the bowl, pressing it against the sides to compact it and to incorporate any remaining flour.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until moisture is evenly distributed and the surface of the dough feels smooth and almost powdery to the touch, about eight to ten minutes.
Now that you’ve done that, I have good news:
You didn’t have to do that.
Actually, you can mix the dough in a stand mixer. Simply put the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer as above, then begin mixing with a paddle attachment until the dough starts to form a ball. Then switch to the hook attachment and beat the dough on medium-high speed for four minutes.
Now wrap the dough in plastic wrap and either leave it in the refrigerator for up to eight hours or let it rest on the counter for half an hour before rolling. This is a necessary step, because it allows the dough to rest (to avoid overworking it, since that encourages gluten formation) and the flour to evenly absorb the moisture from the eggs.
Step 2: Rolling & Cutting the Pasta Dough
To roll by hand:
Divide the dough into four equal portions. Working one portion at a time, flatten the dough out on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the top, and roll until it reaches the desired thickness. For these, that’ll be about 1/16th of an inch, though the desired thickness will vary depending on what kind of sauce you intend to use. For heavier sauces like a meat sauce, thicker noodles are better. For more delicate sauces, you’ll want something thinner.
To roll with a pasta maker:
Set the pasta machine on its thickest setting. (All pasta machines have a numbered dial on the side, though the numbers will vary depending on the brand.) Flatten the pasta dough, flour it lightly on both sides, and crank it through the rollers on that setting. You will have a ragged rectangle of dough.
At this point, fold you ragged rectangle into thirds lengthwise, much the way you might fold a letter to stuff it in an envelope. Pass it through the thickest setting a second time, open end (i.e. the non-folded side) first. Then repeat that process. This smooths out the ragged edges, leaving you with a more or less even rectangle.
Now, keep lowering the thickness by one click (or one number on the dial) and re-rolling the dough once at each thickness until you reach the thickness you would like. For tagliatelle, that will be the second-to-last for thin tagliatelle or third-to-last for thicker. (The final setting is mostly just useful for ravioli and other filled pasta.)
Remember to flour the pasta lightly as the flour that’s on there gets worked in. If the surface starts to catch and appear a little broken up as you roll the dough, don’t worry. This happens because the dough is too sticky, and can be fixed by adding a little flour and rolling it through the same setting a second time.
To cut by hand:
You can do this whether you rolled by hand or by machine.
To cut tagliatelle by hand, simply roll your sheet of pasta into a tube and, using a sharp, lightly floured knife, cut it at even half-inch intervals. When you unroll it, you’ll have several long noodles. Don’t worry if they aren’t perfectly even – that’s the charm of homemade!
To cut with a pasta machine:
Attach the appropriate roller (the instructions with your machine will tell you which that is, and if they don’t, your eyes will) and crank your finished sheets of pasta through.
Lightly flour the finishes noodles and lay them on out on a clean, dry kitchen towel. Try not to crowd them, since there’s still a risk that they’ll stick until they’re completely dry.
Step 3: Cooking & Storage
If you plan to cook your pasta immediately, simply bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it floats to the top and a noodle, when tasted, no longer tastes like raw flour but still offers some slight resistance to your tooth when you bite through it. For thicker tagliatelle, this may be about five minutes. For thinner, it’ll be closer to three.
If you don’t plan to cook the pasta immediately, you can leave it out for up to eight hours or overnight, until dry to the touch. Afterwards, put it into a freezer bag and freeze for up to six months. Since this is egg pasta, I would not suggest leaving it out any longer than overnight without freezing.
With frozen pasta, add two to three minutes to the total cooking time.
jojokaya from USA on March 11, 2012:
Very good hub. Interesting and very informative.
Amanda Zahorik (author) from Philadelphia, PA on January 11, 2012:
rjsadowski: Procrastinators, unite! Eventually. Maybe. How does next week sound?
kgala: I have found that the noodles can have a slightly different texture if they're cooked immediately vs cooked after drying, but I've never noticed that the texture is mushy. Just chewier. (Possibly because the gluten hasn't had as much time to rest.) Honestly, the most likely possibility that comes to mind is overcooking. It's the usual culprit when it comes to mushy pasta. Bear in mind that fresh pasta needs very little cooking, sometimes less than a third of the time that dried does. With very, very thin pasta, like angel hair, you can take it out as soon as it floats to the top. With thicker, you should start tasting it to check for doneness as soon as it floats.
Arlene: Thanks! And do try. It's really not hard at all. :) I can try to give extra pointers if you need them.
Arlene V. Poma on January 11, 2012:
This is written so well. I've always wanted to make my own pasta, so I have no excuses. My mom used to make her own, but I never paid attention. I just ate. Bookmarked. Voted up and everything else. I am very motivated to try. Thanks!
Kevin Galarneau from Michigan on January 11, 2012:
I recently tried to make my own pasta since I received a pasta maker for Christmas. I made the pasta which was actually easier than I thought it would be. I then cooked it immediataly after I made it. I found that when I was done the noodles were "doughy" and "mushy". What did I do wrong? A friend of mine said I need to dry the noodles prior to cooking them, do you agree with that?
rjsadowski on January 11, 2012:
Excellent hub. I keep thinking that I should learn how to make Italian pasta but I keep putting it of. I also wanted to join the procrastiaters club, but I never got around to it.