At its essence, making fresh pasta relies on two components: the quantity and weight of the ingredients, and the other more important element, developing a feel for the dough. Understanding the latter removes any uncertainty of what to look out for as you mix, knead and roll out pasta. Here, we will be using a rolling pin, Italian granny style.
This is a rustic recipe, one best suited for the home kitchen. I can’t be the only person to have successfully cut my noodles in a brand-spanking new pasta machine only to have a minor stress watching them stick together, with no clue if it’s acceptable to dry the strands before cooking. Answer: it’s ok. I went to Italy and they dried them on a broom handle (see figure 1).
Pasta dough can and will change from batch to batch. This put me off for years. Humidity, hand temperature, size of eggs… all factors that can determine how successfully a dough will come together. What you are looking for is a dough that is dry yet pliable, kneaded til the point where it ‘gives’, chilled for 30 minutes and rolled out til you can see your hand through it. That’s it.
Clearly there is more to it than that but if you keep these basic elements in mind, it becomes a much easier process. There is nothing worse than following a recipe only to find it doesn’t work out due to factors that feel beyond your control.
You only need flour, eggs and little salt to make pasta. The flour (I’m sure you know this by now) is Italian 00 flour, which means it is very fine and seems to absorb the eggs better. But you can use regular flour too.
To serve 4 people, I would use 3 eggs and 270gms of 00 flour.
First, clear some space on your bench. Make sure it’s clean. You will need area for kneading and rolling eventually, and a chopping board is not going to be big enough.
Tip your flour out into a small pile. Make a well in the centre, like a volcano crator. Break the eggs into this well, and add a pinch of salt. With you fingers or a fork, mix it all up and bring the flour into the eggs from the centre until the eggs are all combined and you end up with a rough dough. If it feels a little dry – and only if it is dry and not forming a ball – add a small amount of water. Careful though, you don’t want to make it sticky!
Once the dough comes together, you must knead this and it does take a little time. Around 10 minutes really, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the factors I mention above. I found a good instruction in Jamie Oliver’s book: You’ll know when to stop – it’s when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury. This is true. I also think it has a ‘give’ – it seems to be easier to knead and develops the silky feel Jamie talks about. Persist until you get there – you’ll know.
Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap, then pop it in the fridge. It will need to rest for 30 minutes. I have left it a little longer sometimes and it doesn’t seem to make much difference, but bear in mind the colder it gets, the tougher it is to roll.
To roll the dough out, sprinkle a little flour on your bench again and cut it into 3 manageable pieces. Take the first piece and roll it, using a rolling pin, turning it around every so often so it doesn’t stick. The end goal is a long, rectangular piece of dough that you can cut into strips, or keep whole if you are making ravioli, for example. The dough is ready when you have rolled it thin enough to see your hand through. If the dough is becoming unmanagable – by this I mean it is growing too large to be rolled on your bench – cut it in half and roll it piece by piece.
Once it is thin, cut the pasta however you like. My preference is to make tagliatelle, or parpadelle depending on how thin I get it. Grab a handful of your cut pasta and sprinkle some flour on it (not too much, just a little so it doesn’t stick together) and store them in little nests, or do what I normally do and take a coathanger and hang your strips over this.
Now you are ready to cook it! Boil a large pot of water (the more water, the less liklihood of it sticking), add salt and your pasta and it should be ready in a couple of minutes. Be careful not to overcook it. Now stir it through your favourite sauce and you are good to go!
In Tuscany, they use a funky wire and wood contraption to cut tagliatelle. You lay the dough over it before taking a rolling pin and pressing the dough through the gaps in the wire. The best substitute I can think of is a ukelele. Or just use a knife.