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Sometimes I get taken back when people ask me what my favorite thing to cook is and it really shouldn’t. To set the record straight, my favorite thing to make/cook of all time is pasta; hands down, most favorite thing to make in the kitchen. Making fresh pasta dough, for me, is so therapeutic and relaxing, much like making bread dough is. Tackling pasta dough can seem a bit daunting but as long as you follow my tips, making homemade pasta will be breeze!
When I first started culinary school, I was working at a little Italian bistro and among of the many things they made in house, one was pasta. At the time, I was just a lonely prep cook so I did a lot of the easy, yet mundane tasks. Then it came up in conversation between my sous and I that they would like for me to start making their pastas, instead of ordering from their mother store. I met with the head chef and began my training on pasta dough. Watching his hands working the dough over and kneading it firmly yet gently, entranced me! He taught me that you can’t really have a set recipe with pasta dough because there are so many variables that affect the dough. The key to making incredible dough: work with your bare hands.
Working with your hands and not with machines gives you complete and total control over the wetness and feel of your dough since you can literally tell if your dough it too dry or too wet or needs more kneading. Kneading your dough in a machine prevents you from feeling with your hands exactly what your dough needs. However, that being said, sometimes you need to make your dough in a machine. My suggestion, use it just to get your dough started and then do most of your kneading with your hands.
If you want to knead with your hands:
Make a well with the flour on a clean counter. In the middle of the well, place your eggs and begin to mix with your fingers in a circular motion. Once the dough begins to come together, then start kneading the dough with your hands.
If you want to knead with a machine:
Place the flour in a mixing bowl and turn on the mixer, fixed with a kneading dough hook, and being to mix on the lowest setting. Add eggs until dough comes together.
If you don’t have a mixer but don’t want to dirty up your counter:
Place flour in a medium sized mixing bowl, create a well in the bottom and add your eggs. Using a fork, mix the eggs into the four until the dough comes together. Knead outside of the bowl.
In all of these methods, you want to knead the dough for 7 minutes. That’s right, 7 minutes! Pasta dough needs to have enough gluten strands built up to withstand the rolling and stretching it goes through to make the noodles or other various shapes. You will know if you kneaded your dough enough if the dough ball is smooth and after resting for 30 minutes, when you cut the ball and see wonderful layers! You’ll get and intense arm workout but the end result is worth it. When I was being trained on how to make this dough, the first time I ever made my dough ball, I was filled with pride when my chef cut through the ball, saw the layers, and told me I had done it correctly! My arms were the sorest they had ever been but that was the best tasting pasta I had ever had!
All about the flour!
Let’s talk about flour! Getting the perfect homemade pasta comes down to the perfect flour. In my humble opinion, the best flour to use for making pasta at home is Semolina. Others can argue that 00 flour (the same flour used to make absolutely delectable pizza dough) is the way to go, but I find that semolina flour, being a very sturdy flour, creates an awesome, strong base for homemade pasta that is quite literally put through the wringer. Pizza dough is not worked all too much as compared to pasta dough so I want a flour that can withstand the beating I put my dough through.
For my health nuts out there or those who don’t have a ton of extra space/money laying around, you can definitely make pasta dough out of different flours. If you want whole wheat pasta, substitute the flour out for the semolina 1:1. Those with tight spaces and tight budgets, all-purpose flour definitely works as well. If you do want to treat yourself to some fantastic pasta, though, semolina flour is less than $4 at your local grocery store (well… if you go to AJ’s, it’ll be considerably more but everything costs considerably more). Can you really taste the difference between pasta made with semolina flour and all-purpose flour??? The answer is an astounding YES! I find that pasta made with AP flour to be denser and chewy, whereas pasta made with semolina is more delicate and supple.
Some of you might be tuning out because you don’t have a kitchen aid that you can use the pasta making attachment on to roll out your dough, let me help you out! If having a kitchen aid mixer is not within your budget but you want to desperately make your own pasta at home, there is another option and it is a fine one! For a few years, all I had to work with was a hand crank pasta roller. This is a fantastic option for those who can’t afford a KitchenAid and the pasta attachment. The manual roller just clamps on to the side of your counter and you manually crank the pasta dough through the roller. It isn’t as fast at the mixer but it definitely beats a rolling pin! It’s super affordable and is a great option for those strapped for cash. And they come with the same cuts that the mixer attachment does.
Tips on how to roll:
- A word to the wise when it does come to rolling your dough, always make sure that your roller is at the widest setting (depending on the roller you use, depends on the number. Either 1 or 8). If you don’t start at the widest setting, you will mess up the gears and eventually it won’t roll properly anymore. Sad day.
- As you begin to roll out your dough, you want to continue to build layers and increase the strength of the dough. As you are rolling in the widest setting, once the dough has passed the rollers, fold the dough in half and send it through the rollers again. I do this process, alternating passing it through horizontally and vertically to create the layers, about 4-5 times or until I achieve a rectangular shape in my pasta sheet. Once this happens, then I start to narrow the rollers, one number at a time (and not folding between each pass) until I get to the desired thickness. If you’re doing noodles (linguine, spaghetti etc), you’ll want to stop at about the 3 setting from the thinnest. If you’re doing a rolled pasta (penne, for example), I would go about second from thinnest because the pasta will be thicker where it overlaps.
You may have guessed that fresh pasta cooks a differently from the dried, store bought kind and you would have guessed right! Dried pasta takes about 7-9 minutes to reach al dente, soft but still has a touch of firmness to it. Fresh pasta takes about 3-5 minutes to cook. It goes fast! So if you are making a dish with fresh pasta, make sure that the rest of your dish is about done before cooking your pasta; it’ll be done quicker than you think!
I believe I have covered all of the basics for making pasta at home successfully. Keep all of these tips in mind and you can make amazing pasta yourself! Stay tuned for some fresh pasta dish ideas coming your way!!!
What are some of your favorite pasta dishes to make? Any that you want me to feature on the blog?
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 1 each Eggs
- To taste salt
Make a well out of semolina flour and add egg. Add salt.
Slowly mix flour and egg until combined forming a ball. Dough should be a little sticky.
Knead dough by hand for 7 minutes. Let rest, wrapped in plastic wrap and in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes.
Cut dough into workable sections and begin to roll through the pasta machine or pasta attachment; starting at the widest setting, folding to build layers until dough becomes a rectangle. Begin to stretch and roll dough in decreasingly narrower settings, making sure to not fold once you decrease the width of the rollers.
If cutting into fettucini or spaghetti, cut pasta through the corresponding dies and set pasta on a sheet pan dusted with semolina flour.
Use in your favorite pasta recipes.