A couple months ago I tried making fresh pasta with a recipe I found in a book and it ended up being a total disaster, mostly due to my inexperience. It was only the second time I had ever made fresh pasta and the first time making it on my own. The dough was so tough that it was beyond saving. The texture just wasn’t right and no amount of kneading would yield soft, supple dough. I was really disappointed by the experience and frustrated that I wasted ingredients. I had looked forward to making pasta for some time and felt utterly defeated. It was probably the biggest failure I’ve had in the kitchen thus far.
I finally worked up the courage to try again last weekend. I set aside ample time on a Saturday morning so that I could work slowly and methodically. I started working around 8:30 am and the whole process took approximately two hours. I didn’t even tell my husband what I was up to until I had passed one sheet of dough through the machine. That way it was just the dough and me, free from distractions.
I changed a few things up the second time around. I decided to go with a fool-proof recipe — my best friend Meredith’s grandma’s recipe. Grandma Louise is the person who taught me how to make fresh pasta for the first time in 2011. She also bought me my pasta machine for my bridal shower last year. Louise, her daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter make pasta together every year just before Thanksgiving and incorporate the fresh pasta into their holiday meal. They were kind enough to include me a few years ago and show me the ropes.
My second try was successful and more importantly, a fun learning experience. I have a new appreciation for the effort it takes to make fresh pasta. That kneading took muscle!
Adapted from Grandma Louise’s recipe & Pasta Mamma Antonietta from Great Aunt Gina’s Pasta Machine Manual by Fante’s
1 cup flour per person
1 egg per person
water as needed
We made enough for three people which yielded just under 1 lb. of dried pasta.
Put the unbleached all-purpose flour in a large mixing bowl (or clean work surface). Make a well in the middle of the flour. I found the easiest way to do this was to press the back of a fork against the flour starting from the center of the bowl and continue to apply light pressure as you move in a circle to build the walls of your well.
Then, crack your eggs into the well and use the fork to slowly incorporate the eggs, first around the perimeter of the well and then more thoroughly throughout, making sure the egg adheres to all of the flour. Soon, it will get to the point that you need to use your hands to add the remaining small flakes of flour to the dough ball that is forming. I used a couple of teaspoons of water to adhere the dry bits. You can also make pasta dough in a food processor but for me, that takes some of the fun out of it.
Once the dough has come together, you can let it rest a few minutes before kneading.
Then comes the kneading. I found this to be the most vigorous kneading I’ve experienced (that being said, I don’t make bread or pastry very often). Hold the ball of dough with both hands and use the palm of your dominant hand to push the dough away from you as far as you can without stretching it too thin or tearing it. Fold it in half, give it a quarter turn, and repeat. I did this steadily for what felt like ages but was probably only 5-10 minutes. At first, the dough was tough and slightly lumpy with noticeable coloration from the egg and flour but after steadily kneading the surface began to even out in both color and texture and I could no longer see lines or crevices.
When it feels smooth and elastic it’s ready. You can further test its “doneness” by pinching off a small piece, flattening it with your hand and stretching it out to see if it lets light in. If it does, it’s all set. Let it rest 15-30 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, cut the ball into slices about 3/4 inch thick. Flatten a slice of dough with the palm of your hand so it has an even thickness throughout. Set the rollers of your pasta machine to the thickest setting (1) and pass the pasta through it. Take the flattened dough, sprinkle flour on it and fold it over. Pass it through setting 1 again, folded end first. Repeat this process 3 to 4 more times until it forms a rectangular shape. Folding the pasta helps the gluten strengthen which makes for a chewier texture when the pasta is cooked.
Pass the sheet of dough through each setting on the machine, progressing from thicker to thinner. Do not fold the dough during these stages and do not skip settings. We made fettuccine so we stopped at setting 6 – the ideal thickness for fettuccine.
Once you have sheets of pasta you can cut them into whatever kind of pasta you’d like. We have fettuccine and spaghetti cutters. After passing our pasta through the cutters, we hung the fettuccine on our wooden laundry rack (lightly floured of course!). It sounds weird, but it functions exactly the same as a pasta rack and thus eliminates a superfluous purchase. You could also dry the pasta on a baking sheet for a couple of minutes, dusted with flour, and then gather the noodles into small nests. We let ours dry on the rack for a few hours and then put it all in a gallon-size freezer bag in the fridge. We used it over the next few days, served with homemade bolognese. I have read, though, that fresh pasta is better suited to light butter and cream sauces and that heavy tomato-based sauces can obscure the flavor of the fresh pasta so we’ll try a lighter sauce next time.
If you cook your pasta immediately, it is a much faster cook time than commercially dried pasta, about 2-3 minutes. Our dried fettuccine was perfect after 6 minutes of cooking at a boil.
We could really taste the difference between our fresh, recently-dried pasta and store-bought pasta; I think fresh pasta is more subtle and delicate. I look forward to making pasta more regularly!