Homemade pasta is delicious and easier to prepare than anyone would think. Modern technology offers a great selection of pasta making tools to make this task simple.
Pasta preparation tools
Those with an interest in making pasta dishes - and that's everyone, yes? - are fortunate to be living in this day and age. Ancient wisdom and modern technology have combined to produce an array of tools that can aid in the pursuit of pasta perfection.
If you make your own pasta, and it's a simple exercise you should try at least once, you'll need a good pastry board. A large wooden slicing board will do in a pinch. But then you have to fuss with flour, which dries out the pasta, then sprinkle water. It can be a pain. Though more expensive, investigate in a thin marble slab. Marble slabs provide an outstanding working surface.
Even if you don't make your own pasta, you'll find these sturdy, easy to clean surfaces a delight to work with. You don't have to worry about harming them, but take precautions against dulling your knives. They clean up easily and don't collect bacteria readily.
The traditional rolling pin may look like an antique from your Grandmother's day. But one of the signs that this invention was a work of genius is how practical this basic design remains. Wood is common and actually healthier than you might suspect. Wood tends to oppose the growth of bacteria in a way that most plastics do not. Trees have to fight disease, too, after all.
Some like to substitute a wine bottle, but that may more an excuse to empty it than a search for a practical tool. If you go that route, be sure the glass is strong enough to stand up to forceful use. Shattered shards in pasta is dangerous for your hands and wasteful of good pasta. We assume you've already solved the potential problem of wasting the wine...
Next, you'll need a scraper - a thin metal blade with a wooden or plastic handle with which you scrape up dough. Stainless steel is great, but there are titanium alloys and a wide variety of other choices today. Plastic ones are ok, but they just don't compare to the metal type.
Pasta wheels and rollers
This clever device has a cutting wheel at one end that is used to cut pasta into different shapes. Get one that allows for variety. Sometimes you want plain, simple strips. Other times you want a fluted edge, or to be able to curl the pasta into fancy shapes.
A variation is a pasta roller, used to make squares, circles and strands. Sometimes you'll find a device that is a combination or that is formed by attachments onto a pasta making machine. Isn't variety great?!
The variety of bowls available to work with pasta could fill a book. And you'll need at least a few pages worth. Small, medium and large mixing bowls all serve different purposes. A huge bowl is inefficient for making sauce, unless you happen to be cooking for fifty. Too small a bowl will make tossing a pasta salad an absurdly difficult chore, but they're great for small sauce experiments.
Ceramic is the champ. Plastic will sometimes serve, especially if it's one of the newer space-age types. But ceramic is strong and has great heating properties. Glass has its uses, but get Pyrex or something similar. An ordinary glass bowl is too easily shattered to be useful for anything but serving.
Mortar and pestle
Don't forget that old-fashioned bowl and crusher familiar to your local pharmacist. In use for thousands of years, this simple device is still useful for a variety of applications. Great for crushing peppers, nuts and herbs to add to the recipe.
And these are just some of the basics. Oh, you'll have great fun collecting all the useful tools that populate a working kitchen.
How to make your own homemade pasta
After you've experimented a while with pastas from various sources, you'll want to venture out on your own. Making your own homemade pasta offers the same delight as grinding your own coffee, growing your own vegetables and other do-it-yourself food and drink projects. You get the same advantages as those others, as well: a truly fresh, delicious product.
Making your own pasta is simplicity itself, though there's a bit of effort involved. You'll need:
1 lb (454 g) of fine white flour. You can use Grade 00 Italian, or American-style breadmaking flour. The latter has a bit more gluten, making for a firmer pasta.
4 eggs. For a more 'egg noodle' color and flavor, drain off some of the whites and add more yolks.
That's it, apart from a little bit of salt and possibly some water.
Pour the flour into a large bowl and make a round valley in the center to hold the eggs. Beat the eggs just slightly in another bowl and pour into the 'valley of flour'. Add a pinch of salt and stir gently until the flour is wetted with the egg.
If the mixture is still dry pour some water into your palm, then release and fling the remaining drops into the bowl. Don't overdo it. The idea is just to keep the flour from being powdery, not to use water as an ingredient.
Now for the part that takes a bit of effort: kneading. To avoid fatigue, use the heel of your hand more than the fingers. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes. That allows the gluten in the flour to combine, making for a firm, but elastic pasta dough. Let the dough rest, covered with a moist towel, for about 20 minutes.
Now for the shaping steps
Sprinkle a bit of flour on a large work surface. A marble countertop is perfect, but wood or formica will do. It needs to be at least one foot by one foot and very flat for best results.
Roll the pasta dough out with a wooden roller that had a few sprinkles of flour sprinkled over its surface. Or, you can use a round empty wine bottle. Take care not to press hard enough to break the bottle, of course.
Start from the middle and work your way out until you have a large, thin slab -about the thickness of a dime. Flip and flour lightly to keep it from sticking, but go easy in order to avoid drying out the pasta too much.
Now you can cut and shape to preference
You can use a pasta machine to slice it into fettuccine or lasagna or any of a dozen other shapes. Or you can slice it into smaller shapes for ravioli or tortellini.
Remember that when boiling fresh pasta you should shorten the cooking length. Store-bought pasta contains durum wheat, which takes longer to cook. Fresh, homemade pasta has less gluten, making for a quicker meal. Three to five minutes should do it.
For variety, pasta can be colored or flavored. Green is among the most common choices. Just add to the mix a few ounces of raw spinach that has been heated a few minutes. For red, use finely diced carrots instead with a tablespoon of tomato paste.
There is a fascinating variety of pasta making machines on the market, but they all perform the same basic task. But then, all cars perform the same basic task. Yet some get you there in style, while others merely take you from place to place.
Once you have a mound of pasta dough, to turn it into real pasta it needs to be flattened, shaped and cut. Considering the enormous variety of pasta shapes and styles, that task is a good deal more demanding than it sounds.
One day you'll need a lasagna for, well, lasagna. Another day it will be spaghetti for a spaghetti dish. But on those special occasions you'll want ditalini or farfalle, ziti or mostaccioli. A good pasta maker will do them all.
Since you want to be able to use your machine for any dish you might consider now or in the future, look for one that is flexible enough to do the job. Most will do a few basic shapes, extruding vermicelli or slicing fettuccine. But look for one that can accept extra attachments to churn out those little thimbles or butterflies, bridegrooms or small mustaches as well.
To achieve that, it will need the standard rollers and cutters for making flattened and sliced strips. But it will also need to accommodate special dies and circular slicers to curl, shape, extrude tubes and more.
Having one made of stainless steel is a must, so it will last and look good. But it's equally important that it's easy to disassemble and re-assemble for easy cleaning and good health. Bacteria in the air readily attach themselves to food left on metal surfaces. Look at the cutting mechanism on your electric can opener sometime... Check to ensure you can take apart and put together yours without endangering your hands.
Prices range from about $20 to over $100 and in the case of pasta makers you usually get what you pay for. The more expensive units offer electric motors, more ways to roll and slice and ease-of-use features. But even a manual one with a single 6-inch wide roller will be a big step up if you've been flattening and cutting the dough by hand.
In general, the more types of pasta it will shape and cut the better. Many will cut only spaghetti or tagliatelle. But others will make squares for ravioli, while still being able to make capellini, linguini, trenette, fettuccine and others.
Top of the line models, which are often not much more money, incorporate bowls, stirring rods, kneaders and other features to allow making the dough as well. That puts the whole operation together in one unit. Not bad!
It isn't mandatory to get one that is made in Italy, but many of the best units are manufactured there. They have generations of experience that are incorporated into the designs.
Pasta is considered Italian food although it is more a Chinese invention. Italians are not the only ones to make pasta, nevertheless, Italian pasta dishes are the most popular in Western cuisine. See all about pasta.