Paste Fatte In Casa - Home-Made Pasta

Sodoma, San Benedetto's Easter dinnerThough it's often easier to buy pasta in a store, there is something special about making it from scratch at home: the quiet rhythms of kneading the dough, the exertion of rolling it out, the concentration involved in cutting the pasta into strips -- "Short bills and long tagliatelle, say the people of Bologna, knowing whereof they speak, for long bills frighten husbands, while short tagliatelle are proof of the inexperience of the person who made them, and look like left-overs when served," wrote Pellegrino Artusi a century ago...

In short, making pasta at home is satisfying. Moreover, you can make precisely the shape you want, and make specially flavored pastas that are quite difficult to find in stores. To make enough home-made pasta to serve four to six as a first course, you will need:

  • A pound of fine white flour (grade 00 if you wish to use Italian flour, or American cake flour, which has slightly more gluten and is thus better because it will make for somewhat firmer pasta)
  • 4 eggs (you can also increase the number of yolks while decreasing the volume of whites proportionally to make richer pasta)
  • A healthy pinch of salt

Make mound with the flour on your work surface and scoop out a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the hole, add the salt, and work the eggs and the flour together till you have a smooth dough, adding just a drop of water if necessary, and no more. Knead the dough for ten to fifteen minutes, until it is smooth, firm, and quite elastic. Don't skimp on the kneading or the dough will tear while you're rolling it out.

pastaYou are now ready for the hard part: separate the dough into two pieces. Flour your work surface (the marble counter tops in Italian kitchens are ideal for this, though wood or Formica work as well -- a pastry cloth gets in the way) and start to roll out the dough, rolling from the middle, flipping it occasionally, and flouring it as necessary to keep it from sticking. To keep the sheet from breaking, once it has reached a certain size, roll it up around the rolling pin and then invert the rolling pin; you can, as you are unrolling the sheet, gently stretch it by holding the unrolled part firm and pulling gently away with the rolling pin. Keep on flipping and rolling till you have a sheet that’s almost transparent -- as thin as a dime, or thinner, if you can manage it (the pasta will almost double in thickness while cooking). The Emilians, acknowledged masters of home-made pasta, say your fanny should work up a sweat as you're rolling out the sheet.

Once you've rolled out the sheet, either use it to make stuffed pasta such as ravioli or tortellini, for lasagna, or cut it into strips. If you choose the latter course the easiest thing to do is roll the sheet of dough up into a tube, then slice the tube into rounds of the desired width and unroll them so the strands come free; set them to dry on a rack or between two chair backs, supported by a towel (you often see this in the country). Roll out the second piece and cut it as you did the first.

Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water. Since it's fresh, it will cook in three to five minutes. Do not let it overcook! Soft wheat flour has much less gluten than the durum wheat used in commercially prepared dry pastas, and will consequently become flabby if it overcooks.

Making pasta by hand does take effort and practice, and if you do it often you may want to invest in a pasta machine. There are two kinds:

  • Hand operated:
    These clamp to your work surface, and require that you make the dough. Then you crank it through the rollers until it reaches the proper thinness. They're limited to making flat types of pasta, such as spaghetti, tagliatelle, taglierini, and lasagne (which can then be used to make ravioli and the like).
  • Motorized:
    With the electric models, you pour the eggs and flour into the machine and it does the rest. Depending on the nozzle you choose, you can also make cylindrical types of pasta such as penne. There are also attachments for making ravioli and such.

While pasta machines won't work for everything (tortelli di patate, for example, are made with thicker sheets of dough), they’re a big help.

Some Variations

Pasta need not be pale yellow or cream colored. If you add puréed vegetables, chocolate, or other ingredients to your dough you can obtain a wide range of delightful hues. One thing to keep in mind is that the addition of the vegetable will influence the texture of the dough, which will be less elastic and consequently more difficult to roll out. Also, that you may not succeed in getting the sheet quite as thin as you would a sheet made from just flour and eggs.

Since the moisture content of the vegetables will vary from batch to batch, the quantity of flour is indicative. If the dough comes out overly moist and sticky, add more (you'll learn to judge how much you'll need with experience).

Green Pasta
green pastaThis is the most classic color, and gives rise to pasta paglia e fieno (straw and hay) -- a combination of green and yellow tagliatelle, which is often served with cream sauces or salsa ai funghi. Green pasta is also an excellent alternative if you're making lasagna or ravioli. To make it you'll need:
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 8 ounces (200 g) raw spinach
  • 3 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Wash the spinach well, shred it coarsely, and heat it in a pot with just the water that sticks to the leaves. Add a pinch of salt and stir it until it is completely wilted (5 minutes), then let it cool and squeeze it well to remove all the moisture you can. Blend the spinach and combine it with the other ingredients when you make the dough. As variations, you can also use wild greens, or nettles (use gloves when you pick and wash them).

Red Pasta
The proportions are similar to those for green pasta:
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 10 ounces (250 g) carrots
  • 3 eggs
  • A tablespoon of tomato paste
  • A pinch of salt
Peel the carrots, dice them, and simmer them until soft in lightly salted water. Drain them well, blend them, add the tomato paste to the mixture, and heating it pot, stirring constantly, until it has become quite firm. Combine the mixture with the other ingredients when you make the dough. If you want the pasta really red you can dispense with the carrots and simply cook down a tube of tomato paste, though in this case the resulting pasta will be rather acidic and will require something along the lines of a cream sauce to balance it.

Brown Pasta
This is a comparatively new addition to the pasta cornucopia, and is made with powdered baking (unsweetened) chocolate:
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 3 ounces (75 g) powdered baking chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients, and make pasta as you normally would. Contrary to what you might expect, it's not sweet because baking chocolate. It will work quite nicely with rich game-based pasta sauces.

Cheese Pasta
In terms of color this really isn't that different from regular, but it is a pleasant change of pace:
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) flour
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) grated Parmigiano
  • 3 eggs
You shouldn't need salt, due to the salt content of the Parmigiano. Combine the ingredients and proceed as normal, seasoning the finished pasta with unsalted butter and sage or a light tomato sauce. One warning: because of the cheese, this pasta doesn't keep well.

Orange Pasta
orange pasta Not carrot this time, but squash: Pick one with orange flesh (pumpkin will also work).
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 1 pound (400 g) squash
  • 2 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Peel and dice the squash, discarding seeds and strings, and boil the pieces in lightly salted water for about a half hour. Drain the pieces well, blend them, and should the paste be too liquid, heat it again, stirring briskly, until it has thickened. Use the paste to make the pasta.

Speckled Pasta
These are a surprising delight, and since the strengths of herbs vary from time to time, will never be quite the same from batch to batch.
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 1/4 cup or to taste finely minced fresh herbs, including sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and whatever else suits your fancy
  • 4 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
The exact volume of herbs will vary depending upon the herbs you chose and their potency. In any case, wash them well, pat them dry, strip the leaves from the stems, and mince the leaves. Combine the ingredients and make the pasta. The best sauce here will be unsalted butter, and a light dusting of grated Parmigiano.

Black Pasta
These are slightly unsettling the first time one sees them, but are perfect with creamy fish-based sauces.
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 4 teaspoons squid ink (fresh will be best, from your fishmonger, but it is also available, in packets, in well-stocked delicatessens)
  • 4 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Combine the ingredients and make the pasta as usual.

Dark Tan Pasta
Chestnut flour works quite well in pasta. The proportion you'll want is 1/3 chestnut flour and 2/3 white flour; figure the usual number of eggs.
Another option to make light brown pasta is a 50-50 mixture of whole wheat and regular flours.
A third, lavish option is to use dried porcini:
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • 60 g (about a packed cup) dried porcini
  • 3 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Steep the porcini for 10 minutes in a small amount of boiling water, then drain them well, reserving the liquid. Blend the porcini. Strain the liquid, which may contain sand, into a pan, add the porcini, and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened. Combine it with the other ingredients when you make the pasta. This pasta will be delightful with unsalted butter and a dusting of cheese, or a simple cream sauce.

Purple Pasta
Beet pastaThe perfect thing for tifosi Viola, fans of Florence's soccer team, which has worn purple ever since the laundry service made a mistake with their red jerseys in the 20s...
  • 1 pound (400 g) flour
  • A fairly large beet (you can buy it ready cooked)
  • 2 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
Cook the beet if need be, skin it if need be, dice it, blend it, put the paste in a fine muslin bag, and squeeze out as much of the juice as you can. Combine the paste with the remaining ingredients and make the pasta. It tends to crack as it dries, so use it as soon after you've rolled the sheet as you can.

Pasta with Leaves
Gualtiero Marchesi, Italy's most respected chef, did these on a cooking show a number of years ago, and they are most impressive. Use them to make large ravioli, of the kind that are simple squares whose edges are tamped down around the filling, and serve them simply, with unsalted butter and grated cheese, lest the sauce cover the pattern. He used a hand-operated pasta machine to do the pressing.
Make pasta following the standard recipe given above and roll it out to the standard thickness. Next, take well washed sprigs of parsley or other leafy herbs and pinch away the stems so only the leafy crowns remain. Cut the pasta into strips about twice as wide as the leaves, brush one side of a strip with a little cold water, and lay down a row of leaves, separating them by about a half an inch. Cover with a second strip and run the sandwich through the pasta machine. The leaves will pattern the pasta.
Continue making strips and running them through the pasta machine until all is used up.

Finally, a couple of specific pasta shapes:

These are Puglian. How to make them, and a tomato-and-ruchetta (arugola) sauce for them.

So are these. How to make them, and several sauce suggestions.

What to do with the pasta once you have made it?

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