Pasta is one of the most versatile foods around. Pasta can be very informal (think spaghetti bolognese) or very high-end (truffle-stuffed ravioli, anyone?)
No matter where or how you’ll want to dress up your pasta, though, the best pasta dishes start with fresh pasta, and when it’s homemade pasta, even better.
Here are our 8 tips for mastering the art of fresh pasta in your kitchen.
#1 Remember the ratio
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a maths whizz to remember the flour ratio to eggs. Here it is: three parts flour to two parts eggs (weigh your eggs). That’s it!
You can then add small variables such as extra egg yolks for a richer dough or a different type of flour. If you use all-purpose flour one day, you may want to try semolina flour or finely milled flour next time. Just remember the key ratio, and you’ll be fine.
#2 Go traditional if you can
The traditional way of mixing dough for pasta is to make a mountain of flour and leave a well in the middle. You then crack your eggs, add the salt in the middle, and use a fork to incorporate the eggy middle into your flour slowly.
Pasta has been made in this way for many years, and as long as you have a clean countertop, this method can work well for you.
However, if you don’t have the time, a standing mixer still does the job. You might want to add a bit less flour or water before you start mixing and then adjust as you go along. Use the dough hook rather than the beater to make it easier to incorporate the eggs into the flour.
#3 Feel the dough
By ‘feel the dough,’ I mean literally. Kneading the dough with your hands is the best way to get a feel for the consistency. You will, therefore, know what needs to be added.
Making pasta from scratch is a hands-on experience. The dough isn’t just about measurements. Other factors such as humidity, the type of flour, and your eggs’ size may mean you need a bit more flour (or not) to get your ideal consistency.
You’ll want to knead your dough for at least 10 minutes to achieve a smooth and silky ball of dough.
#4 Decide what shapes you’ll make
If you are making tubular pasta such as penne or macaroni, your dough will need to be a bit drier so that it doesn’t stick to the extruder when you’re making your shapes.
If you are making sheet pasta such as lasagna or ravioli, you’ll want a softer dough. There are many different kinds of pasta to experiment with, and you can have fun with pasta makers like this one at unocasa.com to make them even more unique.
#5 Give it a rest
The dough needs to rest, and so do you. The dough needs rest to allow the gluten that it contains to lengthen into strands, which will make your dough elastic enough to be formed into noodles. You need to rest because you can then appreciate the process – and perhaps grab a glass of wine while you do so.
#6 Store your pasta carefully
Once you’ve made your pasta noodles, if you’re not going to use them right away, store them carefully. Divide the pasta into portions and dust them with flour so that the noodles don’t stick together. Place the pasta onto baking sheets that are lined with parchment paper and cover with a kitchen towel till you’re ready to use them, leaving them out at room temperature if you’ll be using them the same day.
If you need to freeze your pasta, you can do so. Place the baking sheet into the freezer for approximately a quarter of an hour and then remove the pasta and put it into freezer bags. Take out as much air as possible from the bags, and when cooking, cook directly from frozen.
#7 Don’t skimp on the salt
I’m not suggesting you add lots of salt to your sauce so that it tastes like the Atlantic. The salt is for the large pot of boiling water, where you will cook your gorgeously and lovingly prepared noodles. You want the water to be well-salted because the salt will a) make the water boil faster and b) add flavor to your pasta.
#8 Drain, don’t rinse
Once you’ve drained your pasta, don’t rinse it. Rinsing cooked pasta takes away some of the starchy coating, which is what your noodles need to hold onto all of the delicious sauce you’ll serve them with. Keep the rinse cycle for cleanup time.
Enjoy your homemade pasta!