First up, it’s easy. You simply blend eggs and flour together, knead briefly until smooth, then roll out to a thin sheet and cut into noodles …
You can make the dough by hand or more easily in a food processor, but when it comes to rolling it out, you’ll need a long thin wooden rolling pin, plenty of patience and biceps the size of melons. Yep, it’s easier to let a machine do the rolling for you. Hand-cranked pasta machines last for decades so if you think this is going to be your thing, they are a worthwhile investment (if you’re unsure, borrow one from a friend, or ask to see a demonstration at a kitchen store).
Don’t despair if your first attempts produce holey shredded dough (mine did!) because with a little practice you’ll soon be turning out silky smooth sheets of pasta like a pro.
300g (10½ oz) High Grade flour or Italian Tipo 00/Doppio Zero flour
3 medium (size 6) free-range eggs, at room temperature
½ tsp salt
Semolina and extra flour for rolling out dough
What type of flour to use?
Now here’s a conundrum. In Italy home cooks use soft wheat flour called Tipo 00 (or doppio zero) to make pasta. When my Italian sister-in-law Isanna first came and stayed with me in New Zealand, we made pasta together. There was no Tipo 00 flour in New Zealand at the time and we used what I had in the cupboard, High Grade flour. It made perfect pasta! Tipo 00 is available at specialist food stores at around three times the price of regular flour, or you can use standard soft wheat flour, the type New Zealand manufacturer’s recommend for fresh pasta, or use High Grade flour like me. I also use flour mixed with semolina to prevent pasta sticking during rolling, and I dust the pasta generously with semolina and flour before I roll it through the machine for the last time before cutting into shapes or drying, and this, I think, is way more important than the actual type of flour used to make the dough.
Making pasta dough by hand
Sift flour onto a clean surface, spread into a ring and make a well in the centre. Drop in eggs and salt, beat lightly with a fork, then start drawing in the flour from the sides of the ring. Continue until the egg mixture is dry, then knead in the rest of the flour, scraping any sticky mixture from the workbench. I find a plastic dough scraper helpful to draw in the flour. Knead dough until smooth. Press dough into a flat disc shape – I find it easier to press it out while it is supple after kneading, than after resting it – then wrap in food wrap and rest it for 30 minutes before rolling out through the machine.
Making pasta dough in a food processor
Whiz eggs and salt in a food processor bowl just to mix, stop the machine, add the flour and pulse about 30 times until the mixture looks like fine couscous. Tip mixture onto a clean dry surface, then gently push everything into a ball. Knead together until smooth. Press dough into a flat disc shape – I find it easier to press it out while it is supple after kneading, than after resting it – then wrap in food wrap and rest it for 30 minutes before rolling out through the machine.
Rolling out dough in a pasta machine
Have a cup or so of flour and semolina mixed together; I will refer to this just as ‘flour’ from now on. Cut dough in half, rewrap one half, then dust the other piece lightly with flour. Press out floured dough to approximately 10cm (about 4”) wide by 15cm (about 6”) long. Set the blades of a pasta-rolling machine to the widest setting (usually no.1) and feed the pasta through. Fold pasta in three and repeat rolling and folding 4-5 more times, dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking (try to use as little flour as possible through the whole operation because too much can make the pasta dry). The pasta should now be quite smooth, although possibly a little ragged at the edges.
Move rollers to no. 2 setting and roll pasta through once, then roll it through once on no. 3 setting then once on no. 4. Cut the piece of pasta in half. Lay one half of the pasta on a tray lined with baking (parchment) paper, or on a floured wooden board and cover with a clean dry cloth to prevent it drying.
Roll out the other piece of pasta once on no. 5 setting and once on no. 6 setting, then dust it very lightly with flour (only if it’s sticky). Insert the handle by the noodle cutters and roll dough through the cutters to form tagliatelle, or for pappardelle (wide noodles) fold floured sheet of pasta into four and cut into fat widths with a large sharp knife, then gently unfold. Roll out the remaining pasta and cut into shapes as described.
If making stuffed pasta, have the stuffing ready before making the pasta. Cut and stuff each sheet of pasta as it is rolled. Transfer shapes to a tray lined with baking (parchment) paper dusted with a little flour and turn the pieces often to prevent sticking. I find it easiest to freeze the pasta on trays and to transfer them to sealable bags once frozen, and to cook them from frozen.
Pasta noodles can be cooked immediately, although it is easier to deal with if they are partially dried, and most people would prefer to make the pasta in advance rather than at the last minute. Hang noodles to dry on a clean piece of wooden dowelling or improvise – a clean drying rack for clothes works a treat. Once noodles feel leathery (but before they become brittle) curl into nests and cook when ready.
There are a few things to watch. Don’t let noodles become too dry when hanging them because they will become brittle and snap. Accidentally knocking the pole the noodles are hanging on and watching them snap in half and fall to the floor is not much fun. I repeat, dry them just until they feel leathery. Alternatively, dry the noodles on a large wooden tray, keeping them dusted with semolina and flour, and turning often to ensure they dry evenly. It goes without saying that a steamy kitchen is no place for drying pasta. See Tips on making pasta
Looking after your pasta machine
After use, brush off any flour and pick out any trapped pieces of dough with a bamboo skewer. NEVER wash a pasta machine. Buff the metal with a clean soft cloth and keep the machine stored in the box it comes in to keep it free of dust.