How to Make Fresh Pasta
Making Pasta from Scratch is Easy, Even Without a Pasta Mill
If you already grow tomatoes and keep chickens, why haven’t you learned how to make fresh pasta? It’s not difficult.
First comes the garden. An overabundance of tomatoes leads to an interest in home canning, and soon you’re making tomato sauce from scratch. Jars of ruby liquid sit on the pantry shelf. Or fresh marinara simmers in the pot, ready to go on cheap, store-bought pasta.…Wait a minute. If you’re making tomato sauce from scratch, taking pride in your garden, your own blend of herbs, and the time it took for your masterpiece, why are you putting it on cheap pasta? When you cook from scratch, every homemade product adds to the overall savor. Learning how to make pasta from scratch takes your kitchen to a higher level.
Many Pastas, Many Ways
If you’ve walked down the dry pasta aisle, you’ve seen penne, rigatoni, shells and bows…egg noodles, rice noodles and vermicelli. They’re made using different recipes and different machinery. And each serves a purpose. (And that purpose isn’t to confuse you, though it probably already has.) Knowing how each is composed and created is important if you’re a chef or run an industrial pasta facility.
Most of us do neither. We’re gardeners. Chicken owners. Small-scale homesteaders, working adults, and often parents. We want fresh pasta that’s as easy as no-knead artisan bread.
So I’m not going to tell you how to extrude and make dry pasta. I’m focusing on delicious noodles made with fresh eggs from backyard chickens.
It’s about simple ingredients and the know-how. To make fresh pasta, you need three things: flour, water, and salt.
Semolina, which constitutes most dry pasta, is a rough wheat flour. While semolina can be purchased at specialty stores, it’s not the only flour you can use and it’s certainly not the best. All-purpose is great for pasta. One important factor: it needs to be high in gluten, which makes the dough stretch and binds the final product together. If pasta is made completely with all-purpose flour, it has sufficient gluten content. Whole wheat flour should combine half-and-half with high-gluten bread flour for the best results. Other non-wheat flours can be added, but keep the percentage lower than an eighth or you might have dough that falls apart. Adding a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten can give you more leeway to add non-gluten ingredients. Do not use cake flour. It doesn’t have enough protein.
The higher the protein content, the faster flour may go bad. Keeping it frozen preserves quality in addition to avoiding weevils in flour, an embarrassing and unappetizing problem when cooking for guests. Remove what you need and let it warm up before starting your dough.
Now you need liquid. Water is okay but it doesn’t create the best texture because there is no additional fat or protein to bind the dough. Oil can make the gluten proteins slippery, preventing binding as well. Though egg yolks make excellent noodles, they don’t allow the dough to stretch well for other applications such as ravioli. And egg whites just don’t have enough fat. After reading several recipes, I’ve found the best liquid is a combination of egg yolks and whole eggs, with a sprinkling of water if necessary. You get extra bragging rights if the eggs came from your own chickens.
If you’re allergic to eggs or don’t consume animal products, avoid using just water or oil for the reasons mentioned above. Add some ground flaxseed to help bind the ingredients.
Though you don’t have to salt your pasta, adding this third ingredient to either dough or water kicks the flavor from simple to satisfying. Use a fine-grind or kosher salt if you’re mixing it into dough.
How to Make Fresh Pasta…Without Machinery
Measuring cup or kitchen scale? That depends on what you have on hand. Most pasta chefs weigh their flour because a packed, compressed cup can be double the weight of a sifted cup. I prefer using my scale. If I focus on weight and use the same size egg each time, I never have to adjust by adding flour and water.
Egg Pasta with a Scale: For every five ounces of flour, use a half to three-quarters teaspoon salt, two egg yolks and one whole egg.
Egg Pasta with Measuring Cups: For every two cups of flour, use a half to three-quarters teaspoon salt, two egg yolks and one whole egg.
Vegan Pasta: For every two cups of flour, use a half to three-quarters teaspoon salt, just over a half cup of water and two tablespoons flaxseed meal.
During the process, keep a little extra water and lots of flour available to adjust the dough as you work with it. Dispensing water with a spritz bottle avoids flooding the dough.
Place the flour in a bowl or on a clean counter. Make a well in the center of the flour and drop the eggs or water/flax in the middle. Sprinkle on the salt. Now use a fork to mix them all together. The dough will be rough and goopy. When the dough forms a ball, place it on a well-floured counter and knead.
This part is important for silky, stretchy pasta. Kneading combines the two proteins gliadin and glutenin into the strong, elastic network known as gluten. More kneading means more stretch. And you want a lot of stretch. Set a timer and knead for at least ten minutes, folding the dough in half with your hands, rotating a quarter turn, and folding again. Add more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Listen to music, watch a video…whatever you need to work the dough for over ten minutes. It’s practically impossible to over-knead pasta. The end result will be a very smooth and elastic product.
Now take that ball of well-kneaded dough and pat flour all around the outside. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap. Set it out to rest for at least an hour, the longer the better, to let the proteins relax so they don’t break when you roll it out. The best pasta I’ve made rested for four hours. It’s even okay to put it in the fridge for a few days.
When you unwrap the dough, you’ll probably notice that it’s a lot stickier. This is because the flour hydrates during the resting period. Pat more flour onto the dough, if necessary, and cut into chunks about the size of an egg.
Roll the dough as thinly as possible on a well-floured board. The noodles will plump up when they’re cooked; if you don’t want thick, blocky noodles, keep rolling. Now cut them with a pizza wheel or large chef’s knife. Sprinkle more flour over the noodles to keep them from sticking.
Some chefs roll and cut dough then hang noodles over a rack to dry. Some wrap them into “nests” and let them rest again. I do neither. By this time, my family is hungry and they want the pasta soon. I work side by side with my daughter, rolling and cutting the pasta then dropping it directly into boiling water. We roll, cut, and boil until all noodles are cooked and the family is demanding to know when it will be done.
It only takes a minute for fresh pasta to cook. Maybe a minute and a half. Egg pasta will firm up immediately then soften as it cooks. Pay attention so you can remove a noodle and test for doneness. Some people like a firmer pasta while others prefer it a little mushy. Remove from the pan with a pasta fork and drain in a colander. If you’re working with batches, wait for the water to boil again before adding more noodles. Shake excess water from the pasta in the colander before moving it to a large bowl. Sprinkle with a little oil to keep it from sticking while the rest cooks.
Have you made a lot of pasta and now it’s cooled off? No problem. Just take that pot of water and get it boiling again. Dump all of the finished pasta or as much as you can, into the water just long enough for it to heat again. Drain it all and serve.
How to Make Fresh Pasta with Machinery
Though you don’t need pasta mills, stand mixer attachments, or cutting wheels, they help create a uniform shape with less work. A decent pasta mill costs less than $50 while the attachment for a high-quality stand mixer can top $100. Read online reviews before buying machinery. Many manufacturers make similar products of differing qualities.
The best tip I can give you regarding how to make fresh pasta with machinery: Use flour. Lots of it. Fling it everywhere…on the dough, into the rollers and cutters, and over the newly shaped pasta. The extra will fall off. But skimping on the flour can result in sticky dough that gums up the machinery.
Pasta mills have several settings, from thickest to thinnest. Mine has six. And the pasta has to go through each to roll to the right thickness.
Take an egg-sized ball of dough, keeping the rest covered while you work so it doesn’t dry out. Press this ball into a flat oblong, patting it with flour. Run it through the rollers at the first setting then switch to setting #2 and run through again. Roll out using all six settings (five if you want thick pasta), sprinkling on more flour if the dough gets sticky at all.
At this point, you can use thin sheets of pasta for ravioli or can layer them into lasagna. I keep my lasagna pans beside my mill, rolling noodles and placing them directly into the dish, cutting with clean scissors so they fit. I’ll add the next layer of ingredients then roll out more pasta. A recipe using twenty ounces of flour makes enough lasagna for my family plus guests. (Yes, we really like lasagna, especially with homegrown tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and homemade crockpot ricotta.)
If you’re making noodles, take the dough directly from the thinnest roller setting into the cutter. I always sprinkle flour into the blades before running dough through to ensure it doesn’t gum up. Run one sheet of dough through then dust with flour if you’re not immediately dropping them into boiling water. Factors like moist dough or a humid kitchen can make noodles stick together in very little time.
Drop noodles into boiling water as described in the method above. Enjoy!
How to Make Fresh Pasta with Color or Flavors
Natural is best, don’t you agree? I mean, you could drop all the gel food coloring you want into the dough before you knead, but we’re making fresh pasta from scratch. Quality is the point here! Instead, try one of these variations:
Pesto Pasta: Omit one egg yolk and add one tablespoon fresh pesto. Adjust liquid as necessary by kneading in more flour or spritzing with water. Serve with a simple sauce which won’t hide the pesto, such as melted butter and roasted garlic.
Spinach Pasta: Thaw some frozen spinach and puree it. As long as you squeezed most of the water out, you won’t need to add much more flour to account for moisture. Use about a half cup puree for a recipe using two cups flour.
Red Bell Pepper: Roast one red bell pepper then sweat it and remove the skin. Puree in a blender. Use about two tablespoons puree for two cups of flour.
Chocolate Pasta: Chocolate doesn’t have to be sweet. A good mole’ recipe proves that. Replace one to two tablespoons of flour with cocoa powder. Top with a delicate cream sauce. Or make a dessert pasta, using a sauce made of cream cheese, cream, and a little sugar then topping with fresh berries.
Do you know how to make fresh pasta? What’s your favorite type to make? Let us know in the comments below.