Cooktop Cove: 6 things you need to know before you make your own homemade pasta
By Kate Elliott
If there's one thing that will get you feeling like a culinary master, it's successfully making your own pasta. There's a reason that the judges of all those chef competitions on television turn their noses up to those who use dried pasta. It's simply unnecessary. Fresh pasta is so easy to make and believe it or not, takes just a few minutes to pull together.
That's not to say however that things can't go wrong. If you've ever tried to make fresh homemade pasta and ended up with hard, dense dough or dough that ripped when you tried to roll it out, you know that it's a process that can sometimes go awry. Follow the tips below, and you'll have delicate dough that will win any cooking competition.
1. Use the traditional method
Sometimes things just work and you shouldn't try to fix something that isn't broken. That holds true for the traditional method of making pasta. While some place the ingredients into a stand mixer or a food processor, this mistake will get your pasta dough off on the wrong foot.
Instead, use the traditional method of bringing eggs and flour together slowly. You can do this by placing three cups of flour on a work surface and making a well in the center. Crack two eggs into that well, beat them lightly with a fork and add salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Using the fork, gently start pulling flour into the eggs, a little bit at a time. Make sure the flour is fully incorporated into the eggs before pulling a little more in and mixing that. Continue until all or most of the flour has been mixed into the eggs.
2. Go with your gut
While the ratio of pasta dough is typically three parts flour to two parts egg, there are many different factors that can throw this ratio off. Those things include humidity, the type of flour being used, and the size of the eggs. Due to varying factors, sometimes you may need a little more flour and sometimes a little less. As soon as the dough starts to come together and you're left with a somewhat shaggy mess that can't absorb any more flour, you know you're done. Sometimes it takes a little practice to get the feel of pasta dough but once you get it, you'll never lose it.
3. Knead and knead some more
Pasta may seem delicate at times, but it's gone through a rigorous process to get to that point. Pasta dough needs to be kneaded, and that step can take up to ten minutes. Unlike bread dough, which is sometimes kneaded in order to get the gluten to start working so the bread will rise, pasta dough needs to be kneaded for a different reason. Kneading allows all of the flour to be absorbed by the liquid in the recipe.
Once you're done adding as much flour as it will hold, it will be a stringy, shaggy mess that you may think won't turn into anything. If you leave it that way, it probably won't. In order to turn it into that smooth ball of dough you've been envisioning, it has to be kneaded. To do this, gather the pasta dough together as best you can. Fold it in half, push down with the heel of your hand and then push down on the rest of it. Then fold it over again, push down with the heel of your hand, and repeat. This will take several minutes but as soon as the dough has come together in a smooth ball, you can stop kneading.
4. Let it rest
After all that work, pasta dough needs to rest for some time. This will help relax the gluten in the flour and also help make it more workable and easier to roll. Leave the dough on the counter at room temperature, but cover it with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and let it rest for at least an hour. Once time is up, it will be ready to work with you.
5. Use a pasta machine to roll the dough out
If you've ever tried to roll pasta dough out by hand, you know just how difficult it can be. Pasta dough needs to be very thin and because it's so starchy, it can be difficult to roll it time and time again until you've achieved the perfect thinness. But there's an easy solution; just use a pasta machine.
Pasta machines clamp onto your counter and allow for dough to simply be placed inside and rolled out. The rolling can be done automatically, or you may have to crank it through, depending on the model you use. Pasta machines also have different levels of thinness, but don't just start at the thinnest setting and think that will do the job.
In order to use a pasta machine correctly, you should actually start at the thickest setting, roll the dough out and then fold it in half. Change the setting to the next level, roll out and fold in half again. This process needs to be done until you've reached the thinnest setting, or until your dough is as thin as you'd like it to be.
6. Use more flour
So you've worked very hard to only use the amount of flour you absolutely need and to get all that flour absorbed by the eggs. You still need to use flour while you're rolling the dough out and cutting it. This is because you won't be able to roll and cut all of the dough at the same time so you'll need to place it in little piles as you work the rest of the dough. And if you don't use flour when you do this, you'll end up with a big mess of pasta dough that's all stuck together. Instead, sprinkle flour over the pasta as you roll and cut it to keep all the individual strands separated. The flour will easily shake off when it's time to cook it.
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