Before the pandemic, I spent an afternoon at my neighbour Sharon’s house, teaching her how to make pasta. Sharon and I drank wine and told stories as we cooked, although she stopped talking during her first effort at feeding a strap of dough into the pasta maker. When she caught the first handful of noodles as they emerged from the cutter, she sighed in relief and resumed telling me about her donkeys.
I first made pasta at a tiny restaurant where I worked during the 1980s in Calgary. I experimented with adding all kinds of vegetable purées and herbs to the dough, although Calgary diners back then were just not ready for garishly pink beet-stained pasta, but they liked the saffron version, yellow that bled across the dough like paint on a canvas.
A food processor is best for combining the dough. For rolling and cutting, use a machine attachment for your countertop mixer, a hand-crank pasta machine like my Italian beauty (if you are willing to jury-rig it a bit to keep it from wiggling about as you crank the handle), or a purist’s knife and rolling pin (but only if you use super-finely ground doppio, or “double zero” Italian-style flour, in a grade milled specifically for pasta, not bread or cake). I use all-purpose flour when I make pasta and roll it in my stainless steel Imperia, which is easily ordered online.
Judging by the state of the nation’s grocery shelves, we all have flour in our houses, so between bouts of feeding your sourdough starter and shaping loaves, cranking out some noodles is a good use of time. Like bread making, the end result is something that offers comfort as well as sustenance. There’s nothing like a bowl of fresh pasta dressed in butter and Parmesan cheese, or in a Bolognese that spent hours in the oven.
But if you hesitate because of the time outlay, consider: if you amortize the time spent making (an hour-plus, but half that spent letting the dough rest) with the time spent cooking (one to two minutes, depending on thickness), fresh pasta begins to look like an ideal supper for folks confined to home with an appetite and time to put in. So let’s get to it. First we eat, then tell me what’s new with you in your socially distant home.
Weighing pasta’s few ingredients is the best choice for the most consistent texture: flour can be compressed or aerated, and eggs vary in size. The more you make pasta, the sooner you can make it intuitively, by feel. Until then, weigh your ingredients, including the liquid. Makes about 500 g, enough for two to four servings.
- 300 g all-purpose flour
- Salt to taste
- 3 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- Water as needed to bring the egg volume to 185 g
Aerate the flour and salt in the food processor, then add the liquid. Mix into a rough ball. If it is pebbly or sandy, add water, a spoonful at a time. If it sticks to the bowl, add a little more flour. Turn out on the counter and knead in small motions; pinch a bit of the dough at a time, then turn the dough a few degrees and repeat. Knead for eight to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Wrap well and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Dust the pasta with flour or ground semolina. Divide into six pieces, wrapping them so they don’t dry out. Flatten one piece with the heel of your hand, then feed it into the pasta maker’s aperture, set at its widest opening. Lay the dough on the counter and fold the two ends to meet in the middle. Turn it 90 degrees. Flatten with the heel of your hand before feeding it into the aperture a second time, still at the widest setting. Repeat the fold-and-roll four times, dusting with flour as needed.
Advance the aperture by one click. Pass the dough through twice without folding, flouring as needed. Advance the aperture and roll through twice. Cut each piece in half when it gets too long to handle. Roll through narrower apertures until the dough is thin, perhaps stopping at the second-last setting.
Let stand uncovered on a floured countertop or floured tea towel for 15 to 30 minutes, until the top surface is leathery. Turn over and dry the other side.
Put a pot of water on to boil and salt it generously.
Move the hand-crank to the cutter mechanism and crank the dough, catching the noodles as they emerge from beneath the cutter. Lay them on a tea towel dusted with flour. Repeat with the other pieces.
Cook for one to two minutes in boiling salted water. Taste to determine when the noodles are just cooked through, or al dente. Remove from the pot using tongs, not by dumping the noodles and water through a strainer. Toss in sauce and serve immediately.