What You Need to Know About Making Fresh Pasta
There are lots of things that people don’t like but pasta is seldom one of them. It’s the ultimate meal, regardless of how or when it’s served. It offers a quick comforting mid-week meal if you’re in a rush but can also be the work of hours if you’re cooking a ragù and making fresh pasta. There’s really nothing like a fresh pasta, but it can be a little intimidating. Here we run through how to make your next batch of fresh pasta your best one yet.
Don’t stress about the flour you use
Here’s the first spoiler in this article. You don’t actually need to use a special flour (or any other special ingredients for that matter) to make good fresh pasta. All it requires is an all-purpose flour, some eggs and salt. If you’re after an extra silky pasta (who isn’t?), then definitely make the effort to find “00” or doppio zero flour. Otherwise, you’ll be absolutely fine with good old all-purpose flour. While we’re discussing flour, it’s best to add a pinch of fine salt at this stage. Trust us, your pasta will taste all the better for it.
Your dough is too dry… you think
The biggest headache when it comes to making pasta is that initial stage of adding the eggs to the flour. You break them and hope and pray that they combine evenly and that you’re not left with a goopy, floury mess. Well, the thing is, if you follow a good recipe (try ours here) the eggs should combine easily.
The best way to work the egg in is to use the old school method of slowly mixing the eggs into the flour using a fork. Simply tip sieved flour out onto your work surface, make a well, crack the eggs in and start working them into the flour. It’s old school for a reason – because it works. If you’ve mixed your dough and think it’s too dry or wet, move on to kneading before trying to doctor the dough with more water or flour. If it looks bitty, just keep working with it, it will come together eventually. If you absolutely must add water, start by wetting your hands and continue to knead with damp hands.
Don’t skip out on the kneading!
Pasta is a dough. Let’s never forget that fact. And, as you know with bread and pastry doughs, they need to be kneaded to allow the gluten to develop and add structure. The kneading allows everything to combine evenly too, so if the dough becomes sticky, simply sprinkle more flour onto your work surface. If you think that it’s too dry, keep kneading before adding more water. If the dough literally cannot hold together, then add a little sprinkling of water.
This kneading process can’t be skipped, so, be sure to knead until the dough is smooth, as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Yes, really. If kneading by hand, it’s almost impossible to overwork the dough so knead, knead, knead!
Give it a rest… the dough, that is
If there’s one cardinal sin when it comes to pasta making, it’s not resting the dough after kneading. You want to give the dough time to soften and to allow the gluten strands to settle. If you skip this step or don’t rest the dough for long enough, it will be tough and difficult to roll out. If you’re a wildly impatient person (it’s ok, we are too), then use the resting time as an opportunity to clean down your station and set up your pasta machine.
Conquer all your rolling fears
Rolling is often seen as the scariest part of pasta-making, but really it’s not. The most important things to remember are to dust your machine with flour and to start on the widest setting first. Cut your dough into four pieces to make it easier to work with and run it through the machine twice. Once the first two rolls are complete, make sure that you reinforce your dough by laminating it. You do this by folding the dough in half before feeding it through the next setting on the machine.
If you’re making lasagne or ravioli, it’s best to roll until the thinnest setting. If you’re making fettuccine or any other long pasta, then you can get away with the 2nd smallest setting. Overall though, just remember that flour is your best protection against stickiness!
Inspired to make something different? Check out our illustrated guide to pasta shapes right here.
Right. You’ve got this far, so don’t mess it up at the final hurdle. You’ll need a large pot, fill it with water and add lots of salt. And we mean lots. There’s a belief that Italians think that pasta cooking water should taste like the sea. You don’t necessarily have to use your good sea salt, so be generous with table salt. Once your sea-salty water is at a rolling boil, lower it to a simmer and add a blob of oil to prevent any sticking (this isn’t compulsory, just acts as a safeguard in case your pot is slightly on the small side).
Now it’s time to get cooking. So, if using fresh pasta, gently place it in the simmering water and gently work a pasta spoon through the pasta to prevent it from sticking together. Then leave it for about a minute or two. You know it’s cooked when you bite into a piece and it’s tender all the way through but has a little resistance. This is called al dente.
When cooked, drain the pasta in a colander and shake to remove excess water. If you’re not serving the pasta straight away, drizzle with a little olive oil and keep covered.
If you’re working with dried pasta, the cooking process is much the same as fresh, albeit slightly longer. The pasta will take about 8 minutes to cook, and you can check if it’s done by biting into a piece and seeing that it’s cooked through. Drain and drizzle with oil, just the same as the fresh.
Right ready to cook? Check out 4 of our favourite pasta recipes below, if these don’t tickle your fancy, check out the rest of our pasta recipes here.
Also, make sure you have these essential pasta tools at the ready.