By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America
While there are many varieties of dried pasta that you can buy at the store, making pasta from scratch can be a fun and highly rewarding activity.
Types of Pasta
When it comes to making pasta, there are many types you can chose from.
Rustic pastas include:
Delicate pastas include:
- angel hair—which is probably the most delicate.
Soup pastas can be captured on a spoon and eaten easily when you are eating a soup that contains pasta. When you are eating soup, you don’t want something that is long and hangs off both ends of your spoon. Soup pastas are so small that they are great for use in pasta salads as well.
Whole wheat pasta is made from whole grain, which contains fiber and extra nutrition. However, whole wheat pasta has a very different flavor and maybe even a more rustic texture than regular pasta, so you have to choose a sauce that is more assertive than usual. Nutritionally, pasta that is made with wheat flour and bean flour is a complete protein.
Making pasta from scratch may feel like a daunting task, but it can be surprisingly easy. Chef Briwa recommends using a pasta machine for most types.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Making Your Own Fresh Fettuccini
- all purpose flour
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Because the only ingredients you need for making pasta are all-purpose flour, eggs, and water, it is important to focus on the technique. You are going to be looking for a very specific texture when making fresh pasta. First, start the food processor and introduce some eggs, flour, and water. When you turn the food processor on, the ingredients won’t form a large ball of dough; instead, the flour will moisten and look almost like wet sand cascading in on itself.
After the ingredients are mixed, dump the contents of the food processor onto a clean surface. Then, you can either knead the dough—so that it sticks together—on the surface or in a pasta machine, but it is easier to knead it in the machine by repeatedly rolling the dough and folding it.
Before kneading the dough, gather the ingredients and press them together. You don’t want the dough to be really wet; otherwise, the pasta might stick to itself. The dough should hold together—albeit very loosely. The reason it should not stick together very tightly is that, at this point in the process, the flour hasn’t been fully hydrated, and gluten hasn’t begun to develop. Gluten is a protein in flour that, as it is manipulated with water, becomes more and more elastic, which is what makes pasta and bread what they are.
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Once the dough is ready, roll it through a pasta machine. Typically, pasta machines can attach to your kitchen counter, and they often have a hand crank that is used to crank the pasta through the rollers. Most pasta machines also have gradations for the rollers, which can be chosen by turning a dial. Set the rollers as wide apart as they can go, and feed the dough through them. This will result in a pretty raggedy mass of dough.
Then, gather the dough and press it together again. When you send the dough through the machine a second time, you will notice that the dough is less raggedy. Fold it in half and send it through the machine a third time, at which point you can start to see that the edges are no longer ragged because the gluten has begun to develop.
You need a strong flour that has gluten in it if your pasta is going to have the appropriate texture.
Continue to roll and fold the dough until it is very smooth and developed. It will feel almost like a new baseball glove or a new pair of shoes; compare the dough to the feel of firm, smooth leather. As you roll the dough through the pasta machine, bring the rollers a little bit closer together than they were when you started. As the dough becomes firmer, it becomes difficult to put through the rollers after folding it in half, so roll it thinner before you fold it and then open the rollers up all the way.
Once the dough is smooth and developed, fold it together, put it in a Ziplock bag so that it doesn’t dry out, and set it aside to rest for about 20 to 30 minutes. If you were to continue to roll the dough instead of letting it rest, the gluten in the flour would become so tight that it would begin to tear, and the dough would be destroyed.
If you live in an area that is humid, your flour may be a little moister than it would be in dryer areas.
After the dough has rested, it should feel a little bit softer and moister than it was. It should not, however, be sticky; if it is sticky, then either you added too much liquid or didn’t use enough flour.
Put the dough back through the pasta machine, rolling it thinner and thinner. Each time you roll it through, bring the rollers closer together until the dough is the thickness of fettuccine—in this case. As the rollers are set closer and closer together, the dough will become longer and longer. If the dough becomes too long to be manageable, simply cut it into smaller pieces.
At some point, you have to decide when the pasta is thin enough—keeping in mind that as pasta cooks, it will swell and most likely double in size. The first time you make pasta, pay attention to how thinly you roll it. Then, after you cook it, evaluate the finished product so that you can adjust the thinness for the next time.
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Once the pasta is thin enough, you can cut it either by putting it through an attachment that is added to the pasta machine or by using a knife. If the dough is sticky, dust it with some flour so that it doesn’t stick to itself. Then, put it through the cutting attachment on the pasta machine. Once the pasta is cut, put it onto a tray, such as a cookie sheet, and sprinkle some cornmeal on top to keep the noodles from sticking to each other.
As you roll the dough through the cutter, you want to cut it off after it is about 10 inches long, which is about how long dried pastas—such as spaghetti or fettuccine—are when you buy them in boxes.
After the pasta has been cut, it is ready to be dropped into boiling water. If you are not ready to cook it yet, the pasta can sit at room temperature, and as long as it is separated and not sticking, it will very quickly dry out to become dried pasta from fresh pasta. Even if you put it in the refrigerator in a plastic bag before cooking it as fresh pasta, it may start to stick to itself. Instead, if you make extra pasta, just let it dry and cook it as dried pasta later.
Common Questions About Making Pasta
There are a huge variety of ingredients, shapes, and methods when it comes to homemade pasta, but generally you mix the dough from flour and egg yolks by hand, roll it into thin sheets, cut into the shape you prefer, and boil it.
Different flours are used for different types of pasta, but most common pasta is made from semolina, which is a wheat flour.
Both homemade and purchased pasta are fine in moderation, but both contain roughly the same calorie count and so should not be overindulged in.
Fresh made pasta that has already been cut should not sit for longer than 15 minutes before being cooked.