Fresh pasta

When I left my last job, my coworkers generously gave me a gift certificate to Sur La Table, where I took a pasta-making class last summer. The big takeaway for me: If you want smooth, thin pasta, you need a machine. I bought one that day — hand-crank, not electric — and I like it a lot.

Here is a basic recipe for making fresh pasta, along with tips from my instructor:

Fresh Pasta Dough
4 servings

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

To make dough:
Place flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture and add eggs and oil. Using your fingers, blend the eggs into the flour mixture, stirring the flour in from the sides of the well and working outwards. When the pasta dough is thoroughly mixed, turn it out on a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough until it is smooth and flexible but not sticky, adding small amounts of flour as needed, about 5 minutes. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes or up to an hour at room temperature.
To roll dough:
Secure a pasta machine to the edge of a long countertop. Cut the dough into thirds. Keep the extra dough covered in plastic wrap while working with one piece. Flatten the piece of dough into a rough rectangle so that it will fit inside the width of the pasta machine. Place the rollers on the widest setting and roll the dough through the machine, catching it with one hand as you roll with the other. Take the dough and fold into thirds towards the center of the dough. Turn the dough so one open end faces the machine and roll it through on the widest setting again. Fold, turn, and roll once more on the widest setting. Continue rolling the pasta through the machine without folding, adjusting the rollers to the next smallest setting each time, until the desired thickness is reached. If the pasta sheet becomes too large to handle, use a bench scraper to cut it into more manageable lengths and continue rolling. Cut sheets to desired shapes and sizes, toss with flour and set aside covered with a clean kitchen towel. The pasta can be cooked immediately or covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to an hour before use.
To cook pasta:
Heat a large pot of water over high heat until boiling. Add enough kosher salt to season the water like sea water. Add pasta and stir immediately to prevent the strands from sticking together. Boil until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve about 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta through a colander. Toss hot pasta with your sauce of choice, using the reserved pasta water to thin the mixture as needed. Garnish as desired and serve immediately.

Pasta-making Tips

  • Fresh pasta is made from all-purpose or “00” flour, a very finely ground flour from Italy. Dried pasta dough is typically made with semolina, a flour with a much higher protein, or gluten, content, so the dough can be forced through extruders into the numerous shapes seen in the grocery store. Fresh pasta is simple to make at home, and can be rolled and cut by hand or by using a pasta machine.
  • The classic ratio for fresh pasta dough is 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg, which works well if you weigh your ingredients. DO this by placing a large mixing bowl on a digital scale and zero out the weight. Add one egg for each main-course Serving you want to make into the bowl and then add 1 1/2 times that amount of flour.
  • If you do not have a digital scale, you can use the following formula, taking into account that you may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too wet. Each large egg weighs about 2 ounces, while each cup of flour weighs about 5 ounces. So, if you want to make 4 main course servings of pasta, combine 4 large eggs (8 ounces) and a scant 2 1/2 cups (12 ounces) of flour.
  • Traditionally, pasta is made by piling the our on a work surface, making a “well” in the center, adding the eggs and mixing everything together. Or, to be neater, place the flour in a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients and turn everything out on a work surface for kneading.
  • Knead pasta by hand. Gather the dough in a ball, press downward on it with the heel of your hand, fold the dough onto itself and repeat. A properly kneaded pasta dough should be very smooth and supple but not sticky, which should take 5 to 10 minutes.
  • It is important to allow the dough to rest, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour at room temperature before rolling. If you try to roll the dough before it rests, the dough will be too elastic and will spring back when rolled.
  • When rolling the pasta, make sure to flour it generously to prevent sticking. When it emerges from the rollers, catch it on the back of your hand, rather than with your fingertips, to avoid making indentations in the dough sheet.
  • Pasta dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to 24 hours or wrapped in airtight packaging and frozen for up to 1 month.
  • Fresh pasta dough can be flavored with various ingredients, including herbs, spinach, tomato and dried mushrooms.
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