June 9, 2011

back to basics: homemade pasta all'uovo

Some of my earliest and most cherished memories of my grandmothers revolve around their homemade pasta.  It’s no wonder, then, that I love making my own. The smell of flour mixing with fresh eggs, the feel of the soft, smooth dough, the thin, silky ribbons that fall from the plates of the pasta machine.  And the taste.  There is absolutely no comparison between fresh egg pasta and dried pasta from the supermarket.  Brian says (and I would agree) that one of the best things about homemade pasta is its mysterious ability to melt in your mouth while remaining perfectly al dente. 

There are lots of things that can be done with a basic pasta recipe.  From spaghetti to fettuccine, lasagne to cannelloni, farfalle to orecchiette.  You can play with adding spices and herbs to the dough.  I love the combination of black pepper fettuccine with scallops in a white wine sauce.  Saffron pasta is a Milanese classic and squid ink pasta a Venetian tradition.  I’ve even seen pasta made with cocoa.

Although the main ingredients are always the same (flour and eggs), the proportions can vary significantly.  I’ve seen recipes that call for as many as nine egg yolks or as few as one egg per cup of flour.  Much depends on the type of flour and the desired consistency of the pasta. After years of experimenting, I’ve found the proportions that I like best.  Give it a try and feel free to adjust as you see fit.

This explanation is fairly long.  Use the links below to jump to different points within the recipe:

Making the Dough
Using a Pasta Machine
Rolling and Cutting by Hand

Pasta all'uovo, fatta in casa (Homemade Egg Pasta)

Yield 1 pound pasta (dried).  Serves 8.


3 (375g) cups all-purpose flour (or “tipo 00” if you can find it), plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
4 large to extra-large eggs (The fresher the better; if you can get free range eggs from a local farmer, do!)

Making the Dough
Measure the flour onto a clean countertop.  Using your fingers or a fork, mix in the salt.  Form the flour into a mound and make a well in the center.



Crack one or two eggs into the well.


Use a fork to gently beat and incorporate, drawing flour from the insides of the well, taking care not to break through the wall completely.  (Don’t worry if you don’t get this right the first time.  I spent plenty of time chasing egg across countertops before I got it right.)


When the egg resembles a thick paste, add the next one and repeat, incorporating it with the egg and flour from the sides of the well until the mixture resembles a thick paste once again.  Repeat with the remaining eggs.



When the final egg has been mostly incorporated, use your hands to gather the dough and any remaining flour into a ball.  Knead.  If the dough is too dry, add water, a few drops at a time until you’ve incorporated all the dry flour.



Continue to knead for 4-6 minutes, until dough is smooth and homogeneous. (It won’t be very elastic at this point.)  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.


After resting, the dough will be supple and elastic.  Cut the dough into fourths. Set aside one fourth of the dough and rewrap the remaining 3 pieces.


Using a Hand-crank Pasta Machine
Secure the pasta machine to your countertop and set the roller plates to the widest setting.  Flatten the dough as much as possible, using your hand.  It should be no more than ½-inch thick.  Dust both sides with flour.


With one hand, feed the dough through the roller plates of the pasta machine, turning the crank with the other hand.


Fold the dough into thirds (like a letter) …


…and feed through the pasta machine(with folds perpendicular to the rollers).


Repeat the process of folding and turning 2 to 3 more times, until the dough is smooth and about the width of the rollers.

Decrease the thickness setting one notch.  Roll the pasta through again. 

Repeat this process (no folding), decreasing the thickness setting one step at a time, until you reach the desired thinness. (For most shapes, the thinnest setting works best.  However, I’ve found that for spaghetti, the next thicker setting is best.)

If the dough gets tacky at any point, dust it with flour.


As the pasta gets longer and thinner, it becomes more and more of a juggling act to feed the dough, turn the crank, and catch the dough as it comes out.  However, with a bit of practice, you’ll find what works best.


Before rolling to the final setting, dust both sides with flour.  I usually cut the dough into shorter lengths (2 or 3 pieces) to make it easier to handle.   It will approximately double in length, so keep that in mind when deciding how to cut it.


The final dough sheet(s) should be smooth, elastic and almost translucent. Dust the dough lightly with flour and cover with plastic wrap, wax paper, or a damp, lint-free towel while you proceed with the remaining three pieces of dough.


If making lasagna, manicotti, or cannelloni, cut dough sheets into 9-12 inch lengths, depending on  your preference (and pan size).  Proceed with drying

Cutting a Basic Shape: Fettuccine
Prepare a place to dry the finished pasta.

Once you’ve rolled out all the dough, attach the fettuccine-cutting plate to the machine. 

Uncover one sheet of dough, trim to desired length (10 inches is standard but we like ours a bit longer), dust both sides with flour, and carefully feed it through the machine. (Don’t throw away the scraps.)





Hang to dry (or toss with flour).  Proceed with remaining dough.


Using a Rolling Pin

Although a pasta machine makes the process easier and the results more consistent (and is a great investment if you plan to make pasta fairly regularly), having one is by no means a requirement.  A rolling pin and a sharp knife work just fine.


Dust ¼ of dough with flour and roll away from you with rolling pin, extending and flattening the dough.  Rotate the dough 90 degrees every few strokes.


If the dough shrinks back, cover with plastic and allow to rest for 5 minutes.  (Resting allows the gluten to relax.)  Resume rolling.  Repeat resting period, if necessary.


The final hand-rolled dough will not be quite as thin as can be achieved using a pasta machine.  (Mine were about 1/16- and 1/32-inch, respectively.)


However, the dough should still be elastic and fairly translucent.


Cutting Fettuccine by Hand

Dust dough with flour and roll as tightly as possible into a cylinder.


Using a very sharp paring knife, cut dough into approximately ¼-inch pieces.


Unroll, toss with flour, and set aside to dry. 



Drying the Pasta

You can buy a rack specifically for drying pasta, but there are also a number of ways to improvise a drying rack. 

My grandmother used a clean broom handle suspended between two chairs. 

I use plastic clothes hangers suspended from a pot rack or kitchen cabinets.  (If not cooking immediately, after about and hour, remove the pasta carefully from the clothes hangers and lay out on a cooling rack to finish drying.  If left on the hanger longer, they become too brittle and break in half when removed from the hanger.)



You can also simply toss the pasta with flour and spread it out over a floured surface.  (A lint-free towel over a cooling rack works well.)


Cooking the Pasta

Allow pasta to dry slightly before cooking (to prevent sticking).

Cook fettuccine for 3 minutes in well-salted boiling water.  Hand-cut pasta should be cooked 1-2 minutes longer. 

Hand-cut pasta on left.  Machine-cut pasta on right.


Storing the Pasta

Pasta must be completely dry before storing.(Depending on thickness and drying method, I usually let mine dry 8-48 hours.)

Store at room temperature in an airtight container. The dried pasta will break easily, so it’s best to store it in something rigid (i.e. an airtight food storage box or a zipper bag inside a shoebox).  The pasta will keep this way for a few months.

The Scraps

There will inevitably be trimmings and other bits of dough aren’t long enough to serve as fettuccine.  These scraps are great for soups!  Dry and store as above.

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