Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recipe: Basic Pasta Dough

My big gift this Christmas was a beautiful Marcato brand pasta maker, a kitchen gadget I'd been begging my parents for ever since I made fresh pasta during my last Foods 1 class in early December. I'd expected a basic model from our local DeLallo's store, but the model they got me is a stunning little machine, with multiple pasta cutters (including a gadget for making crinkle-edged raviolini), and an incredibly sturdy design. Last night, I convinced my mom to let us put off a dinner of leftovers until tonight and let me make pasta for dinner instead, and I had a blast using the gadget for the first time.

Making pasta from scratch has stereotypically been one of those things that foodies would brag about at a dinner party—a somewhat smug, yet casual comment like "Oh, I made homemade fettucini last week with a tomato-basil cream sauce that was to die for!" slipped into a conversation, meant to make the listener feel in awe that their friend took the time and effort to make something oh-so-complicated and oh-so-fancy. But really, making pasta isn't this big ordeal...you don't even really need a pasta maker if you've got a rolling pin and a good, sharp knife. I think the biggest hang up for people when it comes to making pasta dough is what flour to use and whether to mix it by hand or in a mixer (and how much time it can take). Traditionally, Italian pasta is made with semolina flour, but you can find recipes that call for durum wheat flour, bread flour, or all-purpose flour. Dough can be mixed by hand in the old-fashioned way, or gently mixed with a paddle and then a dough hook in an electric mixture. Basic dough only needs a few ingredients to pull it together, and once you know the basics, you can experiment with flavoring pasta by adding in minced garlic, herbs, or other flavorings. In this post, I'm going to share my recipe for basic pasta dough, as well as my method for using a pasta maker to roll out and cut the dough.

Serves: 4 (making a long noodle—in this case, it's fettuccine)
Prep. time: Approx. 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cooking time: 3-5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Special equipment: Electric mixer with paddle attachment and dough hook attachment (and a pasta maker and two baking sheets for rolling out and laying out the pasta)

*Pasta dough can be mixed by hand, and if you don't have the pasta maker, you can use a rolling pin to flatten the dough to the desired consistency, then cut long strips or whatever other shape you might want, but for this post, I'm sharing the pasta maker method

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • Flour for dusting

Put the paddle attachment in the mixer and add the eggs, water, salt, and olive oil. Gently mix on a low setting for about 1 minute, then gradually add in 1 cup of flour and increase the mixing speed slightly so that the mixture blends well. The dough should look and feel wet and somewhat thin once the one cup of flour is incorporated. Switch the paddle attachment out and place the dough hook in the mixer, then gradually add the second cup of flour while on a low-to-medium mixing speed. If the dough looks very dry and floury and doesn't appear to be absorbing the flour well, add in a little more olive oil and mix until it's a light yellowy-beige color and somewhat dry-looking. The dough should feel thick and slightly sticky and it should look fairly dry. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and gently roll it into a ball using a little flour to keep it from sticking to your hands. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap then let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. After resting, the dough can be unwrapped and prepared as desired.

My pasta-making station

Directions for rolling out and cooking pasta

When the dough is done resting, remove it from the plastic wrap and place it on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into about 4 pieces (you need to use smaller chunks of dough in order for them to fit in the machine and roll out to the right thickness and width). Depending on what type of pasta you want, there are different settings on the pasta maker for rolling out various thicknesses and different cutter attachments to cut different types of pasta. I chose to make fettuccine, so I'll share those instructions here. Set the pasta maker on the 0 setting, sprinkle a little flour in between the rollers, and roll one of the dough balls through on this setting 4 times. Moving up through the numbers (which indicate the width between the rollers, and thus the thickness of the sheet of pasta), work your way up to number 5, making sure to pass the pasta sheet through each number twice. Make sure you sprinkle a little flour between the rollers each time to prevent the dough from sticking. Repeat the process until all of the dough is rolled out. The dough sheets should be lightly floured and laid out on a lightly floured baking sheet (the flour will help keep the sheets from sticking to each other). Roll each sheet through the fettuccine cutter (you'll just pass the sheets through once), sprinkling flour between the rollers. Place finished fettuccine noodles on a lightly floured baking sheet. It's important that the noodles are lightly floured and that you pull them apart if any are stuck, because you don't want them to stick. Cover the sheet of pasta with plastic wrap or a cloth towel to keep the noodles for drying out.

When cooking the noodles, simply fill a medium-to-large pot with unsalted water and bring the water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through. The finished noodles will be softer than regular dried pasta from a box and they may feel a little slippery. Once you drain the pasta, you can add a little butter or olive oil to keep them from sticking to each other.

If you have the chance to make fresh pasta, even without the aid of a pasta maker, I highly recommend it! Fresh pasta is so much lighter and softer than dried boxed pasta and it really makes a difference in a meal (really—once you've had fresh pasta, you'll never want to go back to the dried stuff, though, unfortunately, it's not really practical to make fresh pasta all the time, haha).

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