The Italians are famous for their pasta. On this page you learn how to make fresh pasta, with eggs and without eggs, and for stuffed pasta like ravioli and tortellini. Asian pasta is also delicious. See here for recipes. And for those of you who are interested in the past, here are recipes for fresh pasta from the sixteenth century. And coming up: more Renaissance pasta recipes!
The basic recipe
Do all Italians eat fresh pasta every day? No! Pasta is but one of the possible main ingredients for the primo piatto, the first course. There are also many recipes for risotto and all kinds of soup. And when an Italian does eat pasta, it is not necessarily freshly made. In the south of Italy people use dried pasta, made from durum wheat. In northern regions fresh pasta is preferred, made with eggs.
Wheat flour can be bought in many qualities. If you want to play chef de cuisine, go ahead and buy the most expensive, exclusive 000 flour you can find if you want to. I often use the cheapest flour I can get, with excellent pasta as result.
A delicious Bolognese sauce with game meat.
On the picture you see Pulcinella serving pasta (National Pasta Museum, Rome).
These quantities are but guidelines: eggs may vary in size, flour can be old (dry). Keep looking and feeling whilst kneading the dough: If it stays too moist, add flour. If, on the other hand, the dough is too short (crumbly), add water, a little at a time.
Fresh pasta with eggs – For four persons, take 2 eggs and 220 gram (1 cup) flour, and a little salt. For every two persons extra use 1 egg and 110 gram (1/2 cup) flour. For stuffed pasta, be sure to add 1 teaspoon milk for every egg you use.
Pasta with durum wheat – For four persons, take 250 gram (1 cup + 2 Tbsp.) flour of durum wheat (somewhat yellow in colour) and 1.25 deciliter (1/2 cup) water, and a pinch of salt.
Make a heap of flour on the worktop, with a hole in the middle (like a volcano). Pour the eggs, and milk if you make stuffed pasta, in the hole, and start to mix. Just add some flour of the ‘mountain’ to the ‘lava’ of the eggs, and stir with your finger. Use one hand to mix the dough, use the other hand to keep the eggs from breaking through and running all over the table. You could use a bowl and a spoon or whisk for the mixing, but this way is much more fun. Check the consistency of your dough (not too moist or dry). Clean the worktop, and wash and dry your hands.
Kneading the dough
Now knead the dough for at least ten minutes. Use both hands, and not just your fingers, but also the ball of your hand. Fold, knead and twist the dough until you get a supple, slightly elastic ball. You can also throw the dough with force unto the worktop to make the dough even more elastic. Just mind you throw it straight downwards and not at an angle, because, being elastic, the dough will bounce straight off the worktop! I love throwing my dough; it is a great way to get rid of all your tension.
Pack the dough in plastic foil and let it rest for thirty minutes.
To make thin pasta sheets you can use a wooden, thin roller like a broomstick, but I prefer using a pasta machine: 2 stainless steel adjustable rollers. There are models that come with cutting rollers (correct term?) to cut tagliolini and tagliatelle.
Start with the rollers in their widest position. Take a piece of dough the size of an egg; keep the rest of the dough covered in plastic foil or between to plates. Pass the dough through the rollers. Fold in two or three, pass again, without changing the distance between the two rollers. This is still kneading. Then you start adjusting the rollers by one “knot”, and feed the still thick sheet of dough through. This you do only once before adjusting the rollers again and again, until you have a sheet as thin as you want. But mind: the sheet of dough will only get longer when you pass it through the pasta machine, it will never get any wider. So take care that you start with a piece of dough that is as wide as the rollers are.
Cleaning the pasta machine – When you are done rolling out your dough, wipe the pasta machine clean with some paper towels. NEVER use any water whatsoever, not even a damp cloth! The rollers will loose their smoothness and the dough will stick to them.
Proceed at once for stuffed pasta!
When making stuffed pasta (tortellini, ravioli, capelleti etc.) you have added one teaspoon of milk to your dough for every egg you used. Do not let the pasta sheet dry after rolling it out, but stuff and cut the pasta at once. If you don’t, the pasta sheets won’t stick together and the stuffing will escape when the pasta is boiled. See recipes for Tortelli in brodo and ravioli stuffed with quail.
Ravioli is easy: teaspoons of stuffing on a pasta sheet, second sheet draped over the first, press between stuffing, and cut with a pasta wheel. But tortellinis have to be folded one by one. Cut little circles out of a freshly rolled-out dough sheet with a glass, heap a teaspoonful of stuffing on each. Fold the circle in half, press the rim together. Take the edges together, flip them and press. Arrange the tortellini next to each other on a kitchen towel, and continue with the next sheet of dough. Wait at least 30 minutes before boiling the pasta. If you want to prepare them longer in advance, turn the tortellini after a while, to let the underside dry too. On the picture are green tortellinis with cheese stuffing. The stuffing should be about twice as much as you see on the picture.
Drying the dough before cutting
When making fettucine or tagliatelle you have to let the sheets of pasta dough dry on a clean kitchen towel for fifteen minutes before cutting. If you don’t, the strands are in danger of not separating properly.
Cutting the pasta dough
Guide the sheet through the cutting roll of the pasta machine, or roll the sheets loosely and cut with a sharp knife. Let the pasta rest for at least five more minutes before cooking.
Drying pasta on a mill like you see on this picture looks very professional, but it is only functional when you plan to cook the pasta shortly after. When you want to dry pasta to keep it for a longer period of time, it is best to let it dry in loosely formed ‘bird nests’ on a tea towel. When tagliatelle dries on a mill you get long, hard sticks that break easily. To dry sheets for lasagna, spread them next to each other on clean kitchen towels.
Fresh pasta only needs a few seconds in boiling water!
Bring plenty of water to the boil, add some salt. Add the pasta. As soon as the water is boiling again, count till ten, then drain the pasta immediately. A special pasta cooker is not obligatory, but very handy in use. You lift the perforated insert out of the pan with the boiling water slowly and carefully, and the pasta is drained already. When you want to reheat the pasta all you have to do is place the insert back in the still hot water for a second, and lift it out again. The pasta is hot again, without becoming overcooked.
Take care that when you start boiling the pasta, the sauce and accompaniments are ready to serve.
How long can you keep home-made pasta?
You can keep uncooked pasta a long time without refrigerating (even longer than a month). Just let the pasta dry out well, rolled very loosely. Then keep them in a large bowl without cover in a dry closet. Take care that the pasta is completely dry before placing it in a bowl. If not, the strips will stick together and you end up with a large unpalatable lump.
When pasta is dried for a longer period, it needs to boil longer, up to several minutes. Just test your pasta while it is boiling.
Stuffed pasta should not be kept for a longer period. The stuffing can go off, and also it contains liquid, which prevents the pasta dough to dry completely. The boiling of stuffed pasta takes a little longer than cut pasta. If the stuffed pasta floats, it is generally done.
Making coloured pasta
This can be very decorative, but let’s not forget that pasta is the background to the sauce, not its rival. The colour of the pasta should harmonize with the sauce, and the taste of the pasta must not be too pronounced. You could add spices or herbs to the dough, but be very careful.
Green pasta – This is made by adding finely cut, blanched spinach to the dough. Take care that the spinach is as dry as possible. You could blender the squeezed spinach with one of the eggs for the dough. Proceed as described above.
Black pasta – This is made with the ink from squids. Temper the ink with the eggs.
Red pasta – Use the coloured water in which beetroots have been cooked. Because you use water, it is best to make pasta dough with water instead of with eggs.
Yellow pasta – Add saffron or turmeric to the dough.
Which sauce for which pasta shape?
Not every sauce can be poured over any pasta. Generally speaking tomato sauces are best with dried pasta, sauces with cream are best with fresh pasta. Recipe for Bolognese Sauce with game meat.
How to make fresh Italian pasta dough – recipes and pictures