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Making pasta dough by hand

Making fresh pasta dough from scratch definitely ranks among the most pleasurable and satisfying tasks in the kitchen. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, it takes patience and practice, but to my mind, there are few things that repay a little effort with such generous and delicious rewards.

There are two methods of making fresh pasta by hand or in a food processor. While the latter is quicker, the former has the benefit of giving the pasta-maker, over time, a truer sense of the texture and feel of the dough, a sense of how much flour the eggs can absorb, and ultimately, a more tender pasta.

Remember, however, that "tender" does not mean flaccid: Fresh pasta, if it is worked correctly during the stretching process, should have texture and "tooth" when it is cooked. Once the pasta dough is made, there are again two methods you can use to stretch the dough.

The hand method, using the long, dowel like European rolling pin, which is usually not more than 1½ inch (4 cm) in diameter, is by far the more demanding skill. This rolling pin, by the way, is much recommended over the thicker American style with its ball bearing mechanism. Using the latter is like driving an automatic transmission car, as opposed to a sporty.

Do keep in mind that in Italy and, in fact, wherever people are familiar with making fresh pasta the amounts given in a recipe are approximate. One speaks of making "an egg" of pasta, per person, as opposed to a definite amount of flour.

The eggs will absorb as much flour as they want. In certain parts of Italy salt is omitted from the dough. I like to include it in the recipe. It is better to have a dough that is a bit too wet than too dry, as it is much easier to work in a bit more flour than it is to add more moisture. If you do find yourself needing to add some moisture, do it by wetting your hands and then working the dough, rather than by adding water directly to the dough.

How to make homemade dough by hand

Makes enough pasta to serve 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main dish, depending on shape and thickness of cut. Follow the ingredients and step by step directions:

Ingredients you need

  • 1 ⅓ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs

Step by step directions

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 1
Step 1

Prepare a clean, well-lit work surface, at least 2 ft (60 cm) deep by 3 ft (92 cm) wide,and have at hand your rolling pin,a pastry scraper,a fork, and a fine-mesh strainer. Pour the flour and salt onto the work surface and form a well large enough to hold the eggs. Crack the eggs into the well and beat lightly with the fork.

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 2
Step 2

Keeping one hand at the ready on the outside of the well, in case some egg should escape, begin drawing in small amounts of flour from the inside bottom of the well and mixing to incorporate the flour into the eggs. Gently stir the eggs all the while, and continue pulling in small amounts of flour.

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 3
Step 3

When the egg and flour mixture is thick enough not to run, push all the remaining flour into the middle and gently mix to form a dough. When the dough has stiffened somewhat and will no longer absorb flour, move it to a corner of the work surface. Scrape the work surface clean, and wash and dry your hands.

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 4
Step 4

Place the scraped-away flour and bits of dough in the strainer and sift the clean flour onto a corner of the surface. Discard the pieces of dough in the strainer. Place the dough on the clean surface and knead until it holds together well. If it seems very sticky, sprinkle with a bit of the sifted flour, but do not let it get too dry.

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 5
Step 5

Continue to knead with a steady, firm motion, giving a quarter, turn with one hand while you press downward and forward with the heel of the other hand. Do this without rushing or exerting too much force, which will tire you out, but with a very steady, rhythmic motion, perhaps timed to your breathing.

Make Homemade Dough by Hand Step 6
Step 6

Knead until the dough feels very smooth and elastic, about 5–8 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours, before stretching it. This will give it time to soften enough to be stretched.

Flavoring and coloring homemade pasta dough

Flavoring and Coloring Pasta Dough

Mix one of the following with the eggs, then continue making the dough by hand or in a machine:

  • For spinach pasta, use ½ cup cooked, finely chopped or pureed, and well drained spinach. Finely chopped spinach will give you a pasta that is speckled green and purée a more uniform green.
  • For pasta rossa, add 2 tbsp tomato paste (ideally Sicilian sun) dried tomato paste.
  • For lemon pepper pasta, add the grated zest of 2 small lemons, 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper,and 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan.
  • For mushroom and herb pasta, rehydrate and purée 1 oz (30 g) dried porcini, then add with 1 tbsp finely minced rosemary.

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