Or, how to make a super special meal with just a few ingredients.
Way back in the olden days when I was a struggling college and graduate student, I would take on DIY Christmas gift projects to cover all my friends and family in one fell swoop. There was the year of hot sauces, the year of mustards, the year of preserved lemons, the year of flower vinegars, and so on. But the most enduring for me was the year of homemade pasta, because that crash course in making pasta for dozens of people was a bonus gift to myself. While I still like to have dried pasta on hand for really quick meals, I can now go from taking out the flour to tossing noodles in boiling water in a surprisingly short amount of time.
I usually reserve homemade pasta for weekend nights when I have the time to leisurely knead the dough, let it rest, and roll it out by hand. But for quicker turnaround times, a food processor and a hand-cranked pasta machine make quick work of the task. Using a stand mixer for kneading and its pasta attachment for cutting makes it even easier.
The beauty and benefits of making pasta by hand are many. It is the perfect thing to make when you have few ingredients on hand but feel like making something special. Flour, eggs, water and salt for the pasta, and something simple to sauce it with, and I'm talking as simple as olive oil, sea salt and some herbs. It is so lovely on its own it doesn't require much; I often just like fresh tomatoes given a flash saute in butter or olive oil with a scattering of fresh herbs and black pepper.
One of my favorite things is that it is really a blank canvas; to the pasta dough itself one can add fresh herbs, dried herbs, spices, dried mushrooms, citrus zest, fresh chili peppers, you name it. In the raviolis above, I added sage blossoms from the garden.
And while plain dried pasta can be inexpensive, handmade/fresh/gourmet pasta can get very pricy. Making it at home is significantly cheaper.
I love the various whole grain and legume-based pastas available commercially, but for home I start with a white-flour egg pasta. I use unbleached, organic all-purpose flour, sometimes adding in white whole wheat flour for some whole grain. Semolina is a classic flour to use, but it's not something I usually keep in the pantry.
Fresh egg pasta2 cups flour (plus extra for dusting counter and equipment)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1. Whisk together flour and salt either right on the counter or in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Start to whisk the eggs, bringing in flour from the mound until the flour is incorporated and you have a nice dough. If you are adding a flavoring ingredient, you can add it as you knead.
2. Once you have your dough, begin kneading it on the counter (using plenty of flour to prevent sticking). Knead for about 10 minutes, or until it feels elastic and small air bubbles within are gone.
3. Put the dough in a bowl, cover, and let rest for at least 30 minutes. You can stick it in the fridge at this point for up to a day, just let it come back to room temperature before you start working with it again.
4. Divide dough into four sections, flour them, and cover with a dish towel.
5. If you're using a pasta machine, feed one section of dough through the thickest setting, fold the dough, and repeat a few times until the pasta is smooth. Then feed the piece through the next setting – you don't have to do the fold-and-repeat after the first time. And continue on successively thinner settings until you get to a thickness you like. I prefer stopping two settings from the thinnest because I like a thick, toothy noodle. If your piece of pasta gets too long while you are rolling it out, you can cut it in half and have two pieces to continue with.
6. Repeat with all the sections, letting them sit on a baking sheet with plenty of flour to prevent them from sticking to each other, which is what they will want to do. To roll out pasta by hand, just mimic this process with a rolling pin.
7. Once you have finished rolling out the sheets, you can either use the cutting attachment for cut pasta, or use a ravioli tool to make stuffed pasta.
8. There are some clever Italian-grandma ways to make proper stuffed pasta, but I just use a cookie cutter to make a bunch of circles, add some filling to half of them, and then glue the tops on with some water wiped around the edge and pinched tightly closed. (My favorite filling is ricotta cheese with bits of whatever leftover cheese I have in the fridge, with lots of black pepper and lemon zest. It is so good.)
9. To cook, add the past to salted boiling water and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, or until done. For stuffed pasta, I wait until it floats and then add another minute or two, depending on its size. You can also air-dry cut pasta by stringing it on racks or hangers; alternatively, stuffed and cut past can be frozen.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Here is how you can reduce the time by doing it with a stand mixer.
I have so many random photos on my phone of my adventures in pasta. The meal below was a raid-the-empty-kitchen scramble in which I made wide noodles and then smashed together a pesto of (thawed) frozen peas, mint that grows like mad in our garden, garlic, almonds, olive oil, some grated hard cheese and lemon zest. (Sometimes I cut the noodles very quickly and they are kind of messy, like here. I call it "rustic.")
For more technique ideas and inspiration, watch the demonstration below. And then go make some pasta!