Home-made pasta might seem like the kind of cooking that you need special training and equipment for – far too complicated for a home cook. However, pasta originates from the home cooks of Italy, where they’ve been making pasta with no fuss – and machines no more complex than a rolling pin – for hundreds of years.
To make pasta at home, all you need is flour, eggs and a rolling pin. If you have a food processor and a pasta-rolling machine, the process is a bit quicker, but this equipment is definitely not necessary.
Basic pasta dough
You will need:
600g of cake flour
Either 12 egg yolks or 6 whole eggs. (Using only yolks will make your pasta richer and darker, but will leave you with 12 whites. Unless you have a plan to use up the egg whites, it’s better to go with 6 whole eggs.)
Break your egg/egg yolks into a bowl and whisk them with a fork.
Make sure you have a clean, clear space on your countertop, and pour the flour into a heap. Make a deep well in the centre of the heap, large enough to hold all the eggs without the edges of the well breaking. Pour the eggs into the well, and then start to slowly combine the flour and eggs by moving your fingertips around the edge of the well in a circular motion. Slowly incorporate the flour from the well’s edge into the eggs. As the mixture in the well thickens, you’ll have to stir a bit more vigorously, and when the mixture isn’t runny anymore you can start sweeping larger clumps of flour into it to combine. The mixture will become crumbly towards the end, which is as it should be.
Note: You can also whizz the ingredients in a food processor until crumbly.
Once you’ve fully combined the flour and eggs, start to knead the crumbly mixture, pushing and folding the dough as you knead. The kneading is very important – it transforms the crumbly mixture into a ball of smooth, elastic dough. Working the dough also develops the gluten in the flour, and the gluten is what gives pasta its firm shape and bite. If you don’t knead enough, you’ll end up with soft, flabby pasta, so make sure you knead for a good long while until the dough is really smooth, soft and shiny. It can take as long as fifteen minutes, so be patient and enjoy the meditative quality of kneading.
Once your dough is smooth and not sticky, cover the ball of dough in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
Rolling and shaping
If you have a stand mixer with a pasta shape attachment, you can make a variety of shapes like macaroni or penne, but if you are going with 100% handmade pasta, you’re probably better off with something simpler, such as lasagne sheets, linguine, tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle or ravioli.
Start by dusting your countertop with flour. Divide the ball of dough in half, cover one half with a damp dishcloth, and place the other half on the floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out as thinly as possible. This takes a bit of time and elbow grease, since pasta dough is quite firm and doesn’t like to be rolled. If you have a pasta rolling and cutting machine, follow the instructions and roll it out accordingly. When you think you’ve rolled the pasta thin enough, roll a little more just to make sure – it must be thin enough to practically see through.
Cut the pasta up into large rectangles for lasagne, for example. If you’d like tagliatelle, pappardelle or fettuccine, roll the sheet of pasta up like a sheet of parchment, and use a very sharp knife to slice the roll into thin strips for linguine, slightly wider for tagliatelle, medium width for fettuccine, or very wide strips for pappardelle. Repeat with the remaining dough.
To make ravioli, cut your sheet in half, dollop spoonfuls of filling evenly spaced on one half of the sheet, and then place the other sheet on top and press down gently but firmly around the spoonfuls of filling. Use a very sharp knife to cut out squares around each heap of filling, or use a round cookie cutter.
Drying, freezing or cooking
If you don’t boil your pasta immediately (for about 3 minutes in salty water), you can dry it for cooking later.
To dry the pasta, dust generously with flour and leave it out for a few hours. You can twist long strips into loose coils, or layer lasagne sheets on top of one another with lots of flour in between. Store the dried pasta in airtight containers until you’re ready to cook it. For the filled pasta, leave the pasta pockets out to dry before placing them on a baking tray and sliding it into the freezer.
When the pasta pockets have frozen solid, toss them into a freezer-safe bag or container and keep them for up to three months.
Additions and variations
Once you’ve made the basic pasta recipe a few times and feel comfortable, you can start to experiment with additions and variations. Traditional colourings include spinach for green pasta and tomato for red pasta, or you could try something different like beetroot for pink pasta. Alternatively, you could make pretty and flavourful speckled pasta by adding lots of chopped herbs to the dough, or even attempt spiced pasta. Do some research on the hundreds of different pasta shapes and try your hand at folding and twisting dough into some interesting ones; or you could even invent your own shapes.
By Emma-Kate Liebenberg