Monday, September 26, 2011

Homemade Pasta and Noodles

homemade noodles, black background

Machines Make Homemade Pasta Easier

Homemade pasta and noodles are incredibly tasty — and relatively easy to make if you use a food processor and a pasta machine. 

Some will argue that mixing the dough and rolling it out by hand produces a more toothsome result.  And they may be right.  But unless you’re ready to make a batch of pasta every day for weeks on end to acquire the skill and muscle memory you need for this exercise, well, using machines in your kitchen is the way to go.


homemade noodles, black background

Pasta Versus Noodles:  A Brief Note on Terminology

In this recipe, I use the terms “pasta” and “noodles” more or less interchangeably.  In fact, however, the two have somewhat different meanings.

“Pasta” is an Italian word.  And when we think of pasta, most of us picture well-known Italian dishes like spaghetti and ziti.  Pasta can be fresh or dried.  Fresh pasta (like that featured in this recipe) is usually made with eggs, while dried pasta almost never contains eggs (because eggless varieties can be stored for much longer).  Dried pasta comes in a range of shapes (including tubes, shells, and bow ties).

Noodles have a more eclectic provenance than “pasta.”  They are common in many European cuisines (the English word probably derives from the German “nudel”) and in Asian cooking.  We in America tend to picture noodles as being long and flat like fettuccine, or flat and short, like egg noodles.  But in fact they, like pasta, can come in a variety of shapes (think spätzle, for instance).  

The recipe I present here describes how to make homemade pasta that you will roll out and cut into a long, flat shape that we Americans associate with noodles.  OK, got that?

Recipe:  Homemade Pasta or Noodles

Since this is a recipe for fresh, homemade pasta, it calls for eggs. You can make homemade pasta without eggs, but it’s less rich and less satisfying.

The recipe assumes you have a food processor and a hand-cranked pasta machine (Atlas is a common brand). Rolling out pasta dough with a manual pasta machine isn’t effortless. But once you learn how to operate the machine, it’s a fairly simple process. You can buy home-style electric extrusion pasta makers, but they are a pain to clean. And they produce inferior pasta, IMO.

This recipe yields just under a pound of fresh pasta, which is enough for 3 to 4 entrée servings, or 6 (maybe 8) appetizer servings. You can easily double or triple this recipe. Note that fresh pasta doesn’t yield quite as many servings as an equal weight of dried pasta. I’ve adapted this recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Pasta Dough Mixed to Granular Stage
Ingredients
  • 2 cups flour (about 10 ounces; regular all-purpose flour is ideal)
  • salt (very optional; about a teaspoon)
  • 3 "large" eggs (consider using pasteurized eggs; see notes)
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of water, if necessary
  • additional flour, if necessary
Procedure for Mixing Dough
  1. Add flour to bowl of food processor fitted with its metal blade.  If using salt, add it and whirl the food processor for a second to mix flour and salt.
  2. Add eggs (you don’t need to whisk them first) and run food processor for about 30 seconds.  At this point the dough may begin to form a ball on top of the blades (it often does not).  If the dough has formed a ball, you’re done (but if there is more than a little dough sticking to the side of the food processor, add a tablespoon of flour and whirl again – you want a nice dry dough that isn’t sticky).  More likely, the dough will be in granular particles.  Squeeze a bit of dough together with your fingertips; if the dough forms together, you’re done.  If not, add a bit of water, whirl again, and repeat the squeeze test. 
  3. When you have a dough that will just mass together, dump it out on a clean surface (you can flour the surface, but there’s no need to if you have the correct amount of liquid for your dough).  With your hands, form it into a rectangle about ¾-inch thick (you may have to do some kneading in order to get the dough to stick together).  Add a bit of water if the dough doesn’t come together; add flour if the dough is too wet.  Form the dough into a nice, smooth packet (see picture).
  4. Cut the dough into 4 pieces, wrap each piece in cling wrap, and let them rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour (3 – 4 hours is better; I often make the dough in the morning, then the noodles at night).  Allowing the dough to rest helps relax the gluten; more importantly, it helps the liquid in the dough fully hydrate the flour. 
  5. After the dough has rested, you’ll be ready for the next step:  rolling out the dough and cutting the noodles using the pasta machine.

pasta dough
Pasta Dough Ready to be Cut Into 4 Pieces
Procedure for Forming the Dough & Noodles
  1. Set up your pasta machine (you need more clamping force than you might think in order to keep the machine immobile while you’re rolling the pasta).  Lay 2 or 3 clean dish towels on a flat surface (you’ll be resting the formed dough on these). 
  2. Remove pasta from refrigerator, and unwrap one of the packets.  Using the heel of your hand, flatten the pasta to make it thinner. 
  3. Put the pasta machine rollers on their widest setting (usually number 1) and feed the pasta through them.  What emerges from your first pass will bear no resemblance to a sheet of pasta!  Rather, it will be an ill-formed shape of dough that may barely hold together.  No matter; fold the dough over on itself, and feed through the machine again.  Repeat until you have a nicely smooth-textured rectangle of dough.  If the dough sticks during this process, dust it with just enough flour to unstick it.
  4. Narrow the rollers one notch (number 2 on my machine) and crank the pasta through again.  You’ll notice the pasta is now longer and smoother.
  5. Keep narrowing the rollers and cranking the pasta through until you reach the second-to-last setting on your machine.  If at any point the pasta tears or blisters, set the machine back one number, fold the pasta over on itself as you did for the widest setting, and run it through once or twice.
  6. The second-to-last setting produces a noodle that I think is a good thickness for many recipes.  However, if you prefer a thinner noodle, run the dough through on the last setting (the noodles in the pictures were run through on the thinnest setting).  If the dough gets too long for you to handle at any point, cut it in half.
  7. When your first piece of dough is formed, set it on a towel to relax and dry somewhat.  (It’s easier to cut the noodles if you let the rolled-out dough dry a bit.)  Repeat the rolling process with the remaining packets of dough.
  8. Once you’ve formed the dough sheets and they have had a chance to dry for at least 5 minutes, it’s time to cut the noodles.  Put the noodle attachment on the pasta machine (most machines come with a dual head that will cut both fettuccine-width noodles and a thinner width reminiscent of spaghetti).  Feed the dough through the fettuccine-width noodle cutter (if you’re using the machine for the first time, this setting is easier to work with).  Voilà, noodles!
  9. Lay the noodles out on a towel, separating them so they don’t stick together.  (If you have one of those wooden noodle dryers with rods for holding the noodles, you can use that instead).  Feed the rest of the dough through the noodle cutter to form noodles.
  10. When you’re finished, clean the machine.  I never wash it – rather, I use paper towels to wipe off flour and bits of dough.
  11. You can cook the noodles now, or let them rest (if you’re using eggs that aren’t pasteurized, you may want to put the noodles in the refrigerator; see notes).  I usually let noodles rest for an hour or so before cooking.
  12. When you cook the noodles, salt the water heavily (about a tablespoon per gallon).  They’ll cook very quickly – anywhere from 30 to 120 seconds, depending on how long you’ve let them dry.  I usually fish a noodle out starting around 45 seconds and take a bite to see if it’s done.  I cook until the noodles are al dente.
homemade pasta noodles drying on towel
Noodles Drying on Towel

Notes

  • Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. And, as Harold McGee points out in On Food and Cooking, when you’re working with pasta dough, it may be at room temperature for prolonged periods — the perfect salmonella-breeding temperature (the “safe” temperature zones are under 40 degrees or over 140 degrees Fahrenheit). So I suggest you use pasteurized eggs when making fresh pasta. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? If you use unpasteurized eggs, you may want to refrigerate the noodles after you make them.
  • You can easily identify pasteurized eggs because they have a red “P” stamped on them.
  • Because you’re using a food processor and a pasta machine, your dough should be bit drier than it would be if you were hand-rolling noodles. (Wetter dough tends to stick more, which is annoying when you use a pasta machine, but easily handled when rolling by hand.) That’s why this recipe calls for a bit less liquid than some other recipes you may see. However, because there’s “just enough” liquid in this recipe, it’s critical that you refrigerate the dough for at least an hour (3 to 4 hours is better) so the flour can fully absorb all the liquid.
  • If you don’t want to cut the dough into noodles, you can use it to make ravioli or lasagna.
  • If you replace one of the eggs with an ounce or two of spinach, you make green pasta.
  • If you don't want to use eggs in your pasta, you can substitute about 6 ounces of water.
  • You can add black pepper or another spice (chile powder is particularly tasty) to make a flavored pasta. 
homemade noodles, black background
Homemade Pasta vs. Store Bought

If you’re making a dish that calls for fresh pasta, the homemade version detailed in this recipe will work well.  It will certainly taste better than most store-bought “fresh” pastas, particularly the overpriced stuff in sealed plastic containers sold in many grocery stores.  However, if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy freshly made pasta directly from a pasta maker (and there are artisan pasta makers all over the country), that’s a different story – their pasta is likely to be marvelous.

Good as fresh pasta is, it’s not ideal for all recipes.  Many traditional dishes taste better with dry pasta.  Spaghetti and meat balls, for example.  And some of the shapes available as dry pasta (shells, for example, or any of the tubular varieties) are impossible for most home cooks to reproduce.  Recipes will generally specify what style/type of pasta is appropriate.

One dish where fresh pasta is a must is Fettuccine Alfredo.  Which we’ll discuss later this week.

You may also be interested in reading about:

Fettuccine Alfredo
Pasta Cacio e Pepe
Pasta with Quick Tomato and Bacon Sauce
Old-School Macaroni and Cheese
 Pasta Puttanesca

6 comments:

  1. There's nothing like homemade pasta! Back in New York I have a pasta maker attachment for my kitchenaid stand mixer - I miss it!! Your pasta/noodles look awesome.

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    1. I have a tiny kitchen with no where to roll out anything or attach a crank pasta maker. i use the meat grinder. it makes nice round noodles.

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    2. Hi auntyem, the meat grinder is a really interesting idea! I don't think I've seen pasta made that way before. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Hi Katherine, I agree that homemade pasta is terrific. Sorry you don't have access to your Kitchenaid pasta attachment - maybe you'll have to learn to roll out the pasta by hand! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I just made this and it was delicious. Thank you so much and I will use this recipe in the future.

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    1. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your kind words, and your comment.

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