When shaping noodles by machine or by hand, keep these entry-level pointers close for best results.

By Chris Malloy
June 02, 2020
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Rolling worthy pasta at home will likely take you a few attempts. That’s because the difference between silky goodness and sad doughy noodles is small, one measured in grams of flour, or in small inch fractions of tagliatelle thickness.

With a few tips, you can make perfect homemade pasta. Consider these pointers next time you make fresh pasta from scratch, whether by hand-crank machine or by hand. Incorporate them, and over time, the motions will pass into muscle memory. With the right knowledge, attitude, and practice, anyone can become a pasta pro. Once you've nailed your technique, read up on the best method for cooking pasta here.

Many pasta recipes call for semolina flour. This coarser flour has roots in Southern Italy and is very well suited to some pasta shapes, like orecchiette. But when you’re starting out, stick to AP flour or fine Italian 00 flour. These are more pliable when mixed with water and egg into dough, far easier to turn into finished pasta.

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In another pasta difference stemming primarily from geography, some pasta dough recipes call for egg, some don’t. Using egg yields a more elastic dough with a wider margin for error. When beginning down the fresh pasta road, be sure to use dough recipes with egg.

Once you’ve mixed your dough ingredients into a smooth, uniform mass, you’ll want to knead for another seven to 10 minutes. This may take some wrist stamina as the minutes tick by, but your efforts will be rewarded. Kneading massages gluten, producing deeper pasta tenderness in the end. After kneading, the general wisdom is to rest dough, covered in plastic wrap, for about 20 minutes or longer. Once this time has elapsed, you can start to shape your pasta.

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Warm pasta dough tears easily when thinned into noodles. Another set of problems arises when dough is too cold. Unwanted coldness might stem from pulling dough right from the fridge, or from using chilled flour. But it could also arise from your work surface. Countertops made of slab-like materials in the family of quartz and granite have a coolness that make dough harder to shape. If possible, avoid these surfaces. Better still, you can invest in a wooden pasta board (which makes for easier clean up). Don’t turn dough into pasta until it’s close to room temperature.

The main pitfall of homemade pasta is thickness. Thick pasta has an overly raw doughy bite that can’t be defeated by expert cooking or saucing or any magic trick of wine. Roll your flat-strand noodles as thin as printer paper. If using a hand-crank machine, try to progress at least to the "6" setting. Held close to your eyes, pasta sheets should be transparent. If you can see through, time to cut some noodles!

The sinking feeling that comes when luxurious nests of spaghetti glue together is agonizing. To keep finished noodles from clinging to one another, dust them with flour, even the more granular semolina flour. There are also pasta drying racks designed to keep noodles separate. These can be emulated by something like a well-placed (clean) broom.

Pasta demands heavily salted water. The wisdom is that this water, while boiling, imbues its salinity into the pasta, providing most of the salt it needs. Fresh pasta, however, cooks far faster than boxed, meaning fresh pasta has far less time to absorb salt from its boiling water. So when making fresh pasta, you’ll want to compensate for that lost salt through another source. Consider adding more salt to your sauce, or salt to taste before eating.