You’ve got homemade pasta questions and we’ve got answers! Over the years, as we’ve taught our cooking classes, one thing has become abundantly clear: you all love making pasta as much as we do.
But, as you’ve tried your hand at making homemade pasta, you have come up with questions and asked for tips. Enter this homemade pasta making guide. It’s filled with tips for making pasta from scratch as well as a handful of pasta dough recipes and the pasta sauces to pair them with.
When we lead our group trips to Italy, we do a lot of hands-on cooking classes. By far, the pasta workshop is always the most popular and we understand: it’s a chance to make homemade fresh pasta in the motherland. But you don’t have to be in Italy to make great pasta — you just need to keep a few things in mind.
First, Get To Know Italian Pasta
Before you jump into making homemade pasta, here is some pasta background:
Northern Versus Southern Pasta
Across Italy there are countless types of pasta ranging from sheets to noodles to handmade and, of course, extruded shapes made by machines. Generally, you’ll find more eggs in pastas in Northern Italy and fewer to no eggs in pastas from the south. To know which are the most well-known pastas from each region of Italy, check out our map.
All Pastas Are Not Created Equal
Every region of Italy has a pasta it’s known for from Lombardy’s casoncelli and Tuscany’s gnudi to Umbria’s pici or Sicily‘s busiate and pretty much each one has a sauce it traditionally gets served with.
You don’t have to memorize them all. And, heck, you don’t have to pair the sauces and pastas as they do in Italy (though we encourage you to try it at least once). However, when you travel to Italy, it’s helpful to know the regional specialities so you know what to seek out.
Different Pasta Shapes For Different Sauces
The different pasta shapes are good at absorbing different types of sauce with shorter pastas (penne or cavatelli) “grabbing” onto sauce more than longer noodles. Also, pasta with ridges (think rigatoni) grab sauce better than smooth pasta.
Homemade Italian Pasta Ingredients
Before you dive into making pasta from scratch, you’ll need the best ingredients. We’ve gone over the classic Italian pantry ingredients you’ll want for delicious Italian food. But, if you’re making homemade pasta, here’s what you’ll want to make sure you have on hand:
The highest standard (and most regulated term) around olive oil is “extra virgin” — an indicator that the oil is free of defects and hasn’t been treated with chemicals or heat. You can read all about how to purchase olive oil and the best way to store it here. Due to the flavor and quality, we use extra virgin in all our Italian recipes including for making homemade pasta dough.
A coarsely ground wheat flour that is high in gluten, semolina is used a lot in Italian cooking — especially in pizza, pasta, and breads. Across Italy you’ll find homemade pasta recipes with all semolina, a mix of semolina and “00” flour, or a mixture of the two. We like to mix the two for our basic homemade pasta recipe as the semolina flour helps the pasta hold its shape and cook up to al dente texture.
This is an Italian flour that is milled so it’s finer (almost dusty) than most American flours. There can be a variety of types with some specifically for pizza and others for pastas so be sure to read the packaging!
If you don’t want to search out semolina or “00” flour, you can use all-purpose. Just be sure to buy a high quality one like the King Arthur brand. Using all-purpose flour for pasta can cause it to be harder to make by hand so you might want to use the food processor to make the dough and pasta machine when you shape it!
9 Keys For Making Homemade Pasta
Before you jump into the recipes, here are our 9 top tips for homemade pasta!
Start With An Easy Homemade Pasta Recipe
If you’ve never made pasta by hand before, we encourage you to start with our Basic Italian Pasta Dough. This is a recipe that’s easy to work with and forgiving so you can patch it together if you make any mistakes.
Make The Dough By Hand
Yes, you can make the dough in a food processor or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, but we encourage you to make it by hand. The reason is that the pasta dough will vary depending on your climate. If you make it by hand, it will be easier to know if you need to add more flour or water. Whereas, if you make it in a food processor, you not only can’t tell that but also it may get overworked in the machine.
Start With Less Flour
Generally, start by making a wetter dough because it’s easier to add more flour than it is to add water. We suggest you start kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface and only add more if it is really sticking to your hands. Know that the more you work it, the less sticky it will become so try to work with it for a couple minutes before adding flour. And be sparing with the flour because you don’t want the final pasta to be caked in flour!
Spritz Or Dampen Your Hands To Add Water
If you live in a drier climate, you might find the pasta to be too dry and crumbly for you to work with. We suggest you keep a spray bottle nearby so you can spritz the dough a few times to help hydrate it. Additionally (or alternatively), you can wash your hands halfway through kneading and then not dry them and just work the dough with your damp hands to help incorporate more hydration.
Knead (And Rest) The Dough Longer Than You Think
The longer you knead the dough, the better the gluten and the easier it’ll be to roll out later. You’ll want to knead the dough until the surface is lightly dimpled (some say it looks like cellulite) like you see in the picture above. Once it’s reached that stage, cover it with a kitchen towel and rest it at least 15 to 30 minutes before shaping it for best results!
Use A Pasta Maker
Yes, you can totally make the pasta by hand with a rolling pin and that’s a great skill to learn. However, if you’re going to make it regularly, we encourage you to invest in either a KitchenAid Pasta Attachment Kit or the classic Imperia Pasta Machine to help make quicker and more consistent work of it.
Roll The Dough To Desired Thickness
Plain and simple the thinner you can roll the dough the better. Most pasta makers would encourage you to roll the pasta until it’s thin enough that you can see your hand (or even read) through the dough. When you’re first starting out, you can roll it slightly thicker so it’s easier to work with — to say setting 5 or 6 on the KitchenAid attachment.
Let The Formed Pasta Cure
Read enough about pasta and you’ll hear people say it needs to “cure.” Essentially the idea is that you let the shaped pasta dry out ever so slightly (say 10 to 30 minutes) so that it holds its shape well once it’s cooked.
Brush Off Excess Flour
Finally use a dry pastry brush to remove any excess flour before you cook it. This will prevent the pasta from being overly dry or gummy. It’s particularly important if you’re going to form the pasta into a shape like ravioli because you don’t want loads of flour stuck between the pasta layers.
4 Tips For Storing And Cooking Homemade Pasta
Freeze Formed Pasta To Hold Shape
You can cover the fresh pasta with a kitchen towel and leave at room temp if you’re going to cook it that day. Otherwise, freeze it on a baking sheet then, once frozen, transfer to an airtight container for up to a month. This helps it stay fresh and hold its shape when it cooks!
Or Cook It In Advance
If you’re throwing a big party or making a dish like Lasagne alla Bolognese, you might want to (or need to) cook the pasta in advance. To do so, you can cook it once it’s formed and then store the cooked pasta coated in olive oil in plastic wrap or plastic bags. The only thing about this is that you want to try and not fold the cooked pasta too much or it might take on a folded form while it’s stored. This is not advised when you are serving the pasta with a delicate sauce as it might make the sauce slide off. However, it works great for something like a lasagna.
Cook Fresh Pasta Briefly
One of the biggest mistakes we see homemade pasta beginners make is that they cooke it too long. The cooking time for fresh pasta is just a minute or two or until the pasta loses it’s raw flour taste.
For any/all frozen homemade pasta (be it lasagna, gnocchi, etc) you can just drop it in the boiling water while it’s still frozen. It will take slightly longer to cook but, with the lasagna sheets, you’re really only looking to have it not have a raw flour taste and be pliable and bright green as it’ll continue to cook in the oven.
Don’t Drain Fresh Pasta — Use Tongs!
Don’t drain fresh pasta in a colander or it might stick together. Instead pull the pasta from the water with tongs and place it directly in the sauce you want to serve it with!
5 Homemade Pasta Recipes
Ready to give it a go? Here are five of our favorite homemade pasta recipes to get you started:
- Easy: Homemade Cavatelli Pasta Recipe
- Easy: Basic Italian Egg Pasta Dough Recipe
- Intermediate: Herb, Ricotta, And Cheese Ravioli Pasta Recipe
- Intermediate: Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Balsamic-Sage Brown Butter Sauce Recipe
- Advanced: Casoncelli (aka Casonsei) Pasta With Pancetta Brown Butter Sage Sauce Recipe
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