August 6, 2009

Technique: Egg Pasta Dough


I have home-cured bacon. How can I not make a carbonara sauce? But first, I need some pasta to put it on.

If you've never made egg pasta, it really isn't as hard as you might think. It may not be as easy as Mario Batali makes it look on Iron Chef America, but it's easy nonetheless.

Pasta 1The recipe is about as simple as it can get: one egg and ½ cup of flour per portion. I find it's best to add a portion for the table, so if you have four for dinner, make five portions. That way you have an abundance.

You can make it in a bowl if you wish, or mix it with a mixer. I prefer to use a fork and just make a mess on the counter since the counter is going to get messy anyway.

Pasta 2The type of flour isn't particularly critical. All purpose flour makes excellent pasta, as does any other flour. My preference is about 1 part semolina flour to 2 parts all purpose flour. Semolina flour makes pasta nicely toothy, but too much semolina is really hard to work unless you're using a high-power pasta machine. Many dried pastas are made with 100% semolina flour.

Pasta 3To roll out the dough, I generally use the Kitchen Aid pasta roller set. Manual pasta machines work well, but you need to be able to clamp them to the table or counter or you'll never be able to roll out your pasta. You can also roll out the dough by hand, but be prepared for some serious rolling time.

To get started, roughly measure the flour. Honestly, if you're close, you're just fine. No precision required here. Then add the eggs.

Pasta 4Start breaking up the eggs with a fork, and pull in flour from the edges until you realize that you aren't making any more progress. Then clean off the fork and knead the dough by hand until it all comes together and you can form a nice ball of pasta dough. It'll feel a bit rough. Cover that ball and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. If you want to let it rest longer, use a damp towel to cover it.

Pasta 5When you're ready to roll the dough, divide it into whatever number of finished portions you're making. Using one portion at a time, roll it out.

The first pass through the pasta machine doesn't seem to do much, but that's okay. Just use flour liberally, keep folding the dough into thirds or quarters, and pass it through the rollers again.

After several passes through the rollers the texture and color will change. The dough becomes lighter in color and begins to feel silky. That's when you start to adjust the setting on the roller to make the pasta thinner. With the Kitchen Aid attachment I generally get to 5. The same setting on a manual machine isn't as thin, but it's about as thin as I ever manage to get the dough.

Pasta 6The goal is to be able to see your hand through the dough. Sometimes it tears. If it does, just fold it up, back the roller up one setting, and continue rolling. If the pasta feels a bit sticky, dust it with flour.

When you're satisfied that your dough is silky smooth and pale enough, it's time to cut or shape it. The sheets you're making are perfect for lasagna, ravioli, or even tortellini.

Pasta 7If you cut the pasta you'll want to hang it somewhere to let it dry a bit. Those handy bars around counters that you thought were for towels are actually built-in pasta dryers! Be sure to clean and flour them liberally.

There are two things I've never seen explained in pasta recipes that can cause disasters. The first is that cut pasta can re-fuse itself if you don't separate the strands rather quickly and flour them liberally; the resulting lump can be unpleasant. The second is that you really only want to let it dry a few minutes before moving it from the drying rack to a sheet pan. If you happily let the pasta hang on that handy rack it will shatter when you try to get it off and put it in the pot. Trust me, I've done it. The best flour for dusting the finished pasta is white rice flour, but all purpose flour works fine.

When you're ready to cook the pasta, be prepared because it cooks much faster than dried pasta. You should salt the water to the point that it tastes like the Mediterranean Sea, but never use oil. Also, the water must be at a rolling boil and the pot must be large.

Add one portion of pasta to the water. As soon as it floats to the surface it's done. Very thin pastas can cook in 30 seconds; the fettuccine made for this post took about 2 minutes. Use tongs to pull it out, or if you have one, cook it in a pasta basket.

Once you've made fresh egg pasta you'll be reluctant to buy dried pasta again, and you'll find that most "fresh" pasta you can buy just doesn't measure up. There's a bit of investment to get going, but you will not regret it once you've tasted your first homemade pasta.


  1. Excellent post! I've been drooling over the meal you posted a few days ago and decided to make the whole thing for dinner tonight. I've been using the Ratio pasta recipe but I'm having a lot of trouble cutting the pasta in my pasta machine (I use a manual one clamped to my counter) - the strands stick together and I have to pull them apart individually, which takes forever. I'm assuming the dough is too wet (humidity issues?). Maybe I'll skip the scale today and try the dry measuring instead.

  2. Thanks!

    If the dough seems wet use flour liberally. It will start out sticky but get better as you work it with the rollers. The one thing you won't need to worry about is using too much flour while rolling.

    I find that it's best to work with a small batch when rolling. Too much dough makes for real difficulty, so I always try for no more than one portion. Rolling and cutting the pasta takes more time than anything else, so just plan on it taking too long and you'll be fine.

    Good luck!

  3. MAN! You are reading my mind!!! This is exactly the next thing I was going to do now that my bacon is starting to diminsh as I eat it with everything (ok, that is probably an exageration).

    Its VERY important to let it rest...I see so many people in the begining try to skip this step, with terrible textured pasta later.

    I combine my ingredients with a small processor, and when it comes together like a pie crust dough, or biscuit dough, loose crumbly mixture but can be mashed together to make a solid...thats when I knead it by hand.

    I have not had a hard time cutting the pasta with my manual machine, I keep things well floured.

    Also, I am on my third pasta machine because I keep giving them away...but this time I found one that was a little wider and not anymore expensive than the widest setting starts at 7 and goes down to 1, no reason to use 1 unless you are making angel hair...I have had years of experience with the manual one so I still may not make it look as smooth as Mario, but I am pretty proficient.

    I also use to make naan & pita bread, just roll out at wider settings.

    Here's a dessert you can try that I used at a special lunch function couple years ago when catering...

    Make your own chocolate truffles, then make pasta dough, put a whole or half (freeze truffle and cut in half) spaced out on the pasta sheets and cover with another pasta sheet and cut out your chocolate 'ravioli' and then deep fry...we used a little 'pool' of Crème anglaise in the bottom of the dish, then placed the fried chocolate truffle ravioli on top, drizzle with a little raspberry coulis...

    Sorry for the long post, just got excited about the Carbonara using our cured bacon and fresh pasta. Feel free to edit it, and/or I think I have a link to an old post of mine for the ravioli if your interested.

  4. Great stuff! Thanks, Tyrone. Please add a link to your ravioli post. I'm sure others would like to read it as well.

  5. Thanks! After going back to look at it, I didn't really add any recipes but there is/was a slide show to give a better visual of what I was talking about...

  6. Fresh pasta is the best - hands down!!! But, can you store fresh pasta before boiling or does it need to be used immediately?

  7. You can store it, but not for too long. Carefully dust the pasta with white rice flour to keep the strands from sticking together, then store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or other container. You shouldn't try to keep it more than one day, though, because it contains raw eggs. If you need to keep it longer, cook it right away, store the cooked pasta, and keep some of the pasta water. You can refresh it in a microwave with some of the pasta water.

  8. Question!! I was always told that the type of flour was of utmost importance when making pasta like the 0 type or as you said semolina..i didn;t think you could use all purpose.

  9. You may find that you prefer all semolina flour, but it is not necessary. I used all purpose and semolina in the pasta in the photograph. It was delicious! I've made egg pasta dough many times using all purpose flour without any problems. The flavor and texture change depending on the flour you use, but also seasonally because of the variations in eggs. For that matter, humidity changes pasta's texture. I've even made the dough using Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all purpose flour without any real problems.

  10. I really enjoy your site! I've never made fresh pasta, but they say it's very good. Thank you for sharing these wonderful dishes.

  11. [...] 3. Brought it to a simmer, adjusted the seasoning, then forgot about it for awhile. Made some noodles using a simple ratio of 1 egg + ½ cup of flour per portion. I used 50% semolina and 50% [...]

  12. I've made my pasta at home with King Arthur Flour's White Wheat. It's a thirsty flour, so more liquid will be needed at the initial mixing to get it to come together properly. I've used it in a manual roller without cutting it into strands to make homemade whole wheat pasta sheets for lasagna and for a spinach ravioli. Yum.

    You're right - just can't handle the idea of going back to dried, boxed pasta! Now, if only I could afford the Kitchen Aid extruders for making noodles!