August 6, 2009
Technique: Egg Pasta Dough
by Gareth Mark
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.
The 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.
The 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.
To 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.
Start 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.
When 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.
The 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.
If 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.