There is not much more simple and yet decadent as fresh pasta.
It’s one of those things you don’t ever think of making yourself, like mayonnaise or pie crust, but like mayonnaise and pie crust, once you do make it yourself you wonder why you don’t do it more often.
Sure, it takes about an hour or so and some elbow grease, but it requires only a few ingredients (all of which you probably have on hand) and cooks in a matter of seconds.
And the taste?
Let’s just say that if you’ve never had fresh pasta before, you’re missing out on a potentially life-changing experience.
I was lucky enough to have fresh pasta pretty often as a child, and since the beginning of time plain buttered noodles has been one of my favorite dishes. I remember coming home from school on pasta days so excited to get to crank the handle of our old Atlas pasta maker, first to flatten the ball of dough into a thin sheet, and then (my favorite part) cutting the sheets into noodles. It was always fettuccine, it was always doused in butter and served alongside meat and vegetables, and it was always heavenly.
After I left home, one of the gifts I received from my parents was an Atlas pasta maker and a photocopy of my mom’s pasta recipe from The Frugal Gourmet cookbook. I made that pasta recipe and only that pasta recipe for a long time, which insists on bread flour, a large amount of semolina flour, and olive oil in addition to eggs and salt. One day, however, several months ago, I misplaced my photocopy and was craving noodles, and I decided to see what the internet had to say about fresh pasta.
I ended up trying a recipe that only contained three ingredients — all-purpose flour, eggs, and salt — and to my surprise, the dough was a lot easier to work with than I was used to. The pasta was delicious (it’s kind of hard to make homemade pasta that isn’t), but it was missing the the nutty, full-flavored chewiness that I was so used to.
I finally found that photocopied recipe again, and looking it over, I surmised that the high protein content in the two flours used in my mom’s recipe, bread flour and semolina flour, were what created a deliciously lovely chew, but also made for a stiffer dough. As for the nutty full-flavoredness? It had to be coming from the semolina.
A quick side-explanation on flours from a self-professed flour geek: Semolina flour is essentially a coarser version of the superfine durum flour used to make conventional storebought pasta. It’s pale yellow, slightly nutty, and very high in protein compared to other flours. (Lowest to highest, the protein levels of various flours would go cake, pastry, all-purpose, bread, semolina.) Why not just use superfine durum flour like the big pasta manufacturers do, you ask? It’s impossible to find.
I had become spoiled on the ease of working with low-protein-flour pasta, but I missed the chew and flavor of my childhood pasta. So I decided to create the best of both worlds. I wondered if the bread flour was really necessary to get the flavor and chew I wanted, and I really wasn’t sure what the purpose of the olive oil was, so I left them out. Instead, I formulated a recipe using mostly all-purpose flour with a small amount of semolina flour added in — just enough to add flavor and increase the overall protein level of the dough, but not enough to be a pain to knead.
Makes 4-6 servings
You can find semolina flour in the bulk section of many natural food stores. You can also replace it in this recipe with an additional ½ cup (2 ⅛ ounces) of all-purpose flour. You’ll lose a bit of flavor and chew, but the result will still be delicious.
2 ⅓ cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (3 ¼ ounces) semolina flour
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 – 3 tablespoons water
Combine the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and salt in a small bowl.
Pour the contents of the bowl out onto a counter and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs directly into the well.
Begin kneading the dough with your hands until the eggs are worked into the flour. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the dough and continue kneading. At this point, you may have enough water in your dough, or you may need to add up to 2 tablespoons more. If you need to add more water, add it in ½ teaspoon increments until the dough holds together. I generally end up using a total of 2 tablespoons of water in the summer and 2 ½ tablespoons in the winter. Err more on the dryer side than the wetter side.
Continue kneading until the ball of dough is relatively smooth and no longer ragged. Shape the dough into a ball and leave it on the counter to rest for at least 30 minutes. (If you’re planning on waiting for more than a few hours, stick the ball of dough, covered, in the fridge. It should keep there for a day or so.)
If you’re using a pasta maker: Divide the dough into four even pieces. Press each piece of dough into a flat, oblong shape with your hands. Working with one piece of dough at a time, run the dough through the 0 setting of your pasta maker, then fold it up and run it through again. You’ll want to run the dough through the 0 setting a total of 5-10 times. Once your dough is properly laminated, you can begin running it through each numerical setting, one at a time (no skipping numbers!), until the dough is at your desired level of thickness. For me, that’s usually somewhere between 7 and 9. Set aside the rolled-out dough and repeat for the other pieces of dough.
If you’re not using a pasta maker: Divide the dough into eight even pieces. Press each piece of dough into a flat, oblong shape with your hands. Working with one piece of dough at a time, generously flour a countertop and begin rolling out the dough into a long shape. The goal is to get each piece of dough about 7 inches wide and 15 inches long. Set aside the rolled-out dough and repeat for the other pieces of dough.
Cut the rolled-out pasta into whatever shape you wish, either using a pasta maker attachment or with a knife.
Once your pasta is cut, you can let it dry at room temperature for an hour or so, then transfer it to a sealed container in the freezer for longer storage. Or you can give in to temptation and cook it right away. Fresh pasta should only take 2 minutes or so in a salted, boiling pot of water before it’s done.