Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to make Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is a staple at Food Night. Why? It’s easy. It’s economical. It’s delicious. It’s wine friendly. It’s incredibly versatile. It’s the star of the show, or it’s a perfect background vocalist. It cooks up quickly. Need I go on?

And for cripes sake, you can make fresh pasta with two ingredients… eggs and flour. TWO ingredients are all you technically need, so yes, you can do this. And you SHOULD do this, which is kind of the whole point of whole post. Not only is the end product incredibly satisfying and delicious, but making fresh pasta quenches your inner child’s fingerpainting and play-doh mashing desires. It’s fun to get your hands into your food – assuming you have clean hands, of course.

So here is how Food Night has been making fresh pasta lately. I say “lately” because until recently, Food Night would use chicken eggs to make fresh pasta dough. After all, nothing wrong with a nice organic free range chicken egg, right? However, on a recent trip to the incredibly inspiring and wonderful Heartland Farm Direct Market* in downtown St. Paul, Peder recommended these duck eggs to me...

That night, I put them to use in a fresh pasta dough. How did it go? Well, I haven’t used a chicken egg to make pasta since.

*Post coming on the Heartland Market. If you live in the Twin Cities, and you like to cook (and if you are reading this I have to believe at least ONE of those things is true…… ) you simply must go to Heartland’s Market, pictured below. More later.

What follows is what I’m calling Food Night’s recipique* for…

*Recipique [Res-eh-PEAK] – a combination of the words “recipe” and “technique”, meaning that the recipe amounts should not be taken TOO literally, and that there is probably as much importance in the “HOW” vs the “how much” part of the recipe. If we wanted to be exacting here, we’d weigh everything and give you an exact recipe featuring X grams of egg yolks and Y grams of flour, etc. But, alas, that has not happened here. Thanks for understanding. Plus, this recipique will make you think and read and react to your dough. And it’s how I imagine little Italian grandmothers made pasta dough. So channel your inner child and your inner little Italian grandmother and make some pasta from scratch already.

Duck Egg Pasta Dough
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
3 duck egg yolks, procured from Heartland’s Market
1 whole duck egg
3 finger pinch salt
Small drizzle olive oil

NOTE; If you must, use chicken eggs. If the yolks are normal sized chicken egg yolks, toss in an extra one. The duck egg yolks are quite substantial. I’ve never seen a chicken egg yolk as big as one of these duck egg yolks. Food Night wants you to make fresh pasta, because you CAN. So don’t let a lack of duck eggs stand between you and your fresh pasta.

1). Mound flour. Make a well in the center of the mound.

2). Place remaining ingredients in the well.

3). Using two fingers, bust up yolks, and stir with said fingers, incorporating flour into the mixture gradually. If you are simultaneously taking pictures of this process, it would help to either grow a third arm, or have someone else take the pictures. Either is fine.

Continue incorporating...

4). THIS STEP IS BASICALLY THE KEY TO THE ENTIRE PROCESS. Hence, the capital letters. They signify “importance”.

After you combine most of the flour into the eggs, the mixture should be getting thicker, and resemble something like this...

At this point, use your hands and a pasta scraper to collapse the well, sort of cutting the flour into the wet mass that is forming …

… and form a ball with the dough, leaving say a scant ¼ cup of extra flour on the board to add to the dough if needed. Understand that as you form this ball initially, the dough will be sticky, so it helps to have a pasta scraper to remove wet dough from your fingers and the board to add to the ball.

IMPORTANT: Don’t force more flour into the eggs than the eggs want. If you are making ravioli, I like the dough to be a little wetter, more flexible. If you are just making noodles, the dough can be a little drier. But, it’s ALWAYS ALWAYS easier to add flour to a wet dough than it is to add moisture to a dry dough.

If your dough is quite wet, add some of the leftover flour here. You are looking for a ball of dough that is workable (not so dry that it resists kneading). Once you gather it all up it should look something vaguely like this…

5). Flatten out the ball of dough with the heels of your hands, then form it back into a ball, and repeat. Again. And again. And again. And..... again. This process usually takes several minutes. In the summer, sweat forms on my brow. This is not cooking for sissies. But you aren’t a sissy so, no worries.

Maybe you need more flour here too, could happen. Has happened. Read... and react. As you knead, the dough should begin to take on a uniformly smooth texture and appearance. What you are after is a smooth dough…

… that passes the “spring back” test. As in, when formed into a ball that looks like the above, if you drag your finger across the dough, does it “spring back” into shape. If it doesn’t, if the dough just sits there like a stuck pig when you poke it, knead some more, understanding that you basically can’t overwork the dough. If the dough is relatively lively, elastic, and bounces back fairly well, you are done. Wrap the dough tightly in several layers of plastic wrap, let it stand on the counter 30 minutes (or in the fridge for up to a day), then move on to the final step.

6). Pass the dough through pasta machine.

I use a pasta scraper to segment off about 1/3 of this ball of dough. Trying to pass much more than that through the machine tends to get unwieldy as the pasta sheet gets thinner and thinner and longer and longer. Flatten out that chunk of dough you separated with the palm of your hand, then pass it through the pasta machine according to your manufacturer’s instructions…

I finish on my machine’s #6 setting of the thickness (or would it be thinness…). Setting #8 is the thinnest setting on my machine, if that helps at all. #6 seems about right for most pasta applications.

If you lack a pasta machine, you get to roll it out by hand like your inner little Italian grandmother (let me know how it goes, as I’ve never tried it).

At this point – you can cut your sheets in to whatever shape noodle you want. Boil them up in heavily salted water until al dente (which will only take a minute or two) and toss with your favorite sauce/oil/fixins/what-have-you.

Or, you could make………

UP NEXT; Goat Cheese Ravioli


  1. You make this a totally can-do situation. I'm headed to the HM, and am going to drudge up the attachment. Love this post!

  2. I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharing.
    Macchina pasta fresca