One of the myths I keep having to dispel is that Italians make fresh pasta at home several times a week. When I was a single woman living in New York City, a couple of hopeful suitors actually seemed to vanish into thin air after I broke the news that I mostly stuck with the dry, boxed kind.
But that’s just because, like a good vintage wine, homemade lasagna and fettuccine nowadays are usually reserved for special occasions: they are the “little black dress” of pasta, a must at any Italian holiday meal, celebration or family reunion. And while a bit messy and time-consuming for today’s hectic lifestyle, they are not that hard to make, especially if you own a pasta machine or the Kitchen Aid attachment (at least once, though, try the rolling pin method: when rolled with a wooden pin on a wooden surface – or an old tablecloth – pasta will come out with a rougher texture that will blow your mind when you see how well it “grabs” the sauce).
Just as each Italian region has its own dialect, it also has its own type of pasta: it’s not only the shape that changes, but also the proportions of eggs and flour. While in some parts of the South even fresh pasta is made without eggs, in most of Tuscany one egg or 1½ is used for each pound of flour (and a bit of water).
In Emilia Romagna (the land of the famous ragú meat sauce), the eggs are four and whole; in Veneto, mostly yolks (about 5); and in Piedmont, up to 15 yolks (!). The one tricky part is that, unlike baking, pasta is more of an art than a science, and the amount of flour needed will vary depending on the humidity, the temperature, and of course the weight of the eggs, which will result in a bit of trial and error.
- Prep Time
- 2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or pastry flour, (more for dusting)
- 3 eggs (room temperature)
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Place the flour in a large bowl; make a hole in the middle and add the eggs, the water and a big pinch of salt salt.
2. Start incorporating the eggs and water going from the inside out, then start kneading until it forms a mass.
3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured board and knead for 8 minutes. Add the oil and knead for 1 more minute.
4. Wrap in plastic, and let rest for 40 minutes at room temperature before rolling with a rolling pin or a manual pasta machine on the widest setting.
5. Cut the dough into 8 pieces: run each piece through the machine, then fold in half and do it again, moving to narrower settings after 2 passes and continuing to dust with flour to prevent sticking, until pasta sheet is nice and thin. If rolling with the rolling pin, keep folding the pieces in half and re-rolling, adding flour to prevent the dough from sticking, till the pasta is thin enough.
Variations - Make colored pasta
Red/Orange: add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste diluted in one tablespoon water to the dough.
Green: Steam or microwave 1⁄2 lb. spinach (or 1⁄4 lb. frozen spinach) until soft, squeeze the water out, process in a blender or food processor until very fine and add to the dough. If too wet, add a little flour.
Brown: Add 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa.
Speckled herb pasta: Add about 5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (mix basil, mint, sage, parsley, etc.).
Fancy: If you roll the pasta super- thin with the machine, you can place a few basil leaves or organic rose petals between two sheets after brushing the sheets with little water and egg white as needed.
Yellow: Add 1⁄2 teaspoon ground saffron or turmeric diluted in 1 or 2 teaspoons warm water.
Pink/Purple: Add 1 or 2 cooked beets, processed.