Before Christmas, Speedy and Alex were at the neighborhood baking supply store, and they chanced upon a pasta machine that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Speedy bought it as a Christmas gift for us, the cooks in the house. Aware that pasta making entails a learning curve, we deferred trying the pasta machine until after the holidays when life usually slowed down to a normal pace. A few days ago, I made pasta dough with eggs and flour, and learned the truth about homemade pasta.
Yes, Homemade Pasta is Different
Yes, that is homemade pasta in the photos. Yes, it tastes superior to commercial pasta. Even the texture is different. Operative word? Eggs. Commercial pasta, the kind you pick up from the grocery shelf, is made without eggs. When you’ve tasted homemade pasta, with eggs, you’ll be surprised at the richness.
That does mean we won’t be buying pasta from the grocery anymore? Perhaps, in the far future. Another truth I’ve learned about homemade pasta is that the learning curve is rather steep. It’s easy enough to make dough with eggs and flour, but getting the ideal ratio can be tricky. And that ideal ratio is so important to make sure that the pasta is neither too soft nor too stiff.
The “OO” Flour Factor
Most homemade pasta recipes say that using “00” flour is important. What the heck is “00” flour? In Italy, flour is graded according to the fineness of the grind. “00” flour is superfine with the texture similar to baby powder. Because the flour is so fine, it needs less liquid to form a dough.
I’ve baked pizza with “00” flour but I don’t keep a regular supply in the pantry. First, because “00” flour is not easy to obtain in the suburb where I live. Second, because it is pricey. On the day that I made my first homemade pasta, I took comfort that the five-star rated pasta recipe in the cooking section of The New York Times uses all-purpose flour. No need to wait to buy the pricey stuff.
The Egg Factor
To make dough, flour has to be combined with liquid. In bread baking, the liquid is water. In pasta making, it’s eggs. Sounds simple, right? But when a recipe says “2 large eggs” and “2 egg yolks”, you have to ask what “large” means. A large egg in Asia may be the same size as a large egg in America but the proportion between the yolk and the white might be different. In fact, the proportion can vary from one egg tray to another irrespective of where in the world you are.
In my case, the egg yolks were small while the egg whites were so thin that they were quite watery. But, what the heck, it was my first attempt at pasta making and how the small yolks and watery whites would affect the outcome was part of the learning curve. So, I went ahead and mixed the dough.
Making the Pasta
I made the dough in the stand mixer and let it rest for almost an hour. I divided the dough into portions. I flatted the first portion and inserted it in the pasta machine to make it thinner. I did this six or seven times.
A short description of the pasta machine is probably in order at this point. A pasta machine has a knob labeled with numbers. The numbers, from “7” to “1”, are the settings—the lower the number, the thinner the dough comes out after rolling.
The first four times I rolled the dough (the knob set at “7”), I did so to flatten it uniformly and give it a homogenous texture. The last three times, I adjusted the knob each time so that with every pass through the machine, the dough became thinner and thinner. I did the same thing for the remaining three portions of the dough.
After rolling two portions of the dough, I cut them as spaghetti. The remaining two portions, I cut as fettuccine.
The thing is, the dough still wasn’t thin enough by the time I fed it through the noodle cutter. When rolling the dough to make it thin, I went from “7” and stopped at “3”. Thereafter, I passed the dough through the cutter. I shouldn’t have. Yet. While the spaghetti looked decent, the edges were jagged in parts. The fettuccine was too thick and they looked more like flattened udon than fettuccine. I should have cut the dough only after rolling it thin all the way through the “1” setting.
Useful Notes for My Next Pasta Making Session
Despite the imperfect results, I learned valuable lessons the first time I made pasta pasta. The first and probably most important among them is to organize the workspace. I wasn’t too organized. I thought that clearing half of the island was enough but it turned out that I needed more space than that. There has to be ample space around the pasta machine so that you don’t bump onto other things when lifting the rolled dough. You have to provide space too for the pasta after the dough is cut.
And if you’re a food blogger, you probably want to take photos too. Make space for the camera and the tripod.
The workspace was so disorganized, I was moving around the island so much that I was bumping into the tripod. Halfway through the process I asked Speedy and Alex for help. Speedy repositioned the pasta machine and Alex helped with the rolling so I could take photos. Oh, goodness, it was stressful.
The second lesson is that it’s probably smarter to find a recipe that specifies the weight of the ingredients. Like 250 grams instead of a cup or so of flour. Measuring the ingredients by weight would probably solve the small egg yolk issue. If the yolks are small, then just use more.
The third lesson is DON’T RUSH. I was too excited to see spaghetti and fettuccine strands coming out of the pasta machine so I stopped rolling way before the ideal thinness of the dough was reached. My, bad. Rushing the cooking rarely yields good results and that applies to pasta making as well.
With all that in mind, I look forward to my next pasta making session.