How to Make Fresh Pasta on the Cheap

You don't need expensive gadgets or pricey ingredients to make your own healthy, tasty pasta.

February 24, 2010

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Making fresh pasta is very easy, and requires no special equipment (despite what the pasta-machine makers may tell you). The result is a gourmet treat for half the price and twice the taste of that boring stuff that comes in a box. Fresh pasta also cooks really fast, which can help shrink the eco-footprint of your diet by reducing the energy it takes to cook it. All types of pasta—spaghetti, lasagna, bow ties, and even ravioli and pierogies—are basically the same thing: some type of flour, plus liquid (usually water, egg, or a combination), a pinch of salt, and, if you so desire, some pureed veggies, such as cooked spinach or tomato paste. So to make your own pasta, you start out with a basic pasta recipe and then follow the instructions for how to cut, fold, and cook.

Basic Whole Wheat Pasta Dough Recipe (4 servings)

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Ingredients:

2 cups sifted organic whole wheat flour (or half whole wheat flour and half organic unbleached all-purpose flour), plus ¼ to ½ cup more for rolling it out later
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)

Directions, Manual Method:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs, water, and salt until the mixture is a uniform color. Scoop the sifted flour into a pile on a clean counter, and make a depression in the top so it's shaped like a volcano.

Pour the egg mixture into the depression and use a fork to stir the egg mixture, gradually working in more and more of the flour until it is all incorporated. You should have a big lump of soft, but not sticky, dough. If it is too dry to form into a lump, add water ½ teaspoon at a time until it's soft enough; if the dough is too sticky, work in more flour a teaspoon at a time.

Once the consistency is right, knead the dough until it's smooth and stretchy. First, flatten the lump with the heels of your hands and then fold the dough over on itself and turn it a quarter turn; flatten the folded dough again, fold and turn again, and so on. Sprinkle a little extra flour onto the counter as needed to keep the dough from sticking. If any does stick, clean it off by scraping off as much as you can with a wooden or stiff plastic scraper. Then wash off the remaining residue with cold water and a sponge; hot water will start cooking the dough and make it harder to dissolve. Rinse doughy hands under cold water for the same reason.

Directions, Food Processor or Stand Mixer Method:

Put the dough blade or dough hook onto your machine. Place the flour in the bowl, turn the machine on, and slowly pour in the wet ingredients. The dough should form into a soft ball on the blade or hook, and start whacking around the bowl. If not, add water or flour until the consistency is right, as mentioned above. Let the dough lump whack around for a minute or so (this is the kneading step), and turn off the machine.

Resting the Dough:

For either method, once the dough is nice and stretchy—it stretches when you pull it apart, rather than breaking—put your kneaded dough lump in a bowl and drape a clean, moist tea towel over it. Let it rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes (or put it in the fridge and leave it for up to 24 hours).

Making the Pasta:

Once the dough has rested, you are ready to roll it out. Sprinkle a little flour on a clean work surface, put the dough ball on the floured area, and flatten it a bit with your hands. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and use a rolling pin (a wine bottle will do in a pinch), also dusted with flour, to roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Every few rolls, shift the dough a quarter turn so you will be spreading it in two directions. Once the dough is rolled thin, let it rest, uncovered, on the counter for about 10 minutes so it dries just a little (this is a good time to go make your sauce and put on a large pot of water to boil).

When you are ready to cut the pasta, run a dry hand over the surface of the sheet of dough. It should feel dry and a little dusty. If not, dust it with a little flour. Starting at one edge, roll the sheet up into a loose tube. Then use a sharp knife to cut the roll into round slices about ¼-inch wide (or whatever width you like). Gently unroll each slice—and there you have your noodles. At this point, you can cook them immediately or put some away to use later on (more on that later). To cook, gently lower the pasta into a pot of boiling water. Use a wooden spoon to nudge the noodles if it looks as if they are getting to too friendly with each other. When they float, they’re done (usually two to three minutes is all it takes). Drain, sauce, and serve!

Variations:

Not in the mood for spaghetti? Try one of these variations with the dough you just made.

Lasagna: Cut rolled dough into wide strips, or trim sheets of dough to the size of your baking pan. Used fresh and raw, they will cook perfectly as the dish bakes.

Manicotti: Cut rolled dough into 4-inch-by-6-inch rectangles. Place your filling down the center of each, then roll the dough into tubes around the filling. Place tubes seam-down in your baking dish.

Bow ties: Cut rolled dough into 2-inch squares. Use your fingers to put a full twist into the center of each, and give the twist a pinch. Let dry another 10 minutes or so before dropping into boiling water.

Ravioli or pierogies: Roll dough out and immediately cut (don’t let it dry yet) into the desired shapes (2-inch-by-4-inch rectangles for ravioli or 4-inch circles for pierogies), fill, fold over, and pinch shut. Then allow to dry for about 10 minutes before cooking.

Potpie noodles: Cut rolled dough into 2-inch squares.

Storing Homemade Pasta:

Unless you eat your pasta immediately, you'll want to either freeze it or let it dry. Drying works if the air in your home is dry, as it is in most heated houses this time of year, but freezing is a better choice if the weather is humid. To dry, spread the cut noodles out on the floured counter, turning them every few hours, until they are dry and brittle. You can speed up the drying by hanging the noodles on a drying rack. You can make a temporary rack out of a couple of long-handled wooden spoons by resting something heavy, such as a stack of cookbooks, on the spoon ends and letting the handles stick out into midair, say, off the side of the top of the fridge or a high kitchen shelf. To freeze, pack noodles loosely (coiling works well for long strands) into an airtight container, and pop it in the Deepfreeze.

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green, thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.