We love fresh pasta in our home. And while my wife loves it because of its delicate texture and delicious taste, my love for pasta goes beyond. I also appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every single fresh pasta noodle.
Before I learned how to make homemade pasta, the whole idea sounded kind of intimidating to me. Like many other things in cooking, what seems intimidating often turns out to be surprisingly simple and rewarding.
The simple truth about pasta is that you need the right ingredients and good technique. As long as you have the two, your homemade pasta is going to come out tender and delicious every single time.
Making homemade pasta is all about knowing: (1) what ingredients to use, (2) how to knead pasta dough by hand, and (3) how to roll and cut pasta noodles—no matter if you have a pasta machine at home or not.
It’s also about cooking fresh pasta for just enough time and serving it with a sauce whose texture and components pair well with its tender and delicate texture.
In this post, I’m going to share everything I’ve learned about making fresh pasta at home.
Ingredients for Homemade Pasta
Fresh pasta only takes three ingredients to make. It’s a simple food with humble beginnings, enjoyed by Italians for centuries.
It’s believed that Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy in the 13th century, when he returned from an exploratory mission to China.
With so much choice for each of these ingredients at the grocery store, you’ll soon find yourself asking the question: Which ones are best?
The best eggs for homemade pasta are pastured eggs. They come at a higher price compared to free-range and cage-free eggs, but that price is totally worth it. Pasture-raised hens live outdoors and eat a natural diet of seeds and insects. Their eggs have significantly better taste and higher nutritional value compared to those of hens raised differently.
For homemade pasta, use semolina flour. Semolina is coarse durum wheat flour. The coarse grind gives pasta noodles a rougher texture for sauces to cling to. Semolina also has a golden hue, which comes from the color of the color of the durum wheat itself. Last but not least, it’s the traditional flour that the best Italian pasta brands use when making their products.
You can substitute 00 flour and all-purpose flour for semolina. All purpose does exactly what it says on the package (though, when it comes to pasta, it doesn’t do it as well as semolina). 00 is soft wheat flour that Italians use for baking cake and pastries.
Make your pasta with extra virgin olive oil. Without doubt, extra virgin olive oil is the best kind of olive oil. It’s literally the juice that comes out of the olives after they’re picked from the olives trees and ground into paste. Choosing an olive oil at the grocery store doesn’t have to be hard. Make sure to buy Californian, Italian, Spanish, or Greek extra virgin olive oil with the most recent harvest date.
Use any salt as long as it’s not iodized table salt. It’s excessively salty and will give your pasta a metallic and bitter taste. In our household, we use kosher salt for making dough and seasoning meat (because it’s flaky and easy to dissolve), and sea salt for seasoning salads and salting seafood (sea salt’s texture and taste are simply unbeatable).
How to Knead Pasta Dough By Hand
I learned this technique from Italian cookbook author Giuliano Hazan. Here’s his video where he teaches you how to make pasta dough by hand:
Kneading dough can be messy. Whenever eggs, flour, and water are involved, it’s best to use a large and smooth work surface.
The best work surface for making fresh pasta at home is a wood cutting board, a marble pastry board, or a smooth countertop or table top (covered by a pastry mat or plastic tablecloth).
You’ve prepared your work surface and are ready to get started making your pasta. Here’s how:
- Pour 2 cups of flour into a mound. Use your fingers to make a well that’s wide and deep enough to hold the eggs in the center of the mound.
- Crack 3 large eggs on a flat surface and into a measuring cup. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to the cup, then pour the mixture in the well.
- Whisk the eggs in the well using a fork. Be careful to not draw in any flour or make any dents in your well (as it’s going to get messy).
- With the fork, start drawing flour into the center of your well little by little. Stir slowly and continuously until all of the flour is mixed.
- Now is the time to use your hands. With your hands, turn the messy mass of dough into a rough dough ball.
- Scrape any excess dough from the work surface, sprinkle it with flour, and start kneading your pasta dough. Knead for 10 minutes till smooth.
- Cover the dough with a wet tea towel or plastic wrap (you don’t want to leave it uncovered as it will dry out). Let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Cut and roll into any pasta shape as desired. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3-5 days.
Sure, fresh pasta doesn’t have the same firmness to the bite as dried pasta cooked al dente. But its tender taste and delicate texture make it perfect for egg (Pasta alla Carbonara), cheese (Fettuccine Alfredo), and cream sauces (most Italian-American white pasta recipes).
How to Roll Fresh Pasta
Your pasta dough has rested for 30 minutes. Now, you’re ready to roll it into pasta sheets.
Pasta chefs use the term rolling to describe the process of taking a round ball of pasta dough and turning it into flat sheets of pasta. The sheets can then be cut into virtually any fresh pasta shape.
There are generally two ways to roll pasta dough: with a pasta machine or by hand (to read: without one). Let’s take a moment to look into the basics for both of these pasta rolling methods.
How to Roll Fresh Pasta With a Pasta Machine
My two cents? If you’re keen on making pasta at home, get a pasta machine. It’s fun. And the outcome beats any pasta dish you’d be served in an Italian restaurant.
Sprinkle a work surface like a wood board, marble board, or table top generously with flour. Leave it for now; you’ll need this later.
Cover your hands with a little flour to prevent the dough from sticking to them. Take the dough ball in your hands and start pressing it down into a flat and oval shape.
Set your pasta maker to the widest setting and move the disc through it. It’s going to come out thinner. Fold it into 1/2 and 1/3 (depending on your pasta maker), then move the dough through the pasta maker again.
Do this several times until you get to the thickness you want. I use an Atlas Marcato 150 Pasta Machine (at Amazon)—and it takes me 4-5 passes to get to the thickness I want.
- Marcato’s Original World-Famous Atlas 150 pasta machine rolls and cuts pasta dough for traditional lasagna, fettuccine, and tag at home
- Made in Italy from chrome-plated steel; Includes pasta machine, pasta cutter, hand crank, clamp, Instructions; 10-year
- Rolls sheets of dough to 150-millimeters wide at 10 thicknesses (0. 6 to 4. 8-Millimeter) for consistent texture, cook time, and taste.Atlas...
If you’re looking for a good pasta machine, by the way, I really recommend the Atlas. It’s super easy to use and is practically bulletproof. I’ve only had mine for a couple of years. What prompted me to buy it in the first place was the sheer number of owners who said that theirs had lasted them for 20, 30 years (and counting).
As you make pasta by passing it through the pasta machine, here’s a couple of things to watch out for:
- If the dough gets a little too sticky as you move it through the pasta maker, sprinkle it with a little flour and continue;
- If the dough gets a little too long for you to handle comfortably, take a knife and cut it 1/2 or 1/3 lengthwise (no one wants 3-feet long pasta).
When you’ve taken your pasta sheets to the thickness and length you want them, turn on the cutter on your pasta maker and pass it through one last time.
You’re almost done. Now back to the work surface that you sprinkled with flour a while ago. Take the pasta, create a “nest”, and let it sit for 30 minutes, allowing it to dry.
How to Roll Fresh Pasta By Hand
Many home cooks make pasta at home without a pasta machine. The only two tools you need are a rolling pin and a sharp knife.
Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Take the pasta ball in your hands and press it down to a flat and oval shape.
Using the rolling pin, roll the pasta dough evenly once or twice. Fold the pasta into 1/2 or 1/3 and repeat. Do this 5-6 times, cutting the dough every now and then when it becomes too wide or too long, until you get to the desired thickness.
Then simply use your knife to cut the pasta into the shape you want. Sprinkle a little more flour on your work surface, take the pasta strings, and create a “nest.”
Leave the pasta to dry for 30 minutes and it’s ready to use.
Don’t have a pasta maker or a rolling pin? Roll your homemade pasta with an empty wine bottle. Clean the bottle under running water to remove the label and any wash away leftover glue. Pat it dry with a paper towel and sprinkle it with a little flour, so that the pasta dough doesn’t stick.
How to Cook Fresh Pasta
Cooking fresh pasta is the same as cooking dry pasta, but quicker. Dried pasta noodles take anywhere between 6 to 12 minutes to cook because they need rehydration. Fresh pasta, in contrast, takes 1 to 2 minutes. Think of it as reheating rather than cooking.
To cook fresh pasta, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. As a rule of thumb, use 4 quarts water for every 1 pounds of pasta. Generously salt the pasta water. Like Italian chefs like to say, pasta water should taste like the sea.
Add the noodles to the pot. Every 30 seconds, fish out a noodle with tongs or a fork and taste it. When the pasta is tender, but still firm to the bite, it’s done.
For the best outcome, cook fresh pasta in salted water for 1 minute and 30 seconds, then strain the pasta and cook it for 30 seconds more in the pan with the tomato sauce. Using this technique, the tomato sauce clings really well to the pasta.
When Does Fresh Pasta Go Bad?
Made more pasta than necessary? This would always happen to me in the first one or two years of making homemade pasta.
Over time, you’ll learn to use the right amount of eggs and flour based on how many people you’re cooking for.
Generally, it’s better to freeze homemade pasta than to refrigerate it. The humidity in the fridge can alter the taste and texture of your pasta, as well as encourage the growth of bacteria. That is not the case when storing pasta in the freezer.
You can store homemade pasta in the fridge. Toss it with a little flour and put it in an airtight plastic bag. It will stay good for 3-5 days.
To store homemade pasta for longer periods of time, shape the pasta noodles into one or more nests, put each nest in an airtight bad, label it with today’s date, and store it in the freezer. Frozen pasta will last for 3 to 4 months.
What’s the Difference Between Fresh Pasta and Dry Pasta?
Fresh pasta is made with eggs and flour. It’s eaten shortly after making (not more than 3-5 days unless frozen). Since it hasn’t gone through a drying process, has a tender and delicate texture. Fresh pasta takes 1-2 minutes to cook.
Dry pasta is usually made only with flour. As the name suggests, dry pasta has gone through a drying process, which takes away the moisture from the noodles to allow long-term preservation. Dry pasta can take anywhere between 6 and 12 minutes to cook.
As Cook’s Illustrated suggests, use fresh pasta noodles for pasta dishes with smooth and uniform sauces like pesto and tomato sauce. Use dry pasta for pasta dishes with large chunks of vegetables or meat, like broccoli or Italian sausage.
When to Use Fresh Pasta vs. Dry Pasta
Many home cooks think that fresh pasta is always the better choice—and often substitute it in any recipe that calls for dry pasta. But that’s not really a good idea.
Fresh pasta is best used for pasta dishes with creamy, dairy-based sauces like Pasta Alfredo or Pasta alla Carbonara. Dry pasta, on the other hand, is best used for meaty and oil based sauces like, respectively, Pasta alla Amatriciana and Pasta Aglio e Olio.
Both fresh pasta and dry pasta noodles pair equally well with tomato sauces. My favorite tomato sauce is made with 2-3 garlic cloves, canned tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and black pepper.
To make homemade tomato sauce for pasta, sauté garlic for 1-2 minutes on medium-high heat. Add crushed canned tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
When the sauce is done cooking, turn off the heat, add 3-4 basil leaves, and stir. Toss the pasta while the sauce is still in the sauce pan. The residual heat will help you “cook” the pasta with the sauce, so that the two incorporate well into a delicious and savory pasta dish.
Making fresh pasta at home is easier than you think. Sure, it takes some time and effort. But the outcome—tender pasta noodles and a delicious pasta dish—is totally worth it.
You can make fresh pasta with any equipment at home. Buy a pasta machine if you’re really keen on making restaurant-grade pasta every single time.
Pasta is one of those dishes that are easy to learn and hard to master. As you learn the basics and practice them over time, you will become a master in pasta making and pasta cooking.
Or use a rolling pin and knife to go old-school Italian grandma style. Don’t have a rolling pin? An empty wine bottle will work fine.
Fresh pasta is best served with soft and uniform sauces, dairy or tomato-based, that don’t have large chunks of vegetables and meats.
You can refrigerate homemade pasta for 3-5 days or freezer it, in an airtight container, for up to 3-4 months.
Have fun with your homemade pasta. Let me know how it turned out and share your tips in the comments 🙂 .