The first time I was privy to someone making pasta from scratch was in college, in an apartment full of burly rowers who were obsessed with the Food Network. One of them got it in his head to make pumpkin pasta, and I watched in awe as he set up a mound of flour on a side table, cracking eggs into a dimple in the center and kneading it together with pumpkin puree. It turned out to be the best pasta I'd had until that point. Making pasta from scratch may seem too much work for not that much gain. After all, you can buy a pound of dried pasta for around a dollar, and that's been serving most of us just fine. But there is a noticeable difference when you make it yourself, or at least the opportunity to show off.
According to Chef Amy Brandwein of Centrolina in Washington, DC, fresh pasta has "a soft mouth feel, soaks up sauces in a different way and is velvety. It is luxurious and comforting, tastes very fresh." However, you do need some equipment, either in the form of a hand roller or an attachment for a stand mixer, which will enable you to roll the pasta into thin sheets. "I don’t think it’s possible for a home cook to make pasta without the rollers, although it is done in Italy especially in Emilia Romagna and is a very specific and excellent way to make pasta, but requires a very long rolling pin." So you can either stick with the Emilia Romagna-style noodles, or find a way to get a pasta roller into your kitchen. Personally, I recommend getting married and putting it on a registry. People will buy you all sorts of ridiculous things that way.
Now, there's the question of ingredients. The most basic pasta recipes will call for just two — flour, and some source of moisture, whether it comes from eggs or water. Brandwein likes a combination of the finely milled "00" flour and the rougher semolina for her pasta, which gives it more texture. "The key is to use different doughs for different dishes. So a whole wheat, nutty flour demands a stronger ingredient as contrast, bitter greens or seafood, garlic, for example." And if you’re gluten free, Brown Rice flour, Chickpea flour, Corn flour and Rice Flour will all work nicely. Most recipes call for about one egg per cup of flour, but it’s more about the consistency than exact numbers. "Any pasta recipe needs to be adjusted do to the type of flour you are using, the humidity and the size of your eggs. Use a base recipe and then adjust by feel to get a firm ball that is not dry but not sticky."
Then, it's just a matter of following the roller instructions and cutting up the noodles. If you cook them immediately they'll only take about a minute or two in boiling water until they’re done, or you can store them "on a tray with semolina flour dusted on the bottom and little sprinkled throughout the pasta to prevent it from sticking." Then cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and place in the freezer until it’s firm enough to remove and put in plastic bags.
Pumpkin pasta may not be your thing, but once you have a basic recipe mastered, there are all sorts of ways you can flavor the noodles themselves. You can finely chop fresh herbs and add them to the dough (though Brandwein says to use sparingly, since their flavor will be strong). You can puree roasted vegetables like beets or tomatoes and knead them in, or add spices like red pepper or saffron. You may not even need sauce. But just be warned, once you start making your own pasta, the boxed stuff may never be good enough again.
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