How to make fresh pasta (plus a three-ingredient sauce)

Three-ingredient pasta sauce

Video copyright The New York Times 2017.

Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. With time and a little effort, a dough made of just flour and eggs can take on many different forms. Here, Samin Nosrat walks you through the basics of making dough, then rolling and cutting it into savoury noodles.

Rolling the dough

The pasta-making process can be time consuming at first, so save it for a weekend. A pasta roller is a huge asset; it's worth buying one. Think of rolling by hand as an advanced technique: Once you've developed a sense for working with the dough, you will have a much better understanding of how it will respond.

It's worth buying an inexpensive hand-crank pasta machine.
It's worth buying an inexpensive hand-crank pasta machine. Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Using a pasta machine

Most recipes, including ours, give instructions for using a pasta roller. There's a good reason for that: It's more difficult to roll dough by hand. Even an inexpensive hand-cranked machine will save you time and frustration.

When you're working with pasta, you'll also need all of your senses. You'll quickly learn that every batch is different, depending on everything from humidity and weather to the type of flour and size of your eggs. If pasta threatens to stick, dust both the pasta and the work surface with flour. If it's too dry, add another yolk.

And finally, though it can be hypnotising, resist the urge to watch the pasta as it comes out of the rollers. Instead, watch as it enters the machine, using one hand to ensure it goes in straight and doesn't ripple or overlap onto itself.

A roller is used to make basic pasta by hand, in New York, March 21, 2017. Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) Samin Nosrat pasta recipe feature. Good Food use only. SINGLE USE ONLY. Images downloaded during NYT Cooking trial Jan-Feb 2020. Must credit Karsten Moran/The New York Times

A roller is used to make basic pasta by hand. Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Rolling by hand

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If we can't persuade you to use a pasta machine, you can always roll by hand.

Before you begin, line three baking trays with baking paper and lightly dust with semolina flour. Set aside. Cut off one-quarter of the dough. Rewrap the remaining dough and set aside. Place the portioned-off dough onto a large lightly floured surface. Pushing out from the centre with the heel of your hand, flatten the dough into a circle. Next, use a long rolling pin to push the dough out from the centre, without going all the way over the edge. Continue rolling outward, moving the dough a quarter-turn after each roll to preserve the circle. If the dough starts to stick, lightly dust it with flour and work quickly to prevent it from drying out.

When the dough is smooth and round, lay the rolling pin across the top of the circle from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock. Wrap the shorter end around the pin and roll it a single turn toward yourself to create a tube. Rocking the pin back and forth, use your hands to pull the two edges of the dough away from each other, stretching the sheet until it's about the length of the rolling pin. Unravel the sheet, move it a quarter-turn and repeat the whole process until you've gone around the circle. If necessary, repeat until the entire sheet is translucent, about 1.5mm thick.

Cut the pasta into sheets, and dust lightly with semolina flour. Stack pasta onto the prepared baking trays and cover with a clean, lightly dampened tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough.

After folding rolled pasta dough into several layers, a knife is used to cut 1/4-inch-wide noodles from basic pasta dough, in New York, March 21, 2017. Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) Samin Nosrat pasta recipe feature. Good Food use only. SINGLE USE ONLY. Images downloaded during NYT Cooking trial Jan-Feb 2020. Must credit Karsten Moran/The New York Times

After folding pasta sheets into several layers, a knife is used to cut wide ribbons. Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Cutting pasta ribbons

Basic pasta sheets present many possibilities. You could use them in a savoury lasagna or fill and shape them into ravioli or tortellini. But for bold results with minimal effort, cut your sheets into strips.

To cut noodles with a pasta roller, run the pasta sheets, one at a time, through the cutting attachment, then toss with semolina flour. Fluff and separate the pasta ribbons and pile into nests of single portions (about 85 grams). Place on baking paper-lined baking trays dusted with semolina flour and cover until ready to use.

To cut pasta ribbons by hand, stack 4 sheets of pasta lightly dusted with semolina flour, then loosely roll into thirds lengthwise (like folding a letter). Cut with a sharp knife (in 1cm increments for tagliatelle or fettuccine and 2cm for pappardelle), until all the dough is used. Fluff and separate noodles and pile onto baking paper-lined baking trays into 85-gram nests. Cover until ready to use.

Cooking

Unlike dry pasta, fresh pasta must be just-barely cooked through.

At first, the only way to know when the pasta is done is to taste it repeatedly, so stand by the pot, tongs in hand, and be vigilant.

To cook pasta, bring heavily salted water to a rolling boil. For four servings, you'll want to use at least 4.75 litres of water seasoned with ½ cup salt or 4.5 tablespoons fine sea salt. Don't worry about how much salt it takes: Most will go down the drain. You need a salty cooking environment to season the pasta.

Add the pasta. After about a minute, stir the strips with tongs or a wooden spoon to encourage them to separate. Pasta cooking water, full of salt and starch, is a gift. It seasons and thickens sauces and helps them cling to the pasta. Reserve a cup or two before draining the pasta.

Fresh pasta cooks quickly, often in 3 or 4 minutes. Cooked pasta should always be tossed with warm sauce – pesto, which is raw, is an exception – to ensure it is coated properly, so have your sauce warm and ready.

Storing

To refrigerate, store your fresh pasta in a single layer on a baking paper-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Refrigerate for up to 1 night.

To freeze, divide noodles into roughly 85-gram nests. Store in a single layer on a baking paper-lined baking tray. Freeze until rock hard and transfer to a freezer bag. To cook, drop frozen pasta into salted boiling water and cook for 4 to 7 minutes.

Pasta dough made from scratch, folded into layers and ready to cut by hand into noodles, in New York, March 21, 2017. Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) Samin Nosrat pasta recipe feature. Good Food use only. SINGLE USE ONLY. Images downloaded during NYT Cooking trial Jan-Feb 2020. Must credit Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Basic fresh pasta dough

INGREDIENTS

2 cups (256g) 00 or plain flour

2 large eggs

3 egg yolks, plus more as needed

semolina flour, for dusting

METHOD

1. Mound flour in the middle of a large, wide mixing bowl. Dig a well in the centre of the mound and add eggs and yolks. Using a fork, beat the eggs and incorporate the flour, starting with the well's inner rim. The dough will start coming together in a shaggy mass.

2. Continue to mix dough using your fingers, pressing in any loose bits. If needed, add another egg yolk or 3 teaspoons of water to absorb all the flour. Once dough comes together, remove it from the bowl.

3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 4 to 5 more minutes until dough is smooth, elastic and uniform in colour. Wrap it in cling film and set aside for at least 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) at room temperature. Line 3 baking trays with baking paper and lightly dust with semolina flour. Set aside.

4. Cut off one quarter of the dough. Rewrap the rest, and set aside. Use the heel of your hand to flatten it into an oval about the same width as your pasta machine, about 15cm. Set rollers to widest setting and pass dough through.

5. Continue rolling the pasta through the machine, moving gradually from the widest setting until you can just see the outline of your hand when you hold it under a sheet, about 1.5mm thick for ribbons and thinner for filled pasta. (On most machines, you won't make it to the thinnest setting.)

6. Cut pasta into sheets, about 30cm to 35cm long. Dust lightly with semolina flour, stack on a prepared baking tray and cover with a clean, lightly dampened tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough.

Serves 4-6

Herbed pasta dough is cut into noodles with a pasta roller machine, in New York, March 21, 2017. Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) Samin Nosrat pasta recipe feature. Good Food use only. SINGLE USE ONLY. Images downloaded during NYT Cooking trial Jan-Feb 2020. Must credit Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Herb-flecked pasta. Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Variations

For an herbed pasta, stir in half a cup of finely chopped parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon or basil in any combination to the eggs before adding to the flour.

For wholemeal pasta, substitute 1 cup sifted wholemeal, spelt or farro flour for 1 cup of the 00 or all-purpose flour. Add extra egg yolks or water as needed and allow dough to rest for 1 hour before rolling.

To make saffron pasta, place a large pinch of saffron threads and a pinch of salt into a mortar and pestle. Grind finely, then add 3 teaspoons of boiling water to make saffron tea. Allow tea to cool, then whisk into the eggs. Rinse the remaining saffron out of the mortar and pestle with another 3 teaspoons of cool water and whisk into the eggs. Add to the flour in the main recipe (see above) and proceed from there.

To make green pasta, steam or saute 170 grams (about 6 cups) baby spinach until just wilted. Remove from pan and spread out in a single layer on a baking paper-lined baking tray. When cool, squeeze the leaves thoroughly, a palmful at a time, then chop roughly. Puree in a blender with 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, then add mixture to flour. It will take the place of the eggs and yolks in the main recipe.

Herbed pappardelle pasta with parsley, garlic, and pepper flakes, using fresh pasta made from scratch, in New York, March 21, 2017. Making pasta from scratch is the ultimate exercise in instinctual cooking. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times) Samin Nosrat pasta recipe feature. Good Food use only. SINGLE USE ONLY. Images downloaded during NYT Cooking trial Jan-Feb 2020. Must credit Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Herbed pappardelle with parsley, garlic and pepper flakes. Photo: Karsten Moran/The New York Times

Herbed pappardelle with parsley and garlic

A simple three-ingredient sauce.

INGREDIENTS

fine sea salt or table salt

basic fresh pasta dough, herbed variation, cut into sheets (see recipe above)

semolina flour, for dusting

4½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ tsp chilli flakes

¼ cup very finely chopped parsley

freshly grated parmesan, for serving

METHOD

1. Set a large pot filled with 4.75L of water over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Add 4½ tablespoons fine sea salt or ½ cup salt. Set a colander in the sink.

2. Lightly dust a sheet of pasta with semolina flour, then loosely roll into thirds lengthwise, like folding a letter. Using a sharp knife, cut  ribbons in 2cm  increments. Shake off excess semolina and repeat with remaining sheets. Form pasta into small, 85-gram nests on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and dusted with semolina.

3. Add 4 nests of pasta to the water and stir. (Freeze the rest of the pasta for later use.)

4. Set a large frypan over medium heat and add olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes. Cook, stirring, until garlic threatens to turn golden, about 1 minute.

5. Just before the garlic begins to brown, add 1 cup pasta cooking water and increase heat to medium-high. Let the sauce simmer until it reduces by about a third.

6. Cook pasta until al dente, about 3 minutes, and drain, reserving another cup of pasta water.

7. Add drained pasta to the frypan and toss. Add parsley and continue cooking over medium heat for 1 minute, tossing continuously. If pasta looks dry, add pasta water. The pasta should be slightly wetter than you are comfortable with. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Remove from heat, and serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan.

Serves 4

© 2017 The New York Times