For optimum use of your pasta maker, your dough needs to be of just the right consistency. It needs to have just the right firmness, not too moist and not too dry. Experience, skill and practice are important factors here. Your instruction book (or recipe books) should have more specific details than those described here, but the following principles apply when making your pasta dough.
In summary, you knead and blend your mixture of flour (durum wheat preferably) and eggs until it has just the right consistency and firmness to suit your pasta maker. If it is too moist, you can add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add a dash of water.
The dough needs to be moist enough so the cutting rollers can “grab” it to perform efficiently and effectively. The dough also needs to be dry enough so the cutting rollers don’t stick and work properly. If it does stick, you can dust very lightly with fine flour.
But with some trial and error, you’ll soon master this skill. And your family and guests will be so impressed with the final culinary result!
To actually make the dough, you can adapt the basic guide below, or consult your instruction and recipe books.
Basic dough making guide
This basic recipe is based on 3-4 cups of flour and 4 large eggs, and will serve up to 4 people. You can also add a dash of salt.
Note: Semolina, a high protein flour derived from durum wheat, is great for pasta.
Spread the flour into a donut shape on a bench top or large cutting board. This is to make a well shape. Break the eggs into the middle of the well and beat them with a fork. At the same time, start gradually adding a little bit of the flour from the inner rim of the flour circle. Keep rebuilding the circular flour shape to contain the more liquid egg mixture at the center as necessary to prevent spillage. Once you have used about half the flour, the dough should have enough consistency to stop spreading out.
Once the dough has a certain firmness, it’s time to start kneading the dough with your hands. You can add a little water or flour if needed if the dough seems too hard or too soft. By now, the dough should be taking shape and starting to get the right consistency. Remove any bits that may have dried too much, dust your board with a little flour and knead for around 6-10 minutes.
Kneading is an energetic process where you push and crush and shape and stretch and fold and squash the dough. Push down on the center of the dough with the heel of your hands, then push the sides up and back in on itself. You need to keep repeating this process, and you need to apply a lot of strength here! You can also lightly dust the surface with flour from time to time if it seems to be sticky. You will soon notice the dough has a beautiful uniform consistency, and a lovely smooth feel to it.
If kneading is a little difficult, it is also possible to make your dough in a separate food processor, a stand mixer with a dough hook or a separate stand alone dough mixer. Consult your instruction books for any such appliances you might have for advice on this option.
Divide the finished dough into equal sized lumps, about the size of your palm, to suit the size of your pasta maker. For most pasta makers, the number of eggs used in the original mixture will be about the same as the number of lumps of dough of the right size for your machine. And it’s also about the same number as the number of guests at your meal! So a 4 egg pasta mix will serve around 4 people, and on the average pasta machine, will require about 4 lumps of dough. But this is just a rough guide for the average sized machine.
After kneading, wrap the dough in plastic wrap for around 30 minutes or so to give it a “rest”, keeping it cool. Then, at last, it is ready for your pasta maker. Your pasta maker then gives the dough its final kneading and refinement.
There are hundreds of possible different pasta shapes and they are all generally known by their Italian names in countries around the world. They range from lasagne (flat sheets) to spaghetti (long strings) to maccheroni (tube shapes) to fusilli (swirls). And you can use your pasta maker to make many different shapes and styles by using your ingenuity and the accessories supplied with your machine. Pasta is also versatile because an almost infinite variety of delicious sauces can be created to accompany it.
There are two main categories of pasta — fresh pasta and dried pasta.
Fresh pasta is made with wheat (semolina derived from durum wheat is best), eggs, and sometimes a dash of salt and even a little olive oil.
Fresh home-made pasta is a true culinary delight, delicious and full of flavor, a beautiful dining experience. In Italy, where the traditional al dente style of cuisine is very popular, this style is preferred over the softer meals typical of dried pasta. Al dente literally means “to the tooth” and describes a preparation style of cooking until firm but not soft. So for a genuine traditional al dente meal, you really should choose fresh pasta as your foundation ingredient.
Fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than dried pasta. For example, some fresh pasta styles cook in less than three minutes. It mainly depends on how thickly you have created your pasta, and how dry it has become since it was made. So you will need to experiment with taste tests here, or consult your instruction and recipe books for more info.
Fresh pasta is a good foundation for a healthy diet (provided you are able to eat wheat based products). But of course, the nutritional analysis of a fine pasta meal depends heavily on the types of sauces, fills and other ingredients you add to the pasta! As an approximate rule of thumb, the pasta alone is roughly three quarters carbohydrate, one sixth protein and one twelfth fat. This will vary slightly if you have added any salt or olive oil, and also on the ratio of wheat to eggs you have used. For professional dietary advice you should consult a doctor or nutritionist.
Fresh pasta keeps well for a few days if you store it in a refrigerator. You can also freeze it and it will last for a few weeks.
Dried pasta can be kept for more than a year under the right conditions. While this is very convenient, the eating experience is not as great as you can have when enjoying a meal cooked with fresh pasta. The flavor is the difference!
In brief, kernels of wheat are ground up to produce semolina in pasta factories. This is then mixed with water by the makers to make a dough. Sometimes other ingredients are added at this stage, such as eggs, tomatoes or spinach, to make special varieties. The dough is then kneaded and extruded through a metal container or die with specially shaped holes in it. The pasta is cut into the desired lengths by a blade mechanism and then placed into dryers for six hours or so, prior to packaging and shipping to grocery stores around the world.
In Italy, by law, dried pasta has to be produced from genuine durum wheat flour (or semolina). Durum wheat is a particular variety of wheat, and has a yellow tinge of color. However in other countries around the world, different grades of wheat are often used, but these generally produce a softer dish. Dried pasta is of course extremely popular for its convenience.