Fresh Pasta, Made the Old-Fashioned Way

1 1/2 pounds pasta, serving 6 to 8 as a main course

For the pasta

  • 3 cups pasta flour (finely ground semolina), plus more, for dusting and rolling
  • 6 extra-large eggs, made tepid by submerging in a bowl of very hot tap water for 10 minutes
  • 1 generous tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or Garlic Confit Oil
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 cup minced fresh herbs such as basil, parsley and/or chives (optional)

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Dairy & Eggs
6 extra-large eggs, made tepid by submerging in a bowl of very hot tap water for 10 minutes

Dry Goods
3 cups pasta flour (finely ground semolina), plus more, for dusting and rolling

Spices & Baking
1 generous tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or Garlic Confit Oil
1 scant teaspoon salt
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 cup minced fresh herbs such as basil, parsley and/or chives (optional)

To make the dough

Place the pasta flour in a mound, on a large wooden work surface. Press the bottom of a small bowl in the flour, to make a deep, wide well. Crack the tepid eggs into the well, then add the olive oil, salt, pepper and/or herbs (if using). Using your fingers on both hands, break up the eggs, combining them with the flavoring ingredients, without disturbing the flour. Use your fingers to repetitively splash the eggs, rapidly moving your fingers down, up, around and down again (control your movements to prevent the eggs from splashing out of the well). As you continue to splash the eggs, pull in some flour from the walls of the well, incorporating that flour completely before bringing in more. When all of the flour is incorporated, you’ll end up with an irregularly shaped, shaggy mass of dough. Use a dough scraper to help release any bits of dough from your board, and fingers, and incorporate them with the dough before you begin to knead.

Knead the dough with the heal of your hands and fingertips, continually pushing down, pulling up and turning the dough, until it’s smooth and supple, yet very firm and elastic, with a texture that’s similar to your earlobe. If at any time the dough feels sticky, dust your work surface with a bit of flour. Not too much flour, however, or the dough will slip and slide on your work surface, preventing the necessary traction. When done, dust the dough with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Use your scraper to clean off the board, so it’s perfectly smooth.

To roll the dough

Use your scraper to divide the dough in half and keep one half covered, while working with the other. (If your wooden surface is smaller than specified, divide the dough into quarters.) If wearing jewelry on your fingers (even a smooth wedding band), remove this. Sprinkle a generous layer of flour on your wooden board. Flatten the dough into a rectangular shape and sprinkle the top with more flour. At first, roll the dough like you’re rolling out pie pastry, keeping a rectangular shape. When the dough looks about 1/4-inch thick, spread an even layer of flour on top, being more generous than you think necessary.

Now, the rolling process changes, becoming one where you’ll be stretching the dough, not just rolling over it. The dough should be positioned vertically in front of you. Place the pin at the top of the dough (at the short side that’s furthest from you). Roll down toward you, about 2 inches, wrapping that top lip of dough over the top of the pin. Roll down one more revolution, enclosing another section of the dough around the pin. Place your hands lightly on the top center of the pin and rock the pin back and forth, in short spurts, while simultaneously applying downward medium-pressure and sliding your hands, toward each opposing end of the rolling pin. With each rocking and hand-sliding motion, both the dough wrapped around the pin and the area directly below the pin will become thinner. When your hands reach the ends of the pin, come back to the top center, and roll the pin down one more revolution toward you (enclosing another section of dough). Repeat the rocking and sliding movements until you reach 1 or 2 inches up from the bottom of the sheet of dough. To finish this first round of dough-stretching, make a final full revolution, quickly and firmly, over the bottom lip of dough. Roll up and down three or four times, on this bottom section, so it’s even with the rest.

At this point, the pin should be close to you, with the entire sheet coiled around it. Turn the pin, switching sides, and unroll the sheet of dough, going away from you. (So, what was the top short side, is now the bottom short side.) Flour the dough and, starting at the top end (as before) roll and stretch the dough, coming down toward you, as just described. Do this a total of 2 or 3 times, until the dough is very thin. Let the pasta-sheet sit, uncovered, on your work surface until it feels drier, but is still able to bend without breaking. Depending on the weather, this can take 10 to 30 minutes. Because space will probably be an issue, don’t roll out the second half of the dough until you’ve cut and hung the first sheet. Dust the dough with flour and keep it covered with plastic wrap.

To cut the dough by hand

a) For lasagna noodles, divide the sheet of pasta in half widthwise, using a ruler and a sharp chef’s knife or a pasta wheel. Square off any irregular ends. Cut long, wide strips (about 3-inches wide by 7-inches long), lift each strip, and drape it over a wooden rod, on a pasta rack so it can dry.

b) To cut strands (linguine, wider fettuccine or wider pappardelle ribbons) spread a thin but even layer of flour over the still-supple sheet of pasta. Roll the dough up, into an evenly shaped log. Using a sharp knife (preferably a straight-edge cleaver), cut the log into thin or wide slices. One by one, lift and unravel each slice, as you drape it within your nonworking hand. Hang the strands on the pasta rack, so they can dry. When dry, slide the noodles off the rods and into a deep roasting pan where they can stay covered with aluminum foil, until ready to cook.

Alternatively, to use a hand-cranked pasta machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on your particular appliance.

To cook the pasta

Fill an 8-quart pot, preferably with a built-in strainer, with cold water and bring it to a rapid boil, over high heat. When ready to cook, make sure that your sauce is almost finished and piping hot. Add 2 tablespoons of salt to the boiling water, and then stir in the pasta. Cover the pot and bring the water quickly back to a rapid boil. Remove the lid and stir again. If fully dried, it should be perfectly cooked in 4 to 5 minutes. (Start timing, as soon as you stir the pasta into the boiling water.) Drain the pasta, allowing a little of the cooking water to adhere to the strands, and immediately either add it to the pan, containing your sauce or transfer the cooked pasta to a warmed serving bowl and ladle the sauce on top. Using tongs, toss the strands, coating them evenly.

If serving cooked pasta with a saucy entree, like a stew, that’s being served separately, toss the cooked pasta with some melted butter or hot olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. If cooking lasagna noodles, cook a few at a time, under-cooking slightly. Then, immediately slip them into a bowl of cold water, to remove some of their surface starch and to stop the cooking process. Carefully remove them from the water, lay them flat on sheets of wax paper and blot them dry with paper towels.

Timing is Everything

The dough can be made one day ahead and kept in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Let the dough sit out at room temperature for about an hour before rolling it out.

Although the noodles can be made and dried several days ahead, for the freshest flavor, the pasta should be eaten within 48 hours. Leave freshly dried pasta at room temperature, in a covered roasting pan. Any extra pasta can be frozen in sealed, heavy-duty freezer bags. Drop them into boiling water, straight from the freezer. Cooking time will vary at this point, so check frequently to prevent over-or under-cooking.

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