I want to make pasta like an Italian grandma
April 13, 2009 2:27 PM   Subscribe

My pasta machine is a useless waste of space. Please help!

I love fresh pasta, and I would love to make it more often. The problem is that whenever I do, it ends up being a 5-hour process that covers the entire kitchen with flour.
As a result, the pasta machine sits in the cupboard covered with dust.

How can I do it more efficiently? Can you make a bunch at once and freeze it? Is there a faster method?

I've been using the "make a big pile of flour and whisk eggs into it" method, and the pasta machine is the hand-crank kind where you feed the dough through it like 90 times in a row. (small exaggeration)
posted by exceptinsects to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Are you serious about the 5 hours? Using the same method, I can usually make a reasonable amount of pasta in 45 min - 1 hr (enough for at least 4 adults). I find that the most important thing for speed is making sure that the consistency of the dough is right: too much egg and it's sticky; too little and it's crumbly. I usually err towards too much egg and sprinkle the in-progress dough with flour after the 4th pass-through. I get fine results without letting the dough rest.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:33 PM on April 13, 2009

It takes me about 30 minutes, from starting to make the pasta to serving it on the table. Even faster when someone can help crank the machine. I have the same pasta machine as yours (I got mine for $18 at Ross). One thing that helps with cleanup is making the pile of flour (1 cup unbleached flour, give or take, per every two eggs) in a bowl instead of the kitchen counter. I find it much easier, efficiency-wise, to make small batches for just the people I will be serving: the dough is easier to knead and roll, and the consistency is much easier to asses (also, I have tiny hands).

Keep in mind that you can store fresh pasta just like regular pasta, without the need for refrigeration or freezing: if you make a big batch, you can just roll it up, let it air dry, and then store it away in a box kept in a cool, dry place (any kitchen cabinet would do).
posted by halogen at 2:36 PM on April 13, 2009

Much easier to assess, that is, not asses. Like mr_roboto above, I will also add flour when necessary, but if you get it right the first time, the dough is fine with just drying for a couple of minutes or so after the second-third machine setting.
posted by halogen at 2:38 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I have one of those, and use it on a regular basis. I can now make pasta in about an hour if I take shortcuts, and am so spoiled that I no longer buy dried pasta unless it is of a hard-to-make shape. Let me see if I can give you some tips.

What is the ratio of eggs to flour you are using? A good rule of thumb is one egg for every 3/4 cups of flour. Mario Batali says you should use 5 eggs and 3 cups of flour for an especially eggy noodle. Sometimes I do this, and it is a good ratio to make four servings, but you don't have to make that much. I routinely make single servings (though it seems more efficient to make at least two servings at a time, if you're going to put in the effort anyway).

Then, you want to knead the dough for at least 10 minutes (5 if you're feeling lazy). It helps to put the dough in the fridge for half an hour at this point, but you don't have to. When you crank it through the rollers, you want to make sure the dough is amply floured so as not to stick to the rollers. Don't feel like you have to put it through too many times. A few times on the first setting, and once on each subsequent setting is enough. Flour the dough after every few times you run it through. It's easier if you don't roll it too flat, and it also makes for a nice, toothsome noodle, so I usually stop after I run it through the 4 or 5 setting, depending on the noodle. If it starts to tear, ball it up and start over at the first setting, adding more flour.

At this point, I hang the pasta on the back of a chair for at least half an hour to forty-five minutes, letting it dry sufficiently before cranking it through the noodle-cutting attachments. You don't want the noodles to stick at this point, or your efforts are ruined. After the noodles are cut, they're ready to go in some boiling water. A few minutes is sufficient.

I think if you just stick it out and do this a few times, you'll get it down to a science and it will go a lot easier. Really, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, so to speak. But if you find that even after all that you really don't prefer fresh pasta to dried, there's no reason to go through the trouble.

Good luck!
posted by ekroh at 2:41 PM on April 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

1. Make smaller batches. Mix your pasta in a food processor. It will clump oddly (sort of like sand); however, with just a little kneading on a lightly floured surface it will immediately transform into something you are used to seeing right before you put the dough through the machine. This prevents one flour-everywhere mess.

2. Cut your dough into usable chunks and only process it about an egg's worth at a time. For faster results, once the dough goes through once, fold one of the dough onto the other end and process your dough into a loop. Now, stretch with one (making sort of a flightless-bird arm flap to keep the pasta moving) hand and crank with the other. Periodically use the hand crank hand to change the pasta thickness. Cut the pasta with shears if you need to move it to a different fixture (linguini/ravioli).
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:42 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I use Mark Bittman's recipe from "How to Cook Everything" which is probably pretty standard. One pound of pasta = 2 cups of flour (1 cup All Purpose, 1 cup Semolina, although it can be all AP), 3 eggs, and 1 tsp salt. I agree that I can usually do this in the time it takes for the sauce to come together -- 30-60 minutes depending on if I have made the dough ahead of time. Here's my usual protocol:

1. I mix mine in a food processor initially, adding everything and blending until the dough forms a ball. Take out the ball and knead briefly until the mixture is consistent and you've picked up all the crumbly bits. At this point you can refrigerate for up to two days (in my experience). I have not tried freezing although I am also curious. The dough should not be very sticky at this point, add more flour while kneading if you find that is the case.

2. Pasta maker is on the thickest setting. Small dish of flour next to the pasta machine. I usually set out a bunch of flexible cutting boards, silpats, wax paper, etc. to catch my product and keep my space a little tidier. Get your water going on the stove, and salt it well.

3. Tear off a chunk slightly larger than a golf ball and flatten it into a disc with your hands. (If you have cold dough, let it warm to room temperature or it will be difficult to work with) Feed it through three or four times on the thickest setting, folding it over on itself after each pass. Toss a bit of flour on the dough if it is getting sticky. Repeat this for all of the dough, so you will have maybe 5-7 small discs when finished.

4. Go to an intermediate setting and pass all of your discs through once more.

5. Go to the final setting (whatever your pasta maker recommends for fettucine or spaghetti or whatever you are making) and pass your discs through again. You may need to cut in half if they are getting too long. (I usually like mine to be 8-10" before noodle stage)

6. Cut your noodles. Make sure the dough is well floured so they don't stick at this point. I usually cut about half of the batch, add them to the pot, and then add each subsequent batch to the pot as it comes off the cutter. This should go very quickly. I haven't noticed the small difference in cooking time having an effect on texture.

7. Boil until done!
posted by sararah at 3:09 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I bought one of those and gave up on the rollers part after trying it three or four times — I just use a dowel on a board — but the linguine-cutting part is handy.
posted by nicwolff at 3:22 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: Oh man, I love pasta - this is going to be long...

I'll start by advocating not using a pasta machine - I found it was too much stuffing around.

As far as making the pasta, I'll go for 200 grams of flour and will use a whole egg, two egg yolks and a dash of olive oil. Once everything's combined and you're starting to knead, add enough water or flour to get the mixture right - dry enough that it doesn't stick to your hands or the counter, but not dry enough that it falls apart or won't stick to itself as you're kneading, etc.

I'll knead it for about 10 minutes, and then flatten it out as thin as I can manage by hand.

Make a few different pastas, and add stuff for colour and flavour- tomato paste &/or powder for red, spinach for green, beetroot juice for crimson, cocoa or powdered chocolate for brown, blended carrots &/or paprika for orange. You can cut these up and join different colours together (stick them together with egg mix) and they can look really good!

Once you've finished kneading (and making multi-coloured pastas example), cover it with cling film and let it rest. Resting it is important - if you don't, when you try to roll it out it will be very elastic and will not want to stay nice & thin.

After it's rested for maybe half an hour, roll it out with a pin / wineglass / whatever. To make spagetti, fettucini, etc > dust it with flour, roll it right up like a swiss roll and slice it as thin / thick as whatever you want to make. I have one of these, which is awesome when I'm making spagetti or fettucini, otherwise I'll do it by hand if I want something wider.

I've read people not recommending drying pasta that's been made with eggs (food poisoning), but have never tried it myself to comment. I have frozen pasta made with eggs though (well sealed), and this has been fine.

As far as taking a long time - it shouldn't. I'll spend about 40 minutes, and 25 minutes of this is waiting/drinking wine).

I recommend using decent ingredients - Tipo 00 flour (or durum wheat flour) and free range eggs. You'll notice the difference.
posted by MatJ at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've decided that the big-pile-of-flour-with-the-wet-ingredients-in-the-middle method is for suckers. Start with the wet ingredients in a big bowl and add flour slowly as you stir. It's quicker and tidier. Also, you just keep adding flour until it's the right consistency.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:53 PM on April 13, 2009

I sympathize with the OP as my pasta machine was also a dust-gatherer.

My solution was to decide that making pasta was simply not my bag. The machine went off to the charity shop and my guilt at not using it evaporated.

It's my failing, but I'm okay with it. I don't find kneading bread dough particularly relaxing either.

Nothing but admiration for you pasta enthusiasts; I just wanted to throw out "it's okay to not be into it" as an option.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:53 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

...put the flour in a sieve and shake it over the bowl so you don't get lumps.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:55 PM on April 13, 2009

Awesome answer MatJ but pretty sure you meant to roll out the pasta with a wine bottle — not a wineglass!
posted by nicwolff at 6:20 PM on April 13, 2009

I'll second the basic lousiness of pasta machines, even the hand rollers. Really good pasta is made by stretching with a rolling pin -- it gives the pasta springiness and a good toothy texture the sauce can stick to. The rollers mash it flat and leave it shiny so the sauce slides off.

And I think I can make pasta faster by hand. You fold it right, slice it quickly, you get fettucine.

It's important to get a long roller -- your average rolling pin won't do -- and curl and pull on the pasta instead of compressing it. The resting stage MatJ mentions is important, too. A good soft flour helps but I've used regular unbleached white with some success.

Practice a bit and you'll find it can actually be speedy.
posted by argybarg at 6:46 PM on April 13, 2009

yes, I meant bottle. I'm at work, so you'll have to forgive me for having "glass of wine" on the brain at that point...
posted by MatJ at 9:15 PM on April 13, 2009

I know several women in Italy who qualify as Italian Grandmothers who make (serve) pasta. Every one of them prefer dried pasta to fresh, mainly on the basis that dried is more predicatable, it is quicker and it can more easily be cooked al dente which is what most Italians prefer.

So consider eliminating this useless waste of space (and time and ingredientsand put is to more productive uses.
posted by Neiltupper at 10:49 PM on April 13, 2009

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