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November 19, 2009 9:28 AM   Subscribe

What should I know before buying a pasta maker?

I've been tasked with buying a pasta maker. I know nothing about them, other than that you roll the pasta out, put it in the machine and turn the handle. Please educate me.

What sort of cost am I looking at? Are there any special features I might want or need? Is any machine better for a pasta-making virgin? Any particular brand I should buy? Is electric better than hand cranked?

The recipient doesn't have a dishwasher and will probably only make lasagne sheets and other similar variants with it.

Ideally, I'm looking for a list of things to verify before spending the cash, but any other things that might be relevant are welcome too.
posted by Solomon to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This post on Cooks Illustrated's forums might be of assistance.
posted by paanta at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2009

A quick glance at that Cooks Illustrated post seems to confirm my impression that the Atlas manual pasta machine is both the most common and is well-liked. I have one and think it is great; my aunt who is a much more serious cook than I am also uses an Atlas. The Atlas is the more traditional, hand cranked variety (although I believe there is a motorized variant) that rolls the pasta dough through rollers that you progressively tighten together until the sheet of pasta is as thin as you want it, then run the dough through another set of rollers that cut the sheet into the appropriate shape for spaghetti, fettucine, etc. The other type of machine that you are likely to see is one that extrudes the pasta through a plate, allowing you to make tubular shapes. This example is made by the same company that makes the Atlas. Most people seem to have some version of the roller type. I have never dealt with this merchant, but they talk a little bit about the differences between the two types as well as have a huge selection of pasta makers and accessories. If the person who is getting the pasta maker has a KitchenAid stand mixer, they have attachments for pasta making as well, both extrusion and roller types.
posted by TedW at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2009

I have no idea what italian brands make it to the other side of the ocean. Imperia and Atlas are the recognized de facto standard in Italy.

You want something sturdy, possibly with a c-clamp attachment (or accessory) at the bottom to fix it to your counter. Usually a motor is available as an accessory (but hand cranking is perfectly fine as long as you don't have to feed an army).

I have seen models with wooden rollers, but found no substantial difference with the steel ones in the end result.

You can also find other accessories such as cutters for tagliatelle or spaghetti (usually with one or two widths) or to prepare ravioli (two sheets of pasta are rolled in together with the filling in its dispenser, ravioli come out). I see there are a few on ebay, and you're looking at something between 50 and 100$.
posted by _dario at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2009

Make sure you have counters that are compatible with the clamp. In my old house if I wanted to use my pasta maker I had to remove a drawer and use a 2x4 in order to jury-rig the clamp so it would stay down. You really need to clamp it tightly. You need enough overhang on your counters to use the clamp properly.
posted by bondcliff at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2009

I have an Imperia SP150, and I think it's an excellent piece of kitchen equipment. It's a two-piece set-up, where the cutter sits atop the roller, and neatly slots into place. There are further do-hickeys one can buy and add on for making filled pastas, but you seem to suggest that sort of thing won't be necessary. I don't have a dishwasher, and find it straight-forward to clean by hand. The cranking handle can be heavy work sometimes, but in a good, fun-type way: no more or less of a hassle than rolling the pasta dough out in the first place before you even get it into the machine. The only thing of note probably is that the user will be better to have some counter-top space that is without fitted cabinets beneath (or else use a free-standing table) as the pasta-machine is fixed whilst in use by a C-clamp. I can't speak of comparisons to electric machines, I'm afraid, as this is the only type I've ever used, but the Imperia gets a solid endorsement for sturdiness and ease of use (and cleaning too).
posted by hydatius at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2009

They're heavy - so if you're going to be storing one maybe it would be a good idea to keep it more or less at counter level.
posted by watercarrier at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm not a fan of the kitchenaid attachments. I've had machines from Atlas, Imperia, and Belpasta, the Belpasta is by far the best. Unfortunately the price went from $80 when I bought mine to $200 now, I can't see spending that much on it. I'd worry less about the cutting attachments and more about the width of the machine -- you can always cut your pasta with a knife or a chitarra (my preference) but you're only able to make sheets as wide as the rollers. I really like being able to make lasagna with one sheet of pasta per layer. I'd skip the motorized attachment since it really isn't much work to crank by hand and you've got more control over the process.
posted by foodgeek at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2009

I wouldn't fret too much over the decision. I went with a fairly cheap-o hand-crank machine for something like $30-40, and it works great. Pasta makers are pretty much the greatest kitchen devices ever.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2009

Two things: 1) Make sure it has a sturdy clamp. I had one that would constantly come undone, rendering it pretty much useless. I have an Atlas now, and the clamp is good, but the edges of my kitchen table are chamfered, so I still tend to have a bit of slippage.

2) Does the recipient have cats or dogs? If so, invest in one that can be stored in a box, or with a canvas cover, or something like that. I stored mine uncovered in the pantry for a while, and it resulted in pasta that had cat hair and dust rolled right into the dough.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2009

I like the Kitchen Aid attachment. Maybe I have bony girl arms, but I find hand cranking a pain in the ass once the novelty of homemade pasta passes. It's not wide enough, as others observed, put is fine for linguine. And yes, fresh homemade pasta is close to the best thing ever.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2009

I made homemade ravioli once with a pasta handcrank machine and it worked fine. We needed a large overhang off the countertop to attach the c-clamp but it was pretty easy. There was also an electric one that basically did the same thing without needing to be clamped.

As an aside, we were making a lot of raviolis and stacked them interspersed with wax paper. Don't do this, all the dough stuck to the paper and we had to remake the raviolis.
posted by scrutiny at 10:58 AM on November 19, 2009

I like the KitchenAid as well. The roller version, the press is crap. A larger motorized specialty machine would be nicer, but the motor outweighs the size for me, as it makes it far easier for a single person to use.

It doesn't matter that they don't have a dishwasher because you should never let the pasta maker anywhere near it, whatever kind you get.
posted by ecurtz at 11:03 AM on November 19, 2009

The Atlas is just fine; we eat fresh pasta at least a couple times a week, and it takes about 30 minutes from raw ingredients having cut noodles drying. 20 minutes of that time is resting time for the dough. I like the settings of the Atlas - a cheaper machine (a norpro, I think) I had once had big and uneven gradations in sizes, meaning the pasta sheets were always too thin or too thick for what you wanted it for. The Atlas' fettucini cutter is a good all-purpose width; otherwise, we cut our sheets with a knife.

The ravioli attachment is pretty silly. We make our ravioli with egg wash and two thin sheets on top of each other and cut with a pastry wheel or sometimes a biscuit cutter; you have a lot more control that way. The ones the machine makes have a LOT of filling for the amount of pasta (blech) and they aren't very pretty (may not matter so much).

The one thing I might consider adding is a convenient drying rack situation. We just put filled raviolis on cooling racks, and hang noodles on a clothes drying rack, but something that you can slide the noodles off of directly into the water would really be ideal.

And you should never, never put a metal machine into the dishwasher, anyway (it will rust). All you need to do is knock any flour out and maybe clean up in the rollers with a pastry brush or similar.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:09 AM on November 19, 2009

Pro-tip one: only roll your pasta to the second- or third-thinnest setting and then run it through the spaghetti cutter for ersatz spaghetti alla chitarra!

Pro-tip two: We make two or three times as much pasta as we need at once in the food processor, and then freeze the leftover dough in a flat block. Makes it really convenient to have fresh pasta any time.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:12 AM on November 19, 2009

> The recipient doesn't have a dishwasher and will probably only make lasagne sheets and other similar variants with it.

You don't need a pasta machine for that. Just roll it out on a board. We use the bread machine to make the dough, and that saves a lot of work, but rolling out big sheets and cutting them into big strips is not hard. (Also, no need to boil them -- if you use wet lasagna fillings like raw veggies, they will plump up in the baking. Easy.)
posted by Listener at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2009

Maybe not the advice you're looking for, but:

Don't buy one at all. Making pasta just isn't worth the effort, and I say this as a diehard foodie. It'll get used a couple of times then sit in a cupboard glummoring at you.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: Maybe not the advice you're looking for, but:

You're right. It's not.
posted by Solomon at 3:25 AM on November 21, 2009

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