Gauging pasta
February 20, 2005 8:11 AM   Subscribe

We've recently bought a manual type pasta maker. Looks like fun and operation mostly make sense. One thing though: when I'm rolling sheets of pasta how do I determine what the proper thickness is for the type of pasta I'm making? The machine has seven settings. Some things are obvious: angel hair at the thinnest setting for instance, but how thick should fettucine or linguine or plain ol' spaghetti be?
posted by PinkStainlessTail to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I use a Marco Atlas (IIRC). Almost everything gets a "6" setting, perhaps a half-millimeter thick (?).
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on February 20, 2005

We have one too. Actually, we are on our second, having worn one out. Never wash it with water. I usually use the 4 setting. Generally, wider noodles get a thinner setting. Whole wheat dough needs a thinner setting too, or it's like chewing tree bark.
posted by mecran01 at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2005

Best answer: You're going to always use first or second-thinnest for the finished product. The larger settings are used to get the sheets progressively thinner. As in you start with the widest and work down. It isn't necessary to use every setting, but use every other or so.

Most people are content to just feed through at the thickness they want. But we're missing something in our finished product, apparently.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:32 AM on February 20, 2005

Best answer: We use mostly a '6' too - the fettucine comes out rather delicate, but not TOO thin. (The first time I did fettucine, I followed a recipe and did it at '8' - that was WAY too thin - it was like eating very tasty wet paper with sauce - LOL.) I believe we made the tagliarini (square spaghetti - heh) at 6 too. I also did lasagna at 6, although I might recommend 5 if you're into really hearty lasagna with lots of strong flavors.

When I got my pasta machine, I also got the book called, "Pasta Tecnica" by Pasquale Bruno, Jr. which is packed full of excellent recipes, pasta machine tips and ideas, etc. Highly recommended.

I didn't know about the whole wheat dough - thanks for the tip! I mostly use regular unbleached flour, which seems pretty supple.
posted by thunder at 9:39 AM on February 20, 2005

Best answer: I only use the thinnest setting for capellini. Everything else, the second-to-last setting. (Once, I made maccheroni alla chitarra, which has a square cross-section, using the third-to-last setting and the narrow spaghetti cutters, but it looked too Borg-like.)

You may find this useful: run your pasta through the next to last setting twice, upside down the second time. If you look carefully, you'll see that the rollers are not exactly parallel, because the movable one pivots rather than slides at the end opposite the adjustment knob. So the pasta is thinner along one edge. By flipping and re-rolling the sheet gets a bit thinner and more uniform.

Email in profile if you want more opinions.
posted by Wet Spot at 9:46 AM on February 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Second on "Pasta Technica" - it's a good book, full of pictures. (But, he uses the wrong kind of roller with hand-made pasta!)
posted by Wet Spot at 9:49 AM on February 20, 2005

The instructions that came with it should have good general advice. If I remember correctly, we used the 2nd or 3rd to thinnest setting for most general types of pasta, as directed and it worked out great.
posted by mathowie at 9:52 AM on February 20, 2005

Where is Ron Popeil when you need him?
posted by ParisParamus at 10:07 AM on February 20, 2005

Response by poster: The instructions that came with it should have good general advice.

The instruction that came with it use the "to desired thickness" cop out, though they do cover the idea of stepping down through all the intervening settings as the Mayor mentions above.

Pasta Tecnica sounds good. Thanks everyone!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:08 AM on February 20, 2005

Also good -- roll out two sheets to the thinnest setting, and then sandwich fresh herbs between the two. Now roll it out again. Not as mysterious as the ship in the bottle, perhaps, but tastier....
posted by Framer at 10:11 AM on February 20, 2005

Where is Ron Popeil when you need him?

ARRRGGH!! Extruded pasta (other than the commercial stuff pressed through stainless steel dies under tons of pressure) is the shite - it has the consistency of that yucky paste from grade school. (You did eat paste, didn't you?) Marcella Hazan said it best:

Do not be tempted by one of those awful devices that masticate eggs and flour at one end and extrude a choice of pasta shapes through another end. What emerges is a mucilaginous and totally contemptible product, and moreover, the contraption is an infuriating nuisance to clean.
posted by Wet Spot at 10:23 AM on February 20, 2005

I mostly use regular unbleached flour, which seems pretty supple.

OMG. That. Is. An. Abomination.

Do yourself the biggest favour and seek out some durum semolina flour. True pasta flour. It will be so much better.

Note that we've two sets of users here: one who have an Atlas machine that goes up to "9" and the mystery brand that goes up to "6".

Those of us with an Atlas end up with pasta that is, I'm serious, as thin as a sheet of paper when cranked to the maximum setting. Not useful.

Note re: lasagna noodles -- a "6" setting is great if you're eating it all immediately. If you're tossing it in the freezer, you will find the noodles triple in thickness over time. You'll want to use a thinner noodle, otherwise it's rather like eating polenta.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also, I had a noodle extruder. It made fine noodles, provided one was using durum semolina flour. White flour is just disgusting, extruded noodle or not.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:40 PM on February 20, 2005

The book is right, you need to find your desired setting. Just try the stuff at different settings and you'll figure out what you like best, but as others have said, 5 or 6 is a good starting place.

In regards to the seven settings, the theory is this: run the pasta through the 1st setting, then fold in half & run it through again. Move to the next setting and repeat, do this through all of the settings. What you are doing with all of this is completing the kneading process for the dough. Of course, you can play with this process to change the consistency of your final product.

Semolina flour vs. white flour. Traditionally, pure semolina flour is only used for dried pasta, fresh pasta is made with white flour. The way the Italians make fresh pasta is by making a large mound of flour on the counter, making a deep well in the center of the mound and breaking the desired number of eggs into the well. The eggs are beaten in the center and the flour is slowly pulled in from the sides of the well until you have a workable mass. Remove the dough and start kneading on the counter. Work in flour until the dough is the proper consistency, drier than you think. If the dough isn't dry enough, your cut pasta will stick together and cook up slimy. As a side note, you can make dried pasta with your machine by using semolina flour and water for the dough.

Extruders vs. rollers. Cheap extruders work fine as long as they can handle the insanely tough consistency of proper pasta dough, the problem is that most can't and therefore require that your dough is too wet, resulting in bad pasta. The bottom line is that extruders and rollers serve different purposes in the creation of pasta, one method isn't better than the other.

Sorry for the dissertation, but you picked my favorite subject.
posted by spaghetti at 2:46 PM on February 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Lots of excellent info here - great thread!

And I don't mean to hijack this thread, but I was also wondering if anyone here made fresh pasta ahead of time and then stored it in the fridge... if so, care to share how? How do you bundle the pasta (does the fettucine work best wound up a bit like it looks in the containers in the 'fresh pasta' part of the supermarket?) and it what kind of container and for how long? I've heard two weeks as the maximum, but never tried it myself.
posted by thunder at 2:55 PM on February 20, 2005

It stores fine as long as it's dry enough not to stick together. I'm not sure how long it will keep in the fridge, but it will keep for quite a while in the freezer. Basically, just put it in a tupperware and throw it in the fridge. I do this all the time when I'm having people over and make my pasta the day before.
posted by spaghetti at 3:02 PM on February 20, 2005

Response by poster: Went with setting 2, which is the second thinnest setting on this machine (arcosteel I think). Made lovely fettucine, and yes we used a combination of semolina flour and unbleached all purpose flour. For the first time in my life I truly understand what's meant by al dente, and why it's a desirable quality.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:52 PM on February 20, 2005

A sprinkling of flour over the dough after the first roll will help keep the pasta from sticking together.

I remain extremely doubtful of the idea of using white flour for pasta. Especially as it wasn't all that long ago that there was no white flour at all, so the Italians sure as heck weren't using it to begin with. I expect if white flour became popular, it's only because it's now ubiquitous and people are lazy.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:16 PM on February 20, 2005

The Italians do indeed use white flour to make pasta. The best flour for this is, of course, Italian flour -- this is made with a soft Italian wheat with a much different flour from typical American hard wheat (it's great for making flavorful bread as well). What you're looking for is a flour labelled "Tipo OO" which can be found at your local Italian market (natch), or sometimes specialty stores. Two widely available brands are Bel Aria and Barilla.
posted by casu marzu at 1:31 PM on February 21, 2005

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