Mmm, fresh tagliatelle...
December 25, 2007 11:53 PM   Subscribe

I want to make pasta, but it's oh-so-complicated...

The girlfriend and I both enjoy really simple, traditional Italian food. Unfortunately, we're both in college and haven't had a decent Italian dish in months (our school food is terrible). We will both have more free time next semester, and I really enjoy cooking, so I thought it would be appropriate to try and make some healthy and more delicious things.

Home-made pasta seemed to be a nice starting point - my mother makes it and it is incredible, so much better than the store-bought stuff. It is simple to do and would be a great way to spend an afternoon, but there are some snags:

- I've only got a dorm kitchen to work with, meaning a simple electric stove, a sink, and notalot of counter space
- I've got some cooking equipment but do not own a pasta machine, and I'd prefer not to buy one (is there a way to get away with a smaller, less expensive tool?)
- we both eat relatively small portions, so it would be ideal if we could make a batch and store it over a week or two (at home my family would usually eat an entire batch, none left to freeze or whatever)

We are, of course, on a college budget and living in dorm rooms. The most affordable and most simple (easy cleanup) solution would be ideal. What I am really looking for is the least intensive way to make some simple yet excellent pasta. Thanks mefi!
posted by roygbv to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I hear you about the dorm food. You are doing the right thing by looking elsewhere for your calories.

Luckily, you don't need any fancy equipment to make pasta dough. Traditionally, it is made on a countertop. You will need flour, eggs, and a fork (plus water). Salt too. And a rolling pin. But you can improvise the rolling pin if you can get your hands on a wine bottle.

As you probably know, the pasta machine makes rolling it out easier -- you can get it really thin. But you can still roll it by hand with the pin, and when it comes time to cut, do this: sprinkle the whole sheet of dough with flour and roll it into a tube, then cut it into rings of whatever width you'd like. Shake them a bit to get the flour off and you'll be left with big long strands of tagliatelle.

As for freezing, I've never tried it but I think it would work pretty well. You could also try just drying the strands of pasta, but that requires lots of space and things to drape noodles over, which you likely don't have.

As for sauce, you can do a really simple butter and garlic (just toss together with the hot, just-boiled pasta), or you can do my favorite simple tomato sauce. Heat up a small skillet or frying pan and add some butter or oil. Smash a couple garlic cloves and fry them in the oil (we're talking about a tablespoon or 2 of oil; not much). Add a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes -- any will do -- and cook for about 10 minutes. Toss with pasta. Eat.

Personally, I think you would really need some fresh Parmesan to go on top of whatever you're eating. You can get this pregrated at a grocery store if you must -- DON'T GET THE SHIT IN THE CAN. But if you go to the deli they'll have small tubs of Parm that is all ready to go.

Good luck! Pasta making is a joy.
posted by rossination at 12:12 AM on December 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

Pasta's incredibly easy (if time consuming) to make. I'm of the opinion that pasta machines are more trouble and expense than they're worth. Instead, use a cutting board (or clean, floured table), a rolling pin, and a knife with a thin blade. You can find plenty of recipes online--stick with the most basic ones for now--oil, water, and flour, maybe an egg. Once you've got workable dough (kneaded once, refrigerated, kneaded again), roll it out as thin as you can. Then cut it into thin strips. At first, it may help to have a pot of boiling water you can throw a few strands into, to test the thickness of the pasta (they'll be done in 2-3 minutes). If it's too thick, it'll taste chewy/underdone in the center, even if it's overcooked on the outside. You'll know it when you taste it.

You can always store pasta dough wrapped in plastic wrap, in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If it gets too cold, you may need to let it warm up before it's workable. Storing already-made pasta is nearly as easy, but it has a propensity for sticking together. If it's spaghetti, dry it on a pastry rack first (or hang it over the back of a chair for a few hours).

For what it's worth, I used to love making homemade pasta, and have bought several pasta machines and ravioli presses. The only gadget I've found to be at all worthwhile is the Metro Dumpling Maker (I found it at Ross' for $5, and I bet you can too). I bought the Marcato "extruder" at a thrift store for $3 and think it's fine for the price; if I'd paid $60 I'd be pretty upset! I always see pasta machines at thrift stores for $5 or so, but even at that price, I wouldn't recommend one. YMMV; some people seem to love 'em.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:16 AM on December 26, 2007

pasta is not HARD work but it is a bit intensive, especially spacewise as it needs to dry. You don't need a pasta machine (just make wide noodles) but if you don't have a good mixer prepare for a bunch of dough kneeding, roll out thin cut with sharp knife.

I've never stored made pasta more than a day or two, so can't speak as to its longivity capacity.

Perhaps, and this is not to disuade you from making pasta, another, easier idea is to collect recipie ideas for simple, tasty, cheap, heathy food to make. I tend to view made pasta as a special thing to do, not a basic weekday afair.

(pasta falls under my "General Theory of Cruton". There are things, like crutons, which seem so simple and basic, yet most people do not make becasue the hassle of making it far outweighs spending the cheap outlay for the store bought item. Pasta... either you spend many hours in prep and many hours in dry time, or you go spend $2.00 for a two pound box of Creamette.)
posted by edgeways at 12:20 AM on December 26, 2007

Oh heck--should've previewed! To be fair, a good rolling pin (borrowed or bought cheaply at Ross', etc) will make the process much easier than a wine bottle. :)

My primary pasta sauce ingredients are garlic, butter, and either olives+feta+mushrooms, or spinach+plain yogurt+cumin. The latter is much more filling and nutritious. Saute. Add yogurt last (if you're adding it at all), still cold. The sauted spinach will warm it up without causing it to clot like sauteing it will.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:24 AM on December 26, 2007

In culinary school we learned to make pasta with flour an egg and just a little water to give the dough some help (like use a few drops at a time) and a pinch of salt

The pasta machine just helps make the work easier, but if there's more than one of you, it can be fun either way.

1 cup of flour (or 1/2 flour and 1/2 semolina) one egg and the bit of water and salt.,,FOOD_9936_22504,00.html

It gives the recipe for a HUGE batch, 1 cup flour and one egg will give you enough for the two of you...I think the last time I made dinner for 6 with fresh ravioli I only used 2 cups flour and 2 eggs and Mario skips the salt.

All the recipes seem to mention the machine, but my Nonina made it by hand as did generations of other Italian Grammas :)
posted by legotech at 12:31 AM on December 26, 2007

rossination, that link is bliss. Going to go and pick up the remaining supplies I lack tomorrow, give it a shot in my own kitchen (home for the holidays) and then take everything back to school with me. I've only seen it made with a pasta machine, but it looks much easier to do things without one - and the rustic Italian pasta feel is exactly what I'm going for.

And butter + garlic + fresh grated parmesan = my favorite.
posted by roygbv at 12:38 AM on December 26, 2007

Ahhh, pasta...
(mother was from Bologna, home to tagliatelle, and generally to fresh pasta, I have fond memories as a kid watching her during winter afternoons, especially in this season, working beautifully and - almost - magically on huge batches of pasta)

As stated above, equipment to prepare pasta can be as little as a rolling pin and a wooden board (but a clean, floured table is ok). (think of a board at leat 3 by 2 feet (they can be as much as 5-6 ft in width, 3 in height) made assembling planks of poplar wood (you don't want a resinous wood such as pine or a tannic one such as oak).

Pasta: about 1 med. egg / 100 grams of flour per person, 1 pinch of salt.

Mix, knead to a ball, let rest - covered - for about 30', then start rolling with the rolling pin in the various directions until you have achieved uniformly the desired thickness (which should be 1/2mm at a maximum). This is easier said than done, though

If you prepare larger batches, and the thinner you work it, the rolled "sfoglia" (which is the name of the dough once rolled) will eventually grow to a quite large, thin sheet - rolling pins used for that are usually a couple inches in diameter and 5 ft. long. Rest assured, the first times it will probably tear, form holes, be too dry or too wet and sticky and generally unmanageable. Keep trying, because practice makes perfect.

Keep everything floured while working so that it doesn't stick, but not so much as it tends to dry quickly (it depends heavily on weather and kitchen humidity).

(re: preservation, pasta dries well and you can keep it - in a dry place - for a few days)
posted by _dario at 12:40 AM on December 26, 2007

Oh, and anyone else have experience with the freezing of pasta? Refrigeration of dough sounds okay, but if I could take finished pieces of the stuff and pack it away that'd be even better...
posted by roygbv at 12:40 AM on December 26, 2007

You should not have any problem in freezing the cut pasta. The only thing I can think of is: be a bit more careful not to overcook it since the freezing will cause some damage to the gluten lattice (which holds everything together), so it will probably cook in a bit less time. I'd go as far as saying that you can probably cook the pasta while it's still frozen.

Partially dried and then refrigerated fresh pasta keeps for weeks (it's the way it's usually sold in supermarkets here in Italy, although in airtight / controlled atmosphere packages, so YMMV).
posted by _dario at 12:49 AM on December 26, 2007

If it's OK, I'd like to piggyback on this question and ask the pasta chefs if they have any tips for making the pasta as thin and flat as possible. I've made dough half a dozen times and can never seem to make it flat enough--my pasta always ends up thick and undercooked inside.
posted by maxreax at 1:44 AM on December 26, 2007

I just read that by flipping the dough multiple times and occasionally wrapping it around the roller and pulling it off slow and gentle, one can get dime-thin pasta. Also from recent finds, kneading the dough until it is silk smooth will allow for a thin roll without things falling apart.

For what it's worth.
posted by roygbv at 1:51 AM on December 26, 2007

Also, you can cut your dough into sections, and roll out smaller portions. The less you're working with at a time, the easier it is to roll it out to desired thickness.
posted by headspace at 6:33 AM on December 26, 2007

You can also make gnocchi, esp. if you don't have a lot of other equipment. Basically a bowl, a fork and a mixing spoon.

posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:15 AM on December 26, 2007

I've made pasta many times, but a great shortcut (one that caterers even use) is using wonton wrappers to make ravioli. Quick, easy, delicious--and you can make exactly the quantity the two of you can eat, or freeze the rest. Just use a bit of water to seal two wrappers around whatever filling you choose.
posted by carrienation at 7:49 AM on December 26, 2007

I've found that kneading it, and then letting it rest for an hour before rolling it helps immeasurably in getting better texture and thinness.

Maybe throw the dough together before a lecture and then knead and roll it when you get back?
posted by heeeraldo at 12:45 PM on December 26, 2007

I've made ravioli and frozen it with no problems. Just throw it straight in boiling water to cook, and it only takes marginally longer than fresh (you don't want to end up with frozen filling!). Didn't seem to affect the taste or texture particularly. I froze it all on a cookie sheet so it wouldn't stick togther, then bagged it up in ziplock bags once frozen.

I like the pasta machine, bought it off Ebay, but it isn't a necessity.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:34 PM on December 26, 2007

One trick you can do, if you just want the taste of homemade pasta without the fuss, is buy a pack of wonton wrappers and use them to make ravioli. The dough is nearly the same and the results are pretty good. You can go crazy with fillings. Pumpkin is always a favorite.

Actually, ravioli even from scratch might be a good choice because unlike the hassle of cutting many thin strips of pasta, you only have to roll it thin and then cut into squares.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:12 PM on December 26, 2007

Wonton wrapper ravioli is great, BUT -- and I say this from experience -- it all goes to shit when frozen. Regular dough may be fine, but if you make wonton ravioli they will fall apart once they come out of the freezer.
posted by rossination at 8:42 PM on December 26, 2007

I'd be tempted to invest in one of those very thin, flexible plastic sheets to lay on the table to work on. When your mother* made that without the egg on rainy days when you were a toddler, she called it "flour paste", and once it dries to the table, removal operations could take longer than the production phase. You could just haul the sheet to the sink and it would be a lot easier to clean, and they roll for storage. Besides, it's a dorm kitchen table, and you don't know where it's been. (Yeah, you could just Clorox it, I worry too much; but it's still going to be easier to clean.)

* YMMHV - Your Mother May Have Varied, but it's still the same chemistry.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:18 PM on December 28, 2007

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