The best advice I’ve ever gotten is something we’ve all heard before:
Fake it ’til you make it.
I was a shy little intern at my first bakery job when the Chef there casually threw this tiny phrase at me, and I don’t think he realized how much I would take it to heart. Because of this offhanded advice, I started to fake the necessary confidence and “make it”. I became a real baker there after my internship, and actually felt sure of myself rather than fearful that I would burn the whole place to the ground.
The beauty of “fake it ’til you make it” is that it can even be applied ability, particularly when it comes to being in the kitchen.
And that’s where this pasta comes in.
Before embarking on the mission to make homemade pasta, I assumed the process would be insanely complicated and require the skills and dexterity of a wise Italian nonna.
What I found was that it’s just a long process, but actually relatively simple. Sure I hit some road bumps along the way, but nothing that I couldn’t overcome with the help of a quick Google search. Even then I still had no clue what I was doing – all I had was the confidence that I could figure it out.
What I discovered was that the best homemade pasta is made with real semolina, not plain old all-purpose flour. Most of the pasta recipes I saw out there call for all-purpose because it’s easy, but AP flour just isn’t strong enough for pasta, and in my opinion, lacks true pasta flavor. You can find semolina at most health food stores, or online (I got mine from King Arthur Flour). Not to mention there are many other uses for it beyond this pasta.
I’ll even let you in on a secret: I had to make this pasta at least seven times before I got my recipe right. Even after switching from AP to semolina, I messed up in every possible way, which is great – now I can warn you about all the possible pasta pitfalls.
Ready? Let’s do this.
To make this pasta, the most important things you’ll need are time and energy. Depending on how big a batch you make, it could take you 5 hours to sheet and cut it all and still have time to let it dry. I like to blast some old school Louis Prima and dance around singing as I go to keep my energy levels up. I’m normal, guys.
The recipe I have makes enough for roughly four servings. Feel free to double or triple it, just be conscious of how dry or wet your dough feels. Actually, I encourage you to double the recipe, because for all the effort that goes into this, you should be rewarded with extra pasta to freeze for later. It’s only fair.
And because I was frustrated by the lack of eggless recipes for pasta out there, I also created an eggless recipe. It’s made up of only semolina and water, and is great for making shapes that require more structure. I personally prefer the egg pasta for its flavor, but choose for yourself. Not only is the eggless one vegan, it also doesn’t require durum flour, so that’s one less ingredient for you to buy if you don’t already have it.
I’ve tried this recipe using three different methods: going traditional and making a well of flour straight on the table top, mixing the flour and eggs/water in a bowl with a wooden spoon, and using an electric mixer allowing the dough hook to do the heavy lifting. Conclusion? I prefer using the electronic mixer because I’m lazy. A mixer does the job much more quickly. There’s no difference in the end result, but if you love the feel of kneading dough by hand (as I do), then knead it on the table for a few minutes after taking it out of the mixer. Don’t be worried about over-kneading it: this isn’t a delicate cake, you actually want gluten to develop for pasta dough. So go crazy.
Fresh Semolina Pasta
1 1/2 cup semolina flour
1 1/2 cup durum flour
pinch of salt
1 cup water
Without eggs*: (see bottom for additional instructions)
2 cups semolina flour
1 cup warm water
pinch of salt
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours and salt. Make a well in the center and add both eggs at once, plus roughly half of the water. Turn the mixer on low and continue slowly adding the remaining water until the dough comes together into a craggy mass.
Increase the speed to medium for 5 minutes, until you have a uniform dough. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 more minutes to relax it, then keep kneading on medium for another 10-15 minutes. The egg pasta needs a little more time kneading than the eggless.
When your dough is silky, smooth, not sticky, and you can pull at it and it stretches without breaking, wrap it up in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. If it’s too sticky, keep adding more semolina and kneading until it’s not. If it’s too dry and won’t come together without cracking, add more water. A lot of this depends on the humidity of your environment, there is no right and wrong here, just try to get your dough smooth.
While your dough rests, get your pasta sheeter ready. You’ll also need a couple sheet trays sprinkled with semolina and some extra semolina on hand for dusting the sheets of pasta dough as you go. You may also need a cup of water nearby for sprinkling.
Now let’s get cranking. Cut off a small portion of dough, roughly 1/8th of the total dough amount, and after quickly pressing it flat with your hand, sheet it through starting at 0. You don’t want your dough to feel even a little sticky, so if it does, keep dusting it with semolina in between every time you run it through the sheeter. Sheet it only once at 0, 1, 2, and 3, then stop. This is your last chance to make sure your dough isn’t sticky before putting it through the cutter. If, on the other hand, your sheet of pasta is too dry and you find it cracking and breaking as you sheet it, sprinkle it with water. Again, you’re going for a smooth elastic feel.
(If you don’t have a pasta sheeter, feel free to roll it out by hand. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible, it only takes more effort. Roll it to roughly 2mm thick before cutting).
Attach the pasta cutter and slowly pass it through (I used the fettuccine cutter). Catch the dough before it goes fully through so you can separate the strands of pasta more easily. Alternatively, you can cut it by hand by folding the sheet of dough into thirds or quarters and cutting it into strips of fettuccine or tagliatelle. If you’re looking to make more complex shapes, try the eggless pasta.
After roughly separating the strands of pasta, lay them flat on the semolina dusted sheet trays and repeat with the rest of the dough. (I also tried hanging the pasta on wooden spoon handles balanced between my kitchen chairs, but felt like I was booby trapping my kitchen – one wrong move and I’d knock them over! – so do what works for you here. Laying them flat on sheet trays was a simple solution).
If your dough feels way too sticky while you’re cutting, set up a bowl filled with semolina and drag the pasta through it to fully coat it. If worst comes to worst and either the sheets of dough are way too sticky or the final cut pasta is sticking together too much, you can always re-combine it into a ball of dough and knead it for a few more minutes. Don’t do this more than once or twice, as it will get too stiff to keep working with it, but it’s always an option.
When the pasta is dry enough to not stick together at all, you can shape them into little nests to make cooking and freezing easier. Then let the pasta dry out at room temperature for at least an hour, or until it’s stiff. At this point you can either cook it or freeze it. To cook it fresh, add the pasta to heavily salted boiling water, and allow it to boil for only 1 minute and 20 seconds to al dente. Immediately strain it and toss with olive oil to prevent sticking, reserving some of the pasta cooking water to add to your finished dish.
You can freeze the pasta in ziplock bags for a few months. To cook frozen egg or eggless pasta, cook from frozen and add 3 minutes to the usual cooking time.
*For eggless pasta: Follow the same instructions as the egg pasta, but the dough may need less time kneading in the mixer. This dough is a little tougher than the egg pasta and lends itself well to shapes that require more structure – orecchiette, farfalle, and even penne are possible to make without any fancy equipment. Even get creative and create your own shapes, just remember that it’s best if all your pasta is the same size so it all cooks at the same rate.
When cooking the fresh eggless pasta, cook for 1 minute and 50 seconds. The resulting pasta is less yellow and is slightly more chewy than the egg pasta, but still delicious.
Toss your finished pasta with more olive oil, a splash of the reserved pasta water, and your favorite sauce. I went with a homemade tomato sauce, freshly cracked black pepper, and parmesan flakes. Buon appetito!