Pasta science – The ingredients
Since pasta only contains two (maybe 3, and more maybe 4) ingredients, the science of pasta is pretty straight forward. So let’s start with the ingredients:
With just flour and eggs you can make a perfectly fine pasta. Eggs contain fats & proteins, they contribute to the richness of the pasta. The rest of the eggs is mostly water, but making a pasta with only water will give a bland and soggy pasta.
The eggs are mixed with the flour and kneaded together well. It can take a while for a pasta dough to come together and this is because the dough contains quite little water. The water has to hydrate the flour particles (the starch and gluten) and the kneading has to develop the gluten. Both these processes require both time as well as kneading.
The main trick of making pasta really is kneading the dough until it becomes super smooth. It takes some time and effort to do this (just like baking bread). However, once you’ve got the hang of it, making pasta isn’t that hard anymore. A well kneaded pasta dough will be a lot firmer than a bread dough. It’s important that at the end of kneading the pasta is flexible enough to roll out into a thin sheet.
FOOD CRUMBLES had the best article: All information on this text is borrowed from the website for your reading pleasure.
Which flour type to use for fresh pasta?
Any decent flour will work. We’ve used regular flour, type 00 flour, special pasta flour or flour meant for pastry. There are small differences between the flours, but for me they’re so small I most likely won’t notice them in any sort of blind taste test. So, when making pasta, don’t let having the wrong flour hold you back. (Just don’t use whole wheat on your first attempt, that will defenitely be harder to make.)
Why salt & water?
Eggs are quite large, and we all know the dilemma of making 1,5 recipe of something with eggs. You tend to need 1,5 eggs as well. If you’re making just a bit more than 1 portion (hence 1 whole egg) you can add some additional water to still bring the dough together. Water is great to correct a single portion of dough as well if you added just a bit too much flour. Since you’ve already got the egg in there, it won’t be soggy and still have quite a bite to it.
The salt is there just for flavour. I personally leave it out, preferring to flavour the overall dish at the end instead of the individual pasta, but that’s personal as well and will depend on what you’re serving the pasta with.
Pasta science: Why all the kneading and rolling?
The essence of pasta making is that it’s kneaded and rolled out properly. In order to understand that, we’ll first zoom in on the flour. Flour is made up of mostly starch and gluten (proteins). While kneading your pasta (just like when kneading a bread dough) you’re developing the gluten. In other words, you’re building up a gluten network. This is done by orienting the gluten proteins and allowing them to organize themselves. This is what is done during the kneading process.
After kneading you will roll the pasta dough quite a few times. If you’re doing this by hand with a rolling pin you might want to rest the dough for an hour or so before heading on. During the resting period the gluten relax and orient themselves. This will prevent the dough from ‘pulling back’ after you’ve rolled it. However, if you’re using a pasta machine, there’s no need to wait, just head straight on to the rolling.
By rolling it through a pasta machine several times you’re actually helping the gluten to develop even further and structure into nice flat sheets. You can also do it by hand, but a pasta roller really is a lot easier for making those very thin smooth sheets. The gluten tends to pull the sheets together and with a pin roller it requires a little more skill to overcome this properly (and prevent it from sticking to the counter top!).
Is resting pasta dough necessary?
For those who scan through the text, no, you don’t have to if you’re using a pasta machine. If you’re rolling the dough by hand resting will make your life a little easier.
Can I do kneading with a machine?
Yes, no problem. We use a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, one of my favourite tools in the kitchen for sure), but I’ve also seen food processors being used, just to bring the dough together. It will save you time mixing the eggs with the flour, which otherwise is a slow process with making a puddle within the flour and slowly incorporating the egg. So yes, making pasta takes time, but please do take this shortcut if you feel like it!
- 100g flour (I prefer using hard Durum flour, but to be honest, normal bread flour works well as well)
- 1 egg
- some water
- Knead the egg and flour together to get a cohesive dough. You might need to add some extra water, but add the water slowly. The dough should have come together as one firm ball and really requires some kneading to become smooth.
- After some kneading (this will take anywhere between 10-20 minutes) you will feel the consistency getting softer.
- Take out your pasta machine and roll the dough in between the two rolls. It’ll flatten slightly, fold it double and roll again, do so for several times. If the dough starts feeling wet add some extra flour.
- Once the dough starts feeling softer, start decreasing the width of the rollers every time you take it through until you’ve reached the desired thickness.
- Hang the pasta on a pasta rack or any smart set up that you can come up. I wouldn’t advise kitchen chairs with large backs, tried that and we had pasta stuck all over the kitchen chair…
- We found that leaving the pasta to hang on the rack for just a couple of minutes will already start drying the pasta and makes it easier to cook al dente.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil, take at least a liter, and add the pasta. This pasta requires really short cooking times of only 2-3 minutes so take care not to overcook it!