Choosing a pasta machine
I want to buy a hand-cranked pasta machine, perhaps wit the option of attaching a motor later on. After reading several older queries on this board, I've decided against buying the KitchenAid attachment and learned that I'll probably have to settle for a machine will need additional clamping to the counter with a hardware vice or something. My counter lip is pretty small, though, so this problem worries me. Some friends recently got a machine made in China as a gift and they really don't like the blades. So:
Do I need to get Italian-made?
Which ones can take some real use and can roll very thin for ravioli, etc?
Which ones might have a strong stand or grips that actually work?
I'll willing to spend to get quality the first time. The CHOW pasta video shows an Atlas and that looks pretty good and is $95 on amazon.com, but that seems like a lot...
Italian-made is what you want, simpler the better. Avoid fanciful cutters that promise ravioli and stick to linguine, fettucine or wider cuts. The old school hand-cranked models with one or two slip-on cutters will last for years. These are capable of producing precise thicknesses from chunky to paper thin. I'd recommend clamping to a kitchen table or to a heavy cutting board if counter margins are too skimpy.
I've had the standard Imperia machine for several years. It works great. As an aside, when I took a class a culinary school on handmade pasta this is the machine they used. I have a standard thickness counter and I always clamp it directly to the counter - but you should add a cutting board if the counter is too thin.
Wow, which threads did you read on the KitchenAid attachment? I did the same, saw almost universal praise, and bought one at an Amazon Friday sale two months ago. It is fantastic. I made great fettucine the first time out.
To be clear, I mean this one:
I read a bunch of reviews inset in the hand-crank discussion, as well as a thread (if I remember correctly) on the KitchenAid attachment. People complained that it worked great the first few times, but broke or became problematic after a small number of uses. People also complained, less often, that it made the mixer very hot and they could tell it was really taxing the motor. Someone even looked into it and found out that the piece that often breaks is a small plastic piece that probably costs a dollar, but K.A. won't sell them or replace them. When I found out there was plastic in the construction, that was it for me. I'd rather invest in a fully metal model that won't wear out my precious mixer. But I did really want one before and Gourmet gave it a rave review last year. I wouldn't fuss so much over this purchase, except that I'm a student and although I spend a lot on kitchen stuff, I need it to last. I don't feel I can take the risk of buying a $100+ piece of equipment that several people have been so disappointed by.
For what it's worth, i've had nothing but great performance from my KA rollers.
I can't imagine why rolling raw pasta dough through the rollers would tax a mixer.
I have had problems getting a proper dough consistency while using the plastic extruder dies (for spaghetti, etc), but that's another product and process altogether. The link to the KA rollers provided by wrenhunter is the product I have. Could not be happier.
I've had an Atlas for years, and it works great, although the price you found on Amazon seems a little high, as I recall them being in the $50-60 range not that long ago. The nice thing about an Atlas is that you can start with the basic hand-crank machine, and if you really get into pasta making, there are many attachments, including a motor.
Actually, I just checked Sur La Table's website, and their basic Atlas is $69.95.
$95--wow, the dollar has taken a hit. I'd still go with an Italian machine, though. Atlas and Imperia get the best reviews. I like my Imperia.
Word to the wise--looking at amazon.com, there's a lot of confusion wrt manufacturer / importer. So there's the Villaware Imperia, the Sunbeam Imperia, and the Cucina Pro Imperia, all of which appear to be the same basic Imperia machine, but which sell for a wide range of prices. Same with the Atlas, the Norpro Atlas, and the Marcato Atlas. Prices range from $35 to $100 for what appears to be essentially the same machine.
Some of the price difference might have to do with the exchange rate as of the date of import, but there may be other factors involved too. Main thing is to look on the listing for "made in Italy" and check the box for the same when it arrives.
IMHO you'll use the machine more if you get the motor now. Unless you've got a set of willing extra hands (and even then) it can be challenging to get an even sheet of pasta rolled and cut. Or maybe it's just my lack of coordination. YMMV.