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Confusion about Egg Pasta

Egg noodle and pasta recipes range from simple ones that use just eggs and flour to recipes that add water, salt, oil, or semolina flour. Just read the recipes of Oliver, Hazan, Esposito, Caggiano, and others. And, of course, Chinese pulled noodles add an alkaline agent. I get very good noodles with just eggs and all-purpose flour. Do these other ingredients serve a practical purpose? Perhaps the salt would inhibit gluten formation--since salt is a protease inhibitor. But it would also make the noodles hygroscopic. And oil, which may help with elasticity might also shorten the shelf life of dried noodles. Does anyone have any practical insights into all this?

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  1. I use eggs, flour, semolina, olive oil and salt. I make the dough in the food processor and roll it through a manual pasta machine. 90% of the time I cut it by hand. I usually make it in the afternoon and cook it that same evening. If it's ravioli I will freeze the finished product for an hour or two and then finish in boiling water because I have less breakage/leakage than if I put them in at room temp. I find the semolina--which I process first with the eggs and let sit for a few minutes to hydrate--adds flavor/color, the salt adds flavor enhancement, and the oil makes the dough more supple. I never dry fresh pasta though I do occasionally wrap extra dough in plastic and toss into the freezer--where it usually sits until I throw it away.

    1 Reply
    1. re: escondido123

      Thanks. I guess this is a non issue for most people. I'll try it using Mary Ann Esposito's recipe, which is the same as yours. Up to now I've used just egg and flour--as per Marcella Hazan and one of Jamie Oliver's YouTube clips. But one of the other clips adds oil to it.

      1. re: todao

        Todao, thanks for the great link. But for me the issue wasn't whether there are recipes that contain ingredients other than eggs and flour, but what purpose the additions serve. Alton Brown's recipe, on the fresh pasta recipe thread, adds both water and oil besides salt. But the egg is already something like 85% water and high in fat, so what is gained? Wouldn't it be just as easy to adjust the egg to flour ratio? As for salt, its value as a protease inhibitor may justify using it. But the instructions that came with my pasta machine say specifically not to add salt (as does Hazan). So I am not trying to figure out whether or not one can use these ingredients; I'm trying to understand why. Maybe, as with bread making, there is more than one way to go about it.

        1. re: Father Kitchen

          Though both egg and water are liquids, it is far easier to add a little water if extra liquid is needed rather than beating up another egg, using what you need, and throwing away the rest. Also, less wasteful.

          1. re: escondido123

            It is just as easy to hold back a little flour and add it if necessary. Actually, I have added water to pasta when I didn't have a scale and had to estimate the weight based on volume. So I don't object to adding water. I'm just puzzled that a recipe would call for it in the first place when a 2/3 ratio by weight of egg to flour normally makes a perfectly good egg pasta.

            1. re: Father Kitchen

              I'm confused about the ratio of egg to flour you mentioned. I use eggs that may or may not be the same weight and don't measure out my eggs by weight, but rather just crack one open and add it to the mix. I don't add extra eggs, beat them up and them measure out what I need by weight--that could well mean throwing away egg. A little more/less water, a little less/more egg, I've never found that a change either way made much difference. Sometimes it's a dry day so more liquid is needed, sometimes the eggs are bigger or smaller. Sometimes the flour seems more moist than on other days. I figure the Italian women making pasta adjusted each batch based upon the weather, the ingredients and what they had on hand to make things come out right. I doubt those women had a scale to work with so they probably eye balled it every which way.

              1. re: escondido123

                Actually, it works out very simply. The typical American large egg weighs 57 grams net or pretty exactly two ounces. So if you use two eggs, you would have four ounces of eggs and would need six ounces of flour. Michael Ruhluman gives this proportion in his book "Ratios." You can weigh the flour. But if you measure it by scoop and scrape method, one cup will give you 5 ounces or maybe a tad more. Another 1/4 cup will give you slightly more than an ounce. So if I am not weighing the flour, I'll mix in a cup and add a few tablespoons more by feel. Of course, if your flour has absorbed moisture from a humid atmosphere, the results may be slightly different. I applaud anyone who can eyeball it. The proportion by weight simply gives a starting point. My question has simply been about what the addition of salt, water, and oil does for the dough. I note that the CiaoChow link Todao sent also includes black pepper in the dough mix. Also the chef whirs the mixture in a processor until it forms a ball. Some other authorities tell you not to take it that far as it will give you a tough dough. (It would develop the gluten more.) So there is another variable. All of them seem to work. I'm just curious about the why. I got into this when I taught our cook to make pasta using a food processor and a machine to roll it. She had seen her mother make pasta by hand. Her mother added salt to the mix. The pasta machine directions say explicitly "do not add salt." And Marcella Hazan's recipe is salt free. So the obvious question is why or why not?

                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  It is amazing the number of hard and fast rules there are on pasta that diametrically oppose one another, isn't it. Since I am the only one in my group that makes homemade pasta, everyone is just delighted when I make it. I too use a FP and machine to roll it.

                  I just went through half a dozen Italian cookbooks. Most use just egg and flour but in Bugialli on Pasta almost all the egg pastas include a "pinch of salt" while a number of the other recipes say to add a bit of water if the dough is too dry. Guess we might take the regions of Italy into account since much of the bread in Tuscany is unsalted...might there be a connection there?

                  1. re: escondido123

                    I add water, too, if the dough is too dry. In fact, one set of directions I read said you could substitute a quantity of water for the eggs to make egg free pasta. My guess is that the resulting dough would be rather chewy. The addition of salt may simply be for flavor--which is the reason the cooking water is salted. From a molecular viewpoint, I might guess that it helps to keep the dough tender. Salt is a protease inhibitor, so it might slow down gluten formation. But salt is hygroscopic, which might not be an advantage in dried pasta. Because Tuscan bread lacks salt, it stales almost as fast as it cools. (I got to like the stuff during my one summer in Tuscany--my confrere here to this day can't stand it.) But the reason salt was left out of bread in Tuscany was that it was a heavily taxed commodity in the Papal States, and it was costly in any case. When I was in Italy in the eighties and into the early nineties, it was still a state monopoly. So cooks may have left it out of the pasta dough because it wasn't strictly necessary and would be added to the cooking water, in any case.
                    Thanks for the input. By the way, I find making egg pasta so easy, I wonder why making it isn't more common. When you see how little it costs compared to the stuff in the markets and how much flavorful it is, it seems a no-brainer not to make it. And much of the time you spend preparing the pasta you save in the cooking,