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Experienced pasta makers - I need your advice

I’m thinking about learning to make pasta. In particular, I’d love to be able to make homemade ravioli with great fillings. However, before I go down the path of spending some $ on equipment, I’d like to get some input from those of you with experience so I can decide if it is worth the investment.

I’ve only made pasta once; it was in a cooking class and it didn’t turn out to be particularly good. It was doughy rather than delicate. I’m sure it is an endeavor that requires practice. If you’ve become good at making pasta, I’d appreciate your advice.

1) How long did it take before you became good at making pasta?

2) When you make it, is it something that you can now do quickly or is it a several hour event?

3) What kind of equipment do you use (e.g. Kitchenaid attachment or crank machine or roll by hand)?

4) Any books that you think are particularly good for learning how to make pasta?

5) When you make pasta, do you need to cook it that day or will it keep (e.g. in the freezer)?

6) Any other tips?

Thanks for your help.

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  1. I have been making pasta (infrequently, but regularly) for years and I'm still learning. I can now put it together fairly quickly, especially if I make a small amount (2 eggs worth) and/or use the food processor rather than kneading by hand. I usually use my KA attachment for rolling, but I have rolled by hand before - the KA gives more perfect results and is easier if you want REALLY thin sheets, but hand rolling can be faster if you're making something more rustic.

    I've never used a book other than general Italian cookbooks/internet articles by Italian chefs.

    You can freeze fresh pasta but IMO it is best cooked the day it was made.

    1. I've made fresh egg pasta for many years -- mainly for ravioli -- using a food processor and a crank machine. If you use a food processor there is really no trick to making good dough -- it should hold together in a ball but just barely and then let rest for half an hour wrapped in plastic. If I didn't have a crank machine already -- and couldn't find one on sale/second hand -- I would start by rolling out my own pasta. But not in sheets but just little balls of dough that I'd roll thin, fill, fold and cut. Of course this is only if you're cooking for 2 people, after that I'd go for the crank.

      1 Reply
      1. re: escondido123

        I use a tortilla press for Asian dumpling dough. I wonder if that would work for ravioli.

      2. I have made pasta 3 times in the past 10 years. When I was 16, my parents got a hand crank pasta maker and I made pasta... I remember it being a lot of work, a lot of mess and some okay pasta. Then 9 years went by and my parents cleaned out the shed and gave the hand crank pasta roller to me.

        So I've tried it twice since I got it about 6 months ago.

        First time: I used a food processor to make an easy flour + egg dough. No mess there. Let it rest, then rolled it out multiple times to get it shiny and thin enough for some nice cut (by the hand crank machine) egg noodles. Great stroganoff! It took 3 hours to make enough for 1 meal.

        Second time: I decided to be adventurous and make ravioli. Got a cheap ravioli press from some kitchen outlet store, made the dough (again, food processor), let it rest. Lots of rolling out and then put it on a cutting board and filled it with some goat cheese and mushroom mixture. Put top layer on and pressed. I think I need to add some egg wash or something because lots of raviolis popped open during cooking :(

        Both times I used the pasta the same day. I'm sure you can freeze it, but seems like it'd probably negatively affect the "fresh" quality and texture of the pasta.

        As for books, I'm a huge fan of Cooks Illustrated. My local library branch didn't have the book I wanted, but I was able to request it from another branch and it arrived at my local library within a week. Cooks Illustrated's The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles is a good starter. Or if you subscribe to them online, that's where I got my basic egg noodle and ravioli recipes. They also have some "no machine" pasta making recipes that you should try first without buying the machine...

        Worth noting that hand crank machine = lots more time. I have a Kitchen Aide mixer, but since I got the hand crank pasta machine from my parents, I didn't want to spend the money on the electric version...

        3 Replies
        1. re: bobabear

          Just an idea--ravioli and fresh pasta in general are pretty delicate. A rolling boil can cause them to burst or fall apart. Maybe a gentler simmer would help?

          1. re: ChristinaMason

            In the biz, they call that "blow outs"! Common with cheaper factory ravioli.

            I think there's some kind of final slight twist the machine gives the unfinished product to keep it together, which you could try to replicate by hand, plus they advise to take each ravioli out of the water as soon as it floats to the top. They are fresh so it should only take a couple of minutes for that to happen.

            1. re: ChristinaMason

              Raviloli just need to be simmered not boiled hard. In answer to the original question, it took me a few tries to get the consistency right. I use a food processor to make the dough and a hand crank machine to roll the sheets and cut noodles. I have the raviloli attachment . I have used it but a find easier to layout the sheets add the filling and manually cutting the raviloli .

          2. Thank you everyone! This is extremely helpful.

            It hadn't occurred to me that I could make the dough in the food processor; I always see those professional chefs cracking an egg into a mound of flour and just had that in my mind.

            It sounds like the kitchenaid roller is the way to go, but I'm not sure I'm ready to make that investment. I like excondido123's idea of just starting with rolling out some by hand.

            23 Replies
            1. re: stockholm28

              If you can borrow a tortilla press, you may want to see if that would work for ravioli. Sure makes my dumpling making easier.

              1. re: stockholm28

                I really like the kitchenaid pasta attachment part; makes it a lot easier.

                I would not use a food processor to mix up dough .. all those parts to clean!! Instead of mixing on a counter, I do it in a shallow bowl so there's no escaping streams.

                I use Marcella Hazan's recipe, no oil, no water. Be sure to wrap it (after 10 minutes of kneading) in plastic wrap and leave on the counter about an hour before rolling.

                1. re: walker

                  My FP is just the bowl, the blade, the lid and the feed tube thingie. Couldn't be more straightforward. BTW, the Hazan recipe I use from Essentials doesn't have you rest the dough. Just go straight to rolling it out which is what I always do.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I know in Essentials she does not mention the resting but I learned that elsewhere and, for me, it makes a very big difference.

                    1. re: walker

                      What difference does it make please? What I make is super easy to handle (I roll out to the 7th setting on the KA) and tastes great. What am I missing?

                      1. re: c oliver

                        The first resting (prior to kneading) allows the liquid to fully and evenly be absorbed into the dough. It makes it easier to knead.

                        The second resting (after kneading) allows the gluten formed during kneading to relax so it's much easier to roll. (The second kneading is essential if you're going to roll it by hand with a rolling pin.)

                        The first rest really needs about 20 minutes.

                        The second one needs at least 20 minutes but is better after an hour. You can even leave it for several days in the fridge if you want to roll it later. (Don't put salt in the dough as the iodine will cause it to turn a grayish hue.)

                        1. re: JetLaggedChef

                          The only recipe I've ever made is Hazan's which has no rest at all and is just wonderful. So I think I'll stick with that.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              The grandmas didn't rest the dough after mixing -- but a rest after kneading.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I'm a Hazan devote BUT since learning about it, I rest it.

                                It makes the dough easier to work.

                                1. re: hambone

                                  I don't find it at all a problem to work with. Can't imagine it being any easier in fact. Just sayin'.

                                  1. re: hambone

                                    That's the one thing I do differently, too, with Hazan's pasta recipe. I think it's much easier to roll out if you let it rest.

                                    1. re: walker

                                      I wonder why some have a problem with rolling it and I don't Heaven knows I'm no pro at this but from the very first time it's been easy. Time consuming but always easy.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        It doesn't snap back after rolling as much if you let it rest.

                                        It is like rolling Silly Putty versus Play Doh.

                                        1. re: hambone

                                          I just don't have that problem. And I'm glad :)

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Do you use AP flour or one of the lower protein varieties?

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I've tried it both ways -- skipped the post-knead rest when I was pressed for time, and ended up feeling like I was wrestling the dough, and afraid it was going to win..

                                              shoulda let it rest -- it made a huge difference.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                I believe you and others, I just don't have the problem. Just did it "her" way the very first time, it turned out great and I never looked back. I really don't even knead other than just what the FP does. "She" would have a hissy over THAT :)

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  That explains why you have to use eggs then

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Oh, I never do it in the food processor. Maybe that's why yours doesn't need a rest.

                          1. re: stockholm28

                            Just about the time you wrote this I sold my 1970s version of the Kitchenaid "noodle attachment" which I only used once or twice. Never liked it, the dough always stuck inside too much for me, I thought the Atlas to be more dependable; but if you check out eBay or Craigslist you might just find yourself another like-new, used device to fool around with.

                          2. 1) How long? Instantaneously! By some miracle of luck and possibly careful reading, I got it right first go. However I can see years later how the potential for errors was stupidly big; I was VERY lucky indeed.

                            2) It does take a while,- about 1-2 hours depending upon quantity, but that's because I do everything *entirely* by hand, and use a very strong semolina flour that requires intensive kneading.

                            3) I mix, knead, and roll by hand. Hand-rolling is perhaps the most valuable, by doing so you're stretching the dough rather than compressing it; the result develops the gluten structure better (no, it doesn't lead to tough pasta, if that's what you're thinking) and you almost always can achieve much thinner sheets, if that's your aim (with ravioli I find thinner is better). If you do choose to hand-roll, a LARGE rolling pin is essential. The amount of pressure you'll apply to it is considerable too, so although handled pins will work, if you choose one of these instead of a plain unhandled one, get one that has good ball bearings.

                            5) I always cook the same day; I've never actually tried keeping it but the problem would certainly be drying: good fresh pasta dries out incredibly fast. In addition freezing it would likely destroy the protein structure, and the result I suspect would be gummy.

                            6) The first few steps of pasta-making are just like making bread; it helps to have had experience in bread-making before making pasta. It should also be noted that a fairly high protein content in the flour is desirable; without it gluten development would be too meagre to form truly thin sheets. Thinness is the most important factor by far in getting delicate pasta: very thick sheets (where "very thick" in this context is something like 1 mm) are always going to be either doughy or tough. I roll my sheets until the texture of my rolling board is literally visible through the sheets of pasta. Roll out all your sheets before cutting any of them; stack them on top of each other interleaved with parchment. Make sure the parchment thoroughly covers each sheet or the pasta will dry out rapidly. However some crumbling at the very edges is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Constant flouring of the work surface is critical. At no point can you allow the developing sheet to stick even slightly to your board or pin, or a tear is almost inevitable.