For an Italian cook, making fresh pasta represents the very essence of cooking. It’s not just a habit, a tradition, and a requirement. It’s deeper than that. It’s art.
You can make fresh pasta with many different flours, not only the ones from tender or hard wheat (semolina) but also spelt, farro, kamut and various combinations of gluten-free flours like rice, corn, buckwheat, chestnut.
However, different shapes of pasta need different types of flour so, if you have never made pasta, you must decide what kind of pasta you want to make and choose the flour accordingly. There is no universal “pasta flour”.
The average Italian home pantry stocks three types of basic flour:
Finely ground, tender-wheat flour, used for cakes, pastry and fresh pasta. It’s a weak to medium strength flour generally with a protein content at around 9-10%. In the US you can find 00 with 11-12 % protein, which is used for wood-fired pizza and can also be used for pasta. As this is stronger flour, you must be careful and not overwork the dough.
Multipurpose tender-wheat flour can be used for pizza, focaccia and bread. It’s flour of variable strength and medium-high protein content (10.5-13%) and generally not suitable for pasta.
Finely ground semolina obtained from durum wheat. It’s characterized by a high protein content (13-14%) and medium strength.
In central Italy, 00 flour is used for homemade fresh pasta which is expected to have a thin, silky texture and delicate taste and is generally enriched with eggs. If you cannot buy 00 flour, use pastry flour instead but make sure to check the amount of protein (min. 9%) and that there is no flavoring, leavening agents or added starches.
Semolina is used industrially to make dried pasta like spaghetti, penne, fusilli. In the South of Italy, fine semolina is used for small and thick homemade pasta like orecchiette, cavatelli, malloreddus and also for bread.
If you have never made fresh pasta, I recommend you start making simple shapes like fettuccini using “00” flour. After some practice, you’ll be able to extend your repertoire to more complex shapes like ravioli or cannelloni.
Once you feel confident with the method, start substituting 10 or 20% of your “00” with alternative flours and then test which shapes work best for a specific flour. Artisan and wholegrain flours have varying amounts of protein, size of particles and capable of absorbing water or eggs. Only by experimenting will you get to know if a specific flour can be stretched thin enough to make the pasta you want and that the pasta will not fall apart when you cook it.
All of my cooking class guests marvel at how easy and quick it is to make fresh pasta dough. I use a home-style food processor but you can also use a stand mixer.
FOOD PROCESSOR PASTA DOUGH
100 gr (3/4 cup) “00” flour plus additional for kneading (see note)
1 large egg
Note: if you cannot locate “00” flour, use pastry flour. Check packaging label to verify that protein is minimum 9% and contains no additional flavoring, leavening agents or other starches.
In a food processor bowl, blend the flour and eggs until the mixture begins to form a ball. Depending on the size of the eggs it might be necessary to adjust the amount of flour in order to obtain a soft, but not sticky, dough.
If you prefer to do it by hand, mix the ingredients on a lightly floured surface, then knead the dough, incorporating additional flour as necessary, until smooth and flexible. This will take at least 20 minutes. The dough can be used within 10 minutes, but it will benefit from a period of rest – just cover with a cotton tea towel. The resting period relaxes the gluten and makes it easier to handle.
To roll the pasta dough:
Set the smooth rollers of a pasta machine on widest setting. Cut the dough into several pieces. Flatten one piece of dough into a rectangle and feed through the rollers. Fold the rectangle in half and feed through the rollers. Then, fold again, roll and repeat three or four more times. Fold each time and dust with flour if the pasta sheet feels sticky.
Next, turn the dial down one notch to the narrower setting and feed the dough through the rollers without folding. Continue to feed the dough through, without folding, making the space between the rollers closer each time, until the narrowest setting is reached.
Arrange the sheet of pasta on a dry kitchen towel or large wooden board. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner. The pasta should dry a few minutes and up to 30 minutes before cutting. It’s important not to overlap pasta while drying. If it dries in a thick mound, it will cook into a starchy ugly clump. You should, however, prevent it from becoming brittle which will happen quickly in the summer or an air-conditioned room.
Cut the sheets as needed and return the pasta to the kitchen towels. Let it dry at least 10 minutes before cooking.
To cook pasta:
In a large pot, bring a lot of water to a rolling boil. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water. Add pasta. Keep water at a high temperature while pasta cooks. Fresh pasta will cook in 1 to 3 minutes and dry pasta will cook in 6 to 12 minutes.
Serves one for fettuccini or two for ravioli.
For more information about Letizia, please visit her site Madonna del Piatto featuring her lovely farm, bed and breakfast, Italian recipes and cooking school. I highly recommend her cookbook, A Kitchen With a View. This is a must-have book for light, fresh and tasty Italian recipes.