I’ve watched a lot of Top Chef. And a lot of other cooking television. I’ve always been fascinated by the sight of people making fresh pasta on a machine with rollers, where you crank the handle and it stretches and stretches, and then you put it through again and it cuts it into noodles. It seemed like a cool idea, and I’ve never been more than a modest fan of the texture of dried pasta when it’s cooked (I mean, it’s fine, and it’s a staple, but it’s something I never, never actively crave). So I thought … that would be an interesting thing to try.
I got myself a pasta machine from Amazon (I’ve been investing strategically in a few things for the kitchen), clamped it to a table, and gave it a whirl.
One of the disconcerting things was the massive difference in recipes across sources I consulted. The ratios of flour to eggs, as well as what else gets thrown in there, were really, really all over the place. I sort of threw up my hands and started with a halved version of the recipe from Serious Eats that calls for five ounces of flour, one whole egg, and two additional yolks. (As well as a little salt.) I put it in the food processor, waiting for it to turn into a ball of dough, the way it says.
Not even close to becoming a dough ball. Not even close. It didn’t seem like much more than slightly damp flour, like extremely modestly moistened sand. I was patient, but was clear that there was no amount of whirring that was going to make it turn into a ball the way it was supposed to. It was just sand. And it wasn’t changing.
I had the egg whites left from the yolks I’d added, and I knew a lot of recipes used whole eggs anyway, so I just added a little egg white to try to make it moist enough for it to turn into dough. Tried a little; it didn’t do it, though it did seem to be just thinking about getting sticky or even coming together. Tried a little more. In the end, I added most of the rest of the egg white, meaning instead of one egg and two extra yolks, it was just three eggs. Maybe two and three-quarters. But then it suddenly seemed too wet. So I added a little flour and it seemed too dry. You get the idea. Dough can be like this, like you’re trying to find a balance point that may or may not exist.
The bottom line is that by the time I got all this ironed out and felt like it was a workable dough, I had beaten it senseless in the food processor because it took so long to be right. I knew it was going to take some time or it to be remotely workable, so I left it on the kitchen counter with a towel over it for about a half-hour.
When that was over, the outside was quite dry, but the inside seemed really sticky again. Dusted it with a little flour, figuring this might very well just be a plain old disaster in the making, and knowing it would probably not be an especially pleasant texture, so far had I wandered from what I was supposed to do.
I rolled it out a little with a rolling pin, then started running it through the machine, folding and turning it a couple times along the way. It pretty quickly took on the jaggedy look of the dough in the Serious Eats post that wasn’t rested. This sort of made sense: I knew I had rested it modestly, and I had developed more gluten than four bakeries put together, so it probably was going to be like that. But as the post says, the more I rolled it through the thinner settings, the more (1) it really was lovely and thin like I’d seen on television, and (2) the less it had that strange, pockmarked appearance.
Rolling and cutting it, in short, was much, much, much easier than I expected, even doing it by myself and sort of rolling it in with one hand, pulling it out with one hand, and turning the crank – which seems like three hands, right? You just have to figure out how to always be not doing at least one of those three things. I managed to produce some fettuccine that … looked like pasta! (I suspect how tough it was made it easier to keep it from tearing or misbehaving even as it got thin. Trade-offs at work.)
It really, really helped that I had homemade tomato sauce from the other night. I cooked the pasta (well, a quarter of what I’d made) in boiling water for about three minutes, drained it, added a little of that sauce, and it was … good. It was a good dinner. It was better than dried pasta, at least to me. More satisfying, more like real food, and with better flavor. It was, however, tougher in texture than I know it’s supposed to be. I got it rolled out, and it worked, but I did indeed beat it entirely too much to death in the food processor. (On a weekend night, I might have tried to make it and knead it by hand, but it was 7:30 when I got home, and I was hungry.)
It’s very interesting, though, knowing that it’s something that now I know how to do. There are a lot of things like this, I’m sure – things where even what doesn’t come out quite right is well worth knowing how to do.