Fresh pasta is so easy to make it is surprising that most of our pasta machines are gathering dust in cupboards and closets where we never think of them. And no matter how good the fresh or dried pasta available in your shops, it generally doesn’t match the flavor of good homemade pasta.
A simple recipe for fresh pasta calls for two large eggs and about 1-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with a pinch of salt. To make the dough by hand, make a well in the flour on a clean, flat surface. Break the eggs into the well and add the salt. Working with a fork, begin incorporating flour into the eggs at the center. You may need to shore up the flour walls as you work, pushing more flour toward the middle, and keeping the eggs from running out. When it becomes too difficult to keep mixing with the fork, start using your hands. Before long you’ll have a workable dough, which should be kneaded for several minutes. Because of variations in humidity and flour, you may need more or less flour, but the goal at the end of the kneading is to have a well-formed, elastic dough that is as smooth as a baby’s skin.
The dough can also be made in a food processor, a mixer with a dough hook, or even a bread machine. This much dough makes four modest servings. You can make proportionately larger batches, but don’t want to wear yourself out on your first effort.
Once the dough has been made, cut it into six parts, flatten each section, and begin running them through the widest setting of your pasta machine. Fold each piece in thirds after each pass through the machine at this setting, and roll them several times, until they are very smooth. Then set the rollers one notch closer together and roll each strip of dough through them once. Continue to move the rollers closer together and roll the pasta through until your reach the thickness you desire. We find the next-to-last setting on our machine to be thin enough – the thinnest setting produces sheets of pasta that are hard to cut. After each rolling, lay the dough on clean towels, and don’t let the edges overlap, or they may stick together. Once you’ve finished rolling the strips, let them rest on the towels for 10 minutes or so to dry a bit, turning them once or twice. Now you’re ready to use the cutting blades of your pasta machine.
The only problem you may run into in the entire pasta-making process is trying to cut the dough before it’s sufficiently dry or after it has dried too much. In the first case, the strands stick together, and need a bit more drying. In the second case, it is hard to feed the pasta into the cutting rollers and the edges may crack. If it’s on the dry side, we cut the end with a knife so that it is straight and feeds into the machine more easily. A hint of water may also be necessary to get it started in the cutter, but the best solution is not to let it get too dry. Once the pasta is cut, lay the noodles on the towels until you’re ready to cook them.
The only consideration in cooking is to remember that fresh pasta cooks much, much faster than dried. As soon as it floats to the top of your boiling water, it’s done.
And, of course, you don’t really need the machine at all – generations of Italian women stretched their pasta with wooden dowels and cut it with knives.