Fresh Egg Pasta
Lidia Bastianich shares Italian and Irish wedding traditions when she attends her niece's wedding celebration in New York City in Lidia Celebrates America: Weddings: Something Borrowed, Something New. Here are Lidia's tips on how to make fresh pasta.
"Most countertops and work surfaces are built at a height that is comfortable for chopping and mixing. The best height for kneading any kind of dough is slightly lower—at about hip level, where you can really get your weight into the kneading process. If you have a convenient surface at such a height, use it to knead dough. If not, any countertop will do—just stand back a little from the table so you’re pushing out, not down, on the dough. My grandmother’s method for kneading dough is a little different that most—she taught me to dig my knuckles into the dough in between rounds of gathering and pushing the dough. I pass that method along to you here.
Even if you prepare the dough in a food processor, I suggest you finish kneading the dough by hand. Once you develop a feel for the right consistency of pasta dough, you’ll never lose it. You’ll be able to make adjustments to the kneading time or the amount of flour or water to work into a dough each time you make it.
- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, or as needed
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Warm water as needed
- Spoon 2 ⅔ cups of the flour into the workbowl of a large capacity food processor fitted with the metal blade. Beat the eggs, olive oil and salt together in a small bowl until blended. With the motor running, pour the egg mixture into the feed tube. Process until the ingredients form a rough and slightly sticky dough. If the mixture is too dry, drizzle a very small amount of warm water into the feed tube and continue processing. Scrape the dough out of the workbowl onto a lightly floured wood or marble surface. (To mix the dough by hand, see the Note below.)
- Knead the dough by gathering it into a compact ball, then pushing the ball away from you with the heels of your hands. Repeat the gathering and pushing motion several times, then press into the dough, first with the knuckles of one hand, then with the other, several times. Alternate between kneading and ‘knuckling’ the dough until it is smooth, silky and elastic—it pulls back into shape when you stretch it. The process will take 5 to 10 minutes of constant kneading, slightly longer if you prepared the dough by hand. (Mixing the dough in a food processor gives the kneading process a little head start.) Flour the work surface and your hands lightly any time the dough begins to stick while you’re kneading.
- Roll the dough into a smooth ball and place in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least one hour at room temperature, or up to 1 day in the refrigerator before rolling and shaping the pasta. If the dough has been refrigerated, let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before rolling and shaping.
Tips/TechniquesTo Mix the Dough by Hand:
To Roll Fresh Pasta Dough Using a Pasta Machine:
- Pile 3 cups of flour in a mound on a marble or wooden surface. Make a well in the center of the mound, like a crater in a volcano, all the way to the work surface. Beat the eggs, olive oil, and salt together in a small bowl until the eggs are foamy. Pour them into the well. Beat the egg mixture with a fork while slowly incorporating the flour from the sides of the crater into the egg mixture. The more flour you incorporate, the thicker the egg mixture and the wider the well will become. Continue beating until the dough becomes too stiff to mix with a fork. If the dough becomes too thick to mix with a fork before almost all of the flour is incorporated, drizzle a tiny amount of the warm water over the egg mixture and continue mixing. (It is possible you will not need any water at all.)
- Flour your hands well and knead the remaining flour into the dough until a rough and slightly sticky dough is formed. Shape the dough into a rough ball and set it aside.
- Sprinkle your hands generously with flour, rubbing them together to remove any remaining scraps of dough from your skin. Scrape any dough and flour from the kneading surface and pass all these scrapings through a sieve. Discard the scraps in the sieve and use the strained flour to continue kneading the dough.
- Make sure your hands are clean and flour them lightly and knead the dough as described above.
To Roll Fresh Pasta Dough by Hand:
- Cut the dough into six equal pieces, flour them lightly and cover them with a kitchen towel.
Working with one piece of the dough at a time, shape it into a rectangle about 5 x 3 inches. Set the rollers of the pasta machine to the widest setting and pass the pasta rectangle through the rollers with one of the short sides first. Fold the dough in half and pass the same piece of dough through the rollers, short side first, a second time. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. Flour the dough pieces very lightly as you work—just enough to keep them from sticking to the rollers. Continue rolling the pieces of dough in the same order (so they have a chance to rest a little between rollings), decreasing the width by one setting each time, until all the pieces of dough have been passed through the next to thinnest setting on the pasta machine. Don’t pull the dough sheets through the machine as they get longer or you will stretch the dough sheets out of shape, but support them lightly from underneath as they emerge from the rollers. Keep the pieces of dough that aren’t being rolled covered with a towel.
If you find the dough is very elastic, rest it 5 to 10 minutes, then continue. When all the pasta has been rolled into sheets, let them rest, completely covered with lightly floured towels, about 30 minutes before cutting them.
To Cut Fresh Pasta Dough:
- Cut the rested dough into four equal pieces and cover them with a clean kitchen towel.
- Working with one piece at a time, roll the pasta out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle approximately 10 x 20 inches, if you plan to cut fettucine or tagliolini. Dust the work surface lightly with flour just often enough to keep the dough from sticking; too much flour will make the dough difficult to roll.
- If the dough springs back as you try to roll it, recover it with the kitchen towel and let it rest 10 to 15 minutes. Start rolling another piece of dough and come back to the first one once it has had a chance to rest.
- Let the pasta sheets rest, separated by kitchen towels, at least 15 minutes before cutting them.
Variation: Fresh Spinach Pasta:
- For Fettucine: If your pasta machine has cutter attachments approximately ½-inch wide, use them to cut fettucine. If not, cut them by hand as follows: Cut each sheet of pasta into 10-inch lengths. Brush the sheets lightly with flour and roll them up lengthwise. Cut the rolls into ½ inch strips. Unroll and set the strips and toss them lightly to separate them. Form little nests with the pasta strands and keep them on a baking sheet lined with a lightly floured kitchen towel until you’re ready to cook them.
- For Tagliolini: If your pasta machine has cutter attachments approximately ¼-inch wide, use them to cut tagliolini. If not, flour and roll them as described above and cut the rolls into ¼ inch strips.
- Wash 6 cups (lightly packed) stemmed fresh spinach in plenty of cool water, changing the water if necessary, to remove all traces of sand and grit. Drain the spinach well and transfer it, with just the water that clings to the leaves, to a large pot. Cover the pot and place it over medium heat. Cook, stirring the spinach once or twice, until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes after the water in the bottom of the pot begins steaming. Drain the spinach and let stand until cool enough to handle.
- Squeeze as much liquid from the spinach as possible with your hands. (The drier the spinach is, the less flour the pasta dough will absorb and the more tender the finished pasta will be.) Combine the eggs called for in the recipe and the squeezed spinach in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until the spinach is finely chopped.
- Proceed as above, substituting the spinach-egg mixture for the eggs called for in the recipe. It is likely the spinach pasta dough will take a little more flour during mixing and kneading than egg pasta dough, even if you have been very careful to squeeze out the water.