I always viewed homemade pasta as this really intimidating thing that only all-star chefs could attempt, let alone master. Too many disaster scenarios in Top Chef and Chopped really left a mark on me I think. But I’ve always been enamored with the lovely mouthfeel and taste of homemade pasta. When I spent time in Italy, I can remember just standing in awe at the windows of side-street cafés that made their noodles from scratch each day. So of course it was only a matter of time before I went out and purchased a pasta roller, searched for semolina, and attempted homemade pasta. Because if Aziz Ansari has taught us anything, it’s that pasta > love.
Kitchen log: the first time I tried, I underestimated the volume that 4 eggs takes up (guys, it’s a lot!), and yolk and albumin went everywhere as the eggs rose above the valley in the mountain of flour. Lots of curse words were uttered. Sorry mom! But I gathered my dignity and 4 more eggs and took another whack at it. And voila! Homemade pasta. Seriously I highly recommend trying to make homemade pasta just once. I know that you can buy fresh pasta, and you’re probably all “why would I go through all that?”, but then I would say “girl, it’s about the experience!” I find that reaching milestones in the kitchen makes you feel amazing and ultimately makes you more successful in other aspects of your life. But also, look how pretty!
Pasta at its basic level is comprised of flour and water. But this is where recipes begin to differ a bit. Depending on the type of noodle you’re aiming for, these two ingredients can be suuuper varied. Think about a soba noodle versus a soft pappardelle noodle. We’re going for a basic Italian noodle profile here, so that means two things. First, we’re going to use wheat flour—specifically a blend of semolina and all-purpose flour. Second, the water source will be from eggs.
Right off the bat we can imagine the type of noodle we’re looking for. Italian pasta is tender but substantial. It’s able to stand up to thick sauces and lots of other ingredients. Essentially it holds its own. The gluten structure of wheat flour will create this ideal noodle. While the starch content keeps the pasta soft, the gluten proteins will make it elastic. We are actually going to go one step further and blend an all-purpose wheat flour with semolina, a durum wheat flour. Semolina is the hard part of the endosperm of wheat which imparts a chemistry to semolina of predominantly gliadin and glutenin (the two proteins that create the gluten network). The increased protein content of semolina will create a pasta dough that is able to hold its shape and give you a strong noodle with a “bite” you crave in al dente pasta. However, we still want a tender product, so we’ll mix it with regular all-purpose flour whose starch content will balance us out.
Now for the eggs. Their basic purpose is to hydrate the flour and thus the most basic pasta recipes would use water in theory. However, you’ve probably never had an Italian pasta made from only water and flour for a good reason. The water-only option will create mushy and, for lack of a better word, watery noodles. Eggs have a great deal of water but also protein from the whites and fat coming from the yolks. The fat is very important to us. It adds a silky texture and fabulous color to the final product while also playing with the protein network. The fat in the yolk will slip in and around the matrix and prevent excessively strong gluten bonds from forming. I know that this is counterintuitive to the previous paragraph, but the extra protein addition from the semolina will stand up to this slippery fat and maintain a just-about-right texture. Additionally, we use the whole egg—whites and all—to maintain that texture coming from the proteins. It’s a delicate balance you guys!
A note on salt addition: salt will actually reinforce the gluten network, so most pasta aficionados depend on salting of the water later on to flavor their pasta. However, if you want a firmer, more elastic dough (for tight filled noodles, for example) add a bit of salt to the flour.
That’s basically it folks! There are plenty of different methods and recipes out there, so I would start with this one and then play around to find a recipe that matches your tastes. Now onto this pasta dish…
Growing up in Minnesota meant that sweet corn was always abundant in the month of August and even at the beginning of September. Rows and rows of tender yellow nuggets of gold in the field were harvested and made their way to roadside stands and local grocery stores. In fact, I don’t remember buying anything from the farm stand down the road from me except a giant brown bag filled with sweet corn. Juicy, crunchy, and worth getting your hands and face dirty for. Ahhh summer corn!
As we prepare to say goodbye to days at the beach and hello to crisp fall mornings, I thought that I’d revel in the last bits of summer foods like sweet corn but also basil (because we all know how much I love it) and mint. I used some of my favorite summer offerings in this pasta, so of course feel free to edit and use up what you have in your pantry and garden. It’s an easily adaptable recipe. Bon Appétit!
Homemade Fettuccine Noodles
Barely adapted from Florentine (which you should definitely put on your Amazon wish list)
I’ll give you both weights and volumes, but I would suggest using the more precise method of weight!
200 g (1 ⅔ cups) all-purpose flour
200 g (1 ⅔ cups) semolina, plus extra
4 large eggs
- Whisk together the flour and semolina. Dump onto a clean, flat surface. Create a well large enough to hold four eggs and mound the flour up a bit around the well. Crack the eggs into the well.
- Using a fork, gently beat the eggs in small circles until they become creamy. (Actually I just watched a recent episode of Masterchef where Gordon Ramsey demonstrated fresh pasta, and he beat the eggs in a small bowl before pouring it into a well in the flour…after completely messing this up the first time, I’d say this method is probably a lot easier.) Add the flour to the whisked eggs a little at a time until it becomes difficult to use the fork. At this point switch to your hands and incorporate all of the flour into the eggs.
- Knead the dough mass into a ball and continue to work it until it becomes elastic and kind of soft. At first it will feel really tough, but keep working it—about 8ish minutes depending on how rigorous your kneading skills are.
- Place the dough ball in a bowl and cover it with plastic. Let rest for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prep your work surface and pasta roller, if you have it, for rolling out the dough. You’ll want more semolina for the noodles.
- After resting, divide the pasta dough into three or four workable portions about the size of a tennis ball. Slightly flatten one of the dough balls with the heel of your hand. If you’re using a pasta rolling machine, start on the widest setting and roll the flattened ball of pasta through the machine. Fold the dough back on itself in half and roll it through again. Do this again before moving onto the skinnier setting. If you find your dough getting sticky throughout this process, lightly dust with semolina before running through the machine again.
- As you move through the skinnier settings, continue to fold the dough in half and roll it through again before switching. This will keep the dough soft and pliable. Continue to do this until your pasta is about 1 mm thick. You should be able to see through the sheet of pasta. If you’re rolling the pasta by hand, use semolina on the surface and roll from the center of the dough outwards.
- Once you have your pasta sheet, roll it through the cutting side of the pasta roller on the fettuccine setting. Roll the noodles around your fingers to create a pasta nest. Place on a surface dusted with semolina and sprinkle some semolina on top of the nest in order to keep the noodles from sticking. If you’re cutting by hand, keep the lines as straight as possible and use a sharp edge to cut noodles into 1/8th inch strips. Repeat with the rest of the pasta dough balls.
- Once you have all of your nests ready, cover loosely in plastic wrap or a dish towel to prevent the pasta from drying out.
- You can either cook the pasta right away or freeze it for further use. Cook (from fresh, or directly from the freezer) in salted, boiling water for about 4-5 minutes until al dente or cooked to your preference. Use a glug of olive oil in the water in order to keep the noodles from sticking.
Late Summer Fettuccine
1 lb fettuccine, preferably fresh (or homemade! See above)
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for cooking the pasta
5 large cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
3 ears of corn with the kernels cut off (about 2 cups corn if using frozen corn)
8 ounces sliced prosciutto, roughly chopped
½ cup pine nuts
1 lemon, zested and juiced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large handful fresh mint, torn or chopped
1 large handful fresh basil, torn or chopped
¾ cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a glug of olive oil if using fresh pasta to keep the noodles from sticking. Cook the fettuccine to al dente. Before you drain the pasta, retain ¼ cup pasta water.
- In a large, high-sided skillet heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chopped garlic and lightly brown in the oil. Add the pine nuts, prosciutto, and corn and cook for another two minutes. We want the corn to soften just slightly, the pine nuts to brown a little, and the prosciutto to crisp a bit. Finally, add the mint, lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the retained pasta water and toss to coat everything. Add the lemon juice, ¾ cup cheese, basil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and several cracks of fresh black pepper. Mix together. If you find the pasta becoming dry, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and toss to coat. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
- To serve, top with additional cheese, a couple more cracks of black pepper, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional). Enjoy!