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Sift the flour onto a clean work surface and use your fist to make a well in the center.
Break the eggs into the well. Add the oil and a pinch of salt to the well. If you’re coloring your homemade pasta dough, you’ll want to add the ingredient now. (See How To Color Homemade Pasta Dough below.)
Gradually mix the egg mixture into the flour using the fingers of one hand, bringing the ingredients together into a firm dough. If the dough feels too dry, simply add a little water, a few drops at a time, up to a couple tablespoons; if the dough feels too wet, add a little more flour. Don’t worry, you’ll soon grow accustomed to how the dough should feel after you’ve made it a few times.) Note that you don’t want to add too much flour or your pasta will be tough and taste floury.
Knead the pasta dough until it’s smooth, 2 to 5 minutes. Lightly massage it with a touch of olive oil, tuck the dough in a resealable plastic bag, and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The pasta will be much more elastic after resting than it was before.
[Editor’s Note: You could opt to roll the pasta dough by hand using a long wooden rolling pin, although a pasta machine makes for far less work.] Feed the blob of pasta dough through a pasta machine set on the widest setting. As the sheet of pasta dough comes out of the machine, fold it into thirds and then feed it through the rollers again, still on the widest setting. Pass the pasta through this same setting a total of 4 or 5 times. This takes the place of kneading the pasta dough and ensures the resulting pasta is silky smooth.
Pass the sheet of pasta dough through the machine again, repeatedly, gradually reducing the settings, one pass at a time, until the pasta achieves the desired thickness. Your sheet of pasta dough will become quite long—if you have trouble keeping the dough from folding onto itself or if you are making ravioli, cut the sheet of dough in half and feed each half through separately. Generally the second-from-last setting is best for tagliatelle and the last setting is best for ravioli and any other shapes that are to be filled.
After the sheet of pasta dough has reached the requisite thickness, hang it over a broom handle or the back of a chair to dry a little—this will make cutting it easier in humid weather, as it will not be so sticky. Or, if you’re in a hurry, you can dust the pasta with a little flour and place it on clean kitchen towels and let it rest for just a short spell.
Shape the pasta by hand (see instructions below) or pass the pasta through the chosen cutters (tagliolini, tagliatelle, etc.) and then drape the cut pasta over the broom handle or chair back again to dry just a little, until ready to cook. (Alternatively, you can toss the cut pasta again lightly in flour—preferably semolina flour—and lay it out in loose bundles on a tray lined with a clean kitchen towel.) Use the pasta as soon as possible before it sticks together or place it in a resealable plastic bag and stash it in the freezer.
Tagliatelle On a lightly floured surface, roll or fold one side of the sheet of dough loosely towards the center of the sheet, then repeat with the other side so that they almost meet in the middle. Gently fold one side on top of the other, but do not press down on the fold. Cut the dough into thin slices with a sharp knife, slicing through the folded dough quickly and deftly in a single motion. (It takes very little practice to get the hang of this.) Immediately unravel the slices to reveal the pasta ribbons. (You can do this by inserting the dull side of a large knife into each slice and gently shaking it loose. If you wait, they will stick together. Trust us.) Hang the pasta to dry a little before cooking or dust it well with semolina flour and arrange in loose nests on a tray lined with a clean kitchen towel.
Pappardelle On a lightly floured surface, cut the dough into wide ribbons using a fluted pastry cutter. Hang the pasta to dry a little before cooking.
Tortellini On a lightly floured surface, stamp out rounds of pasta using a round cookie cutter. Pipe or spoon your favorite filling into the middle of each round. Brush the edges with beaten egg and carefully fold the round into a crescent shape, pressing the dough around the filling to push out any trapped air. Using your fingertips, bend the 2 corners of the crescent around to meet one another in the center and press well to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough. Let dry on a floured kitchen towel for about 30 minutes before cooking.
Ravioli If your pasta dough is still in a single sheet, cut it into 2 equal portions. Cover one portion of the dough with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap while you work with the rest of the dough. Spoon small mounds (about 1 teaspoon) of filling on the dough in even rows, spacing them at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the dough between the mounds with beaten egg. Using a rolling pin, carefully drape the reserved sheet of dough on top of the mounds, pressing down firmly between the pockets of filling to push out any trapped air. Use a serrated ravioli cutter, a pastry cutter, or a sharp knife, cut the ravioli into squares. Transfer the ravioli to a floured kitchen towel to rest for 1 hour before cooking.
You will need about 4 quarts water and 3 tablespoons of salt for every 13 to 18 ounces of fresh or dried pasta. It is the large volume of water that will prevent the pasta from sticking together. Bring the salted water to a boil in a large pot or saucepan. Throw the pasta into the water. Stir the pasta immediately after you add it to the water and perhaps once again. Stir the pasta only once or twice. If you’ve used enough water and you stir the pasta as it goes in, it shouldn’t stick.
DO NOT COVER the pot or the water will boil over. Quickly bring the pasta back to a rolling boil, stir, and boil until al dente, or firm to the bite, about 2 minutes. The pasta should not have a hard center or be soggy and floppy. If following a specified cooking time, calculate it from the moment the pasta starts to boil again and have a colander ready for draining. Note: Cooking times for fresh and dried pasta vary according to the size and quality of the pasta. The only way to check is to taste it. However, the basic method of cooking remains the same.
Drain the pasta, holding back 2 to 3 tablespoons of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan (the dissolved starch in the water helps the sauce cling to the pasta). Dress the pasta straight away with the sauce directly in the pan. (The Italian way is ALWAYS to toss the cooked, hot pasta with the sauce before serving.) Serve the hot pasta immediately with your favorite sauce. Even a copious drizzle of olive oil or melted butter—cooked just to the point of taking on a slightly nutty, toasty brown tinge—and a smattering of fresh herbs constitutes a sauce when the pasta is as tender and tasty as this.