Curious about making your own fresh pasta dough, our Homemade Pasta Dough Introduction is the perfect way to get started and your expert guide on ingredients, techniques, and much more!
AL DENTE YOUR WAY TO PERFECTION
Pasta is famous for its al dente texture when eaten. Literally meaning “to the tooth” in Italian, al dente is the description used when eating a well-made pasta: slightly resisting, enjoyably chewy and toothsome, yet ultimately soft and yielding…
An al dente structure is dependent upon a variety of components: types of flour, water, gluten development, kneading, resting, shaping, and cooking. Let’s go over in detail what makes fresh pasta perfectly al dente, shall we?
HOW TO PICK YOUR FLOUR
Any wheat-based product, whether a handmade pasta dough or a loaf of bread, often relies on certain types of flour in order to have the right structure, taste, and texture. There are so many different types of commercial flour products that you can now buy at many supermarkets. Next time you go shopping, take a leisurely stroll down the baking aisle and you’ll identify a few basic varieties of flour: cake flour, pastry flour, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, gluten-free flour…Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be! There is a simple explanation to the different styles of flour.
Flour types are usually identified by the quantity of protein present in the flour, depending upon what classification of wheat is milled for the flour. The less protein in the flour, the “softer” or weaker the flour is. The softer the flour, the more delicate and tender the final product will be. The more protein in the flour, the “harder” or stronger the flour is. The harder the flour is, the chewier and more complex the final product will be.
You can make an assumption of the quantity of proteins by reading the names of the main flour types alone:
- Cake and pastry flour: are two separate flour types that have the lowest protein contents and are therefore used for baked goods that are more delicate and tender like cakes and assorted pastries (biscuits and pie crusts).
- All-purpose flour: sits happily in the middle range of protein levels and is used the most often for general baking. pastry, and other wheat-based product needs.
- Bread flour: has a high protein content and is used for more complex and hearty wheat products like breads and bagels.
- Whole Wheat Flour: is milled with the entire wheat kernel – this results in a denser, heartier product because the addition of the hard, fibrous bran of the wheat kernel cuts into gluten strands.
- Semolina flour: is a by-product of one of the hardest types of wheat, durum wheat. Because of its high protein content and strong gluten development, semolina flour has traditionally been used for most pasta production. You can find semolina flour in most supermarkets in the specialty baking section.
In our fresh pasta recipe, we have combined a mixture of both semolina and bread flour to take advantage of the high protein contents of both flours for the ultimate al dente pasta. If using all semolina flour, the dough would be more difficult to knead by hand. By combining semolina flour with bread flour, which is not as strong as semolina, the pasta is easier to manipulate by hand.
Do not be concerned – bread flour can be used for more than just…well…bread! Bread flour does not have to be limited to only bread use – the high protein content is appropriate for pasta-making. However, if bread flour is unavailable, you can substitute all-purpose flour in the same quantity as bread flour. The end result will be slightly softer, but it is still a superior pasta product.
THE SCIENCE IN YOUR PASTA
In order to produce gluten, wheat flour needs to be mixed with a liquid. But leave your Brita water filter far way from this pasta dough. Regular tap water is the way to go! The crazy crowd of diverse minerals and other microorganisms found in regular tap water actually helps to strengthen the overall flavor and structure of the pasta dough.
Heating the water also contributes extra help with the pasta’s final structure. Warm water provides an initial boost to activate the strong gluten structure before kneading and cooking.
Gluten is the tough, rubbery substance produced when wheat flour is moistened with a liquid and manipulated by stirring and/or kneading. Specifically, two of the main proteins that compose wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin, are responsible for the formation of gluten. Because we are using higher protein flours in this recipe, a large amount of gluten will naturally form. Gluten offers structure and texture in the final pasta product, allowing a pasta to be molded into complex shapes and sizes.
KNEADING THE DOUGH
Fresh pasta dough needs some 10-fingered love and attention from your hands! For about 7 to 10 minutes, the process of hand-kneading the dough gradually builds a strong gluten structure. You are developing this complex network of gluten, a web of proteins that grows stronger with every fold and every knead of the dough.
This gluten structure is characterized by plasticity and elasticity. Plasticity means that the dough is able to change its shape under pressure, as in the pressure from kneading the dough by hand. Elasticity means that the dough will, to some extent, return to its original state when pressure is removed.
You will notice that the dough becomes increasingly resistant when kneading and will also spring back slightly when rolling out – these are all telltale signs for a successfully developed gluten structure! Just be sure to don’t over-knead – the elasticity will become too powerful to manipulate by hand and will make shaping individual pasta pieces too difficult.
Another important gluten rule to follow is allowing the pasta dough to rest for an hour or two before rolling and shaping. Similar to how bread dough needs to rest before it is manipulated and baked into its final shape, pasta dough also needs to rest at room temperature for at least an hour. This resting period helps to gently relax the tight, powerful gluten structure that we built, ensuring that the dough is easier to manipulate and shape. Resting does not lose the gluten structure we spent time building, but just eases it into a state of laid back manageability.
SHAPING THE DOUGH
Now that you have your pasta ready to go, you can shape it in any way you would like. The gluten’s elasticity will continue to become more controllable as you shape the pasta and will decrease as the shaped pasta dough pieces dry due to exposed air and retain their final structure.
Other than pasta machines, there are plenty of handheld specialty tools that can be conveniently used to shape pasta in a particular format: Ravioli cutters or molds, gnocchi boards, fettuccine rollers, etc. etc. etc.
But we want a fun, truly handmade experience, yes? Try our easy 2 ingredient Handmade NO EGG Pasta Dough Recipe for three basic shapes: Fettuccine, Cavatelli and Orecchiette – All of which can be done with just your hands and a knife.
COOKING YOUR PASTA
A properly cooked pasta is the final step in making a delicious fresh pasta recipe. Traditional dried pastas range in cooking time from roughly 9 to 12 minutes. With fresh pasta, you might be surprised by how quickly it cooks. Fresh pasta needs only 2-7 minutes to cook to the ideal al dente texture, depending upon the thickness of the pasta.
Keep a close eye on the timer – you don’t want to end up overcooking the pasta and be disappointed by its flabby, too-soft texture. We recommend setting your timer a minute before you think you should drain the pasta – that way, you can test the texture of the pasta to determine if it needs another minute or if it is ready for the dinner platter.
SAUCE AND SERVE
Any fresh pasta can be accompanied by your favorite sauce. Whether you are making your grandmother Mimi’s red sauce and meatballs or having an undying craving for your go-to creamy Alfredo sauce, this fresh pasta will make the ultimate companion.
If you want to try something different from the classic pasta sauces, try our recipe for a for Handmade Orecchiette Pasta with Mushrooms, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pine Nuts!