Making homemade pasta may sound daunting, but it's actually very easy once you get the hang of it, and it is well worth the effort. After the first few times, you may well come to the conclusion that's actually less of a pain to throw together a batch than to run out to the supermarket to buy dried pasta. It's very important to let the dough rest for 45 minutes or so before you roll it out – if you don't, the pasta may be tough. Russ Parsons writes, "You'll know it's ready to roll when you poke an indentation with your finger and it doesn't immediately spring back." You don't need fancy equipment; I make mine on an old-fashioned, 6-inch Atlas pasta machine – the kind you can pick up at for $30 to $50. (Parsons also discusses using a pasta attachment for a stand mixer, something I've never done as I've always been happy rolling out pasta the old-fashioned way.) When you're first starting out, it's helpful to have someone to catch the dough as it comes out of the pasta machine, as you'll be cranking with one hand and feeding dough in with the other. (When you're more experienced you'll be able to do it all yourself.)
I've made the dough using a food processor and simply mixing the flour and eggs together in a large bowl or on a cutting board, and I don't really have a preference for one method over the other. Lately I've using a bowl and fork, partly because my Cuisinart food processor blade has been recalled, and partly because I feel like the clean-up is easier. The only downside is it takes a bit of effort to incorporate all the dry bits as the dough starts to come together – which it does really easily when you use a food processor.
How to make sure the pasta doesn't stick together after it's rolled and cut is another issue. Be sure to lightly flour the dough once or twice after it goes through the rollers, especially if it starts to feel damp, and definitely after the last pass, before you cut it. After it's all done, Using a real or improvised pasta hanger is ideal (you can improvise one by laying wooden spoon handles across the top of a deep, large pot and draping the pasta over them into the pot), but usually I just coat the pasta with enough flour and lay it very loosely on a flour-dusted board or platter.
Makes enough pasta to serve 6 to 8 as a main course or 8 to 10 as a middle course.
350 grams (just over 12 ounces, about 2 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
4 large eggs
1. Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the well, making sure to capture every drop of the whites. Using a fork, gently beat the eggs, drawing the flour in from the sides of the well. Continue doing so until the eggs are incorporated into the flour. Continue beating with the fork until the dough starts to come together.
2. Turn the dough – along with the stray bits – onto a lightly floured board, and push the bits into the dough as much as possible. Knead the dough a few minutes, until all the bits are incorporated and the dough is uniform and pretty smooth. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic film and let it rest in the refrigerator at least 45 minutes.
3. Set up your pasta machine next to a floured board. Cut a piece of the dough about the size of a ping-pong ball and push it through the the No. 1 roller setting on the machine, in which the rollers are farthest apart. Fold the dough into a rectangle or square and feed it through again. Repeat once or twice, then set the machine on setting No. 2. Feed the dough through, catching it with one hand and cranking with the other. Lightly flour the dough if necessary. Continue rolling through the progressively higher settings until the dough is as thin as you want it. It will get longer and longer the thinner it gets; if it becomes too long to work with, cut it half.
4. After you put the dough through setting No. 6, it will be thin enough to use for linguini, fettuccine, pappardelle or lasagne. Dust it generously with flour. If you're making lasagne, hang it or lay it flat on boards. Continue with the rest of the dough.
5. For linguini or fettuccine, put the long pasta sheet through the appropriate cutter blade on the pasta machine. Dust the noodles with flour, and hang them or lay them gently and loosely on a floured board or platter. For pappardelle, fold the pasta into quarters or so – without pressing; you don't want it to stick together – and use a knife to cut the pasta into noodles about 3/4-inch thick. Unfold them gently, dust with flour, and arrange them gently and loosely on a floured board. Continue with the rest of the dough.
6. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water for about 2 or 3 minutes – until it has the right texture: firm and springy, but no longer doughy. Drain or transfer to warm sauce and serve immediately.