If the only thing stopping you from making pasta at home is that you think you need to first invest in a pasta-making gadget—which will cost a pretty penny and take up precious storage space in your kitchen—then this article is for you.
All you really need to make pasta are flour and eggs. Maybe a little oil, water, or salt, depending on your dough recipe, but you can get by with pretty much just flour and eggs.
Some recipes for pasta dough will specify that they work best for specific shapes, but in general a good all-purpose recipe works with most shapes. 00 flour is a really great pantry item to have on-hand if you expect to be making a lot of homemade pasta—it’s made from very finely ground durum wheat and makes for a silky smooth pasta dough. But it can be tricky to find and pricey to buy, and frankly doesn’t make a huge enough difference in the end result to be worth your trouble if homemade pasta is only going to be a once-in-awhile pursuit. All-purpose flour will work just fine.
Once you’ve found a recipe you like, the trick to making good pasta at home without mechanized help is really just in strategically selecting a shape. Twirl-able pastas are going to be the hardest, and I’d recommend staying away from them—they’ll require you to roll out sheets of dough by hand, which can get really old really quickly. Pasta dough is pretty elastic and has a tendency to shrink back, which can make it feel like you’ve been trying to roll out flat sheets for a million years and aren’t getting anywhere. It’s also very hard to get them as thin as a machine would. Instead, I recommend having fun with shapes. Below are some of the best pasta shapes to attempt at home with tools that you already have.
And with all of these, make sure to cover up any dough you’re not working with, otherwise it will dry out from air exposure and be tough to work with.
Get ready to look at your thumb a lot! Roll out your dough into a thin rope about the diameter of your thumb, and then cut into pieces about the size of your thumb nail. Stick your pointer finger into one of these small pieces and drag it over the countertop. As you do, the dough will curve up over the top of your finger, and create a little oblong shell-like shape, creating a pocket for sauce to pool in. If you want, you can drag the dough over the back of the tines of a fork, instead of a counter, to create small ridges.
This shape starts the same way, with a thin rope cut into small pieces. But instead of using your finger imprint to drag out the shape, you’ll use a knife with a smooth blade (i.e. not serrated). As you drag the small cuts of dough over the counter, trapped under the blade of a knife, the dough will sort of turn itself inside out, creating a convex rough side that’s facing up. Orrechiette means “little ears” in Italian.
First, we need to get something out of the way: Fusilli and rotini are often confused. Rotini are only made possible by a machine that extrudes dough into a twist, while fusilli are made by twisting a rope, often by hand. What you may have seen in a box labeled as “fusilli” are most likely actually rotini. So fusilli made by hand may look different than what you had in mind, but they’re a delightful little twisted shape nonetheless.
Now, on to making them: We’re rolling out ropes again! But this time, cut the rope into longer 2-inch pieces. Next, you’ll need a super thin dowel of some kind—there is an official tool for this called a ferro, but you can also use a wooden skewer, like the type used to make kebabs on the grill. Make sure your surface is well floured before you get to work. Place the dowel at a 45-degree angle over one end of a piece of dough and push down on the dough to lightly adhere the dowel to the dough. Then roll the dowel away from you. As you do, the dough should simultaneously twist itself around the dowel and flatten a bit. The floured surface is important because it’ll ensure that the dough will easily slide off the dowel once shaped.
Gnocchi are basically like Italian dumplings (as in, chicken and dumplings, not xiao long bao). The dough is created with flour and eggs, as with most other pasta, but uniquely also usually features the addition of a vegetable starch. Traditionally, this is a Russet potato (a.k.a. a baking potato), but can expand to include other options like butternut squash—gnocchi are flexible like that. After the dough is kneaded and rested, it is rolled out in logs that are thicker than all the ropes we’ve been dealing with so far. These should be about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Then cut down the length of the log every half inch to create the classic pillow-like gnocchi shape. You can stop there, or, for an additional flare that will aid in sauce-clinging, the gnocchi can then be rolled down the back of a fork to create ridges.