Pasta Social Club is a column by Meryl Feinstein, Food52's Resident Pasta Maker, community builder, and pastaia extraordinaire. Meryl will teach us about everything from semolina to spaghetti to sauce—and will show us how pasta is a great way to make great friends and have lots of fun.
Often when you see recipes for handmade pasta, they come with a daunting list of tools: rollers, cutters, stamps, molds, drying racks that take over the kitchen counter. And although I love my collection of pasta tools, the truth is the only thing you really need to make pasta by hand is your hand. The pad of your thumb, the tips of your fingers, even the side of your palm, are all perfect pasta tools. And if you want to get creative, you can throw in a butter knife, a knitting needle, a cheese grater, and the bottom of your grandma’s crystal candy dish. I assure you, the possibilities (pastabilities?) are endless—no special equipment required.
These hand-rolled pastas, many of which are known as strascinati (meaning "dragged"), mostly hail from regions in southern Italy, including Molise, Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily. They’re also made with durum wheat flour (semolina) and water. Why? Historically, eggs were unaffordable for many of these regions. But that doesn’t detract from their greatness: These pastas are softer and chewier than their better-known counterparts, and I find them entirely pleasurable both to make and to eat.
If the prospect of making pasta from scratch is overwhelming (and I know it can be!), this is the perfect place to start. You’re pretty much working with edible Play-Dough, so if you’re dissatisfied with the look of a particular piece of pasta, just scrunch it up and try again! And once you get into it, there are endless shapes you can make—from little thumbprint disks to long spirals and intricate braided rings.
I’ve included some of my favorites here and the everyday items you can use to make them. The list starts simple and ends with the more challenging.
Still have questions? This handy tutorial with answers to pasta-related FAQ should help.
- What it is: These “little hollows” look a lot like small seashells, and are often made with the side of the thumb or two fingers.
- What you need: A wooden surface. For the textured version, also known as gnocchetti sardi or malloreddus, grab the back of a fork, a fine cheese grater, meat mallet, crystal rocks glass, or the side of a ridged ramekin!
- How it’s made: Roll a portion of dough into a rope about ½ inch in diameter, and cut it into ½- to 1-inch pieces. With the side and pad of your thumb, firmly push the dough forward across a wooden board or textured surface to create a hollow interior. Don’t be shy with the pressure—you want them to be as hollow as possible to grab that sauce!
- How to pair it: With robust meat or vegetable-based sauces, often spicy, and topped with cheese. A combination of broccoli, garlic, and chili is a classic and delicious option.
- What it is: Capunti, which means “dug into,” is a rustic, hand-formed pasta from Puglia that resembles the inside of a pea pod.
- What you need: Your hands!
- How it’s made: Roll a piece of dough into a long rope and cut it into roughly 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece back and forth between your hands while putting more pressure on the ends so they become tapered. Line up your three middle fingers across the thicker center and dig them into the dough, then drag it firmly towards you in a single, confident motion. The dough should flip over and have a deep imprint of your fingers.
- How to pair it: With just about anything, from vegetable-forward sauces to a spicy sausage ragù. Or check out my recipe for this luxurious roasted garlic sauce!
- What it is: If I had to pick a favorite pasta, these “little ears” would be it. While orecchiette are found throughout central and southern Italy, they’re particularly well-known in Bari, where there’s a community of women who have been making the shape for generations. The deep ridges on the exterior are perfectly designed for grabbing sauce. What you need: A wooden board and a serrated butter knife.
- How it’s made: Roll out a rope of dough and cut it into about ¾-inch pieces. Holding the butter knife firmly at a 45-degree angle, drag the dough towards you using the serrated edge until it curls on itself like a piece of cavatelli. Invert the dough over your thumb to expose the rough interior and, if needed, stretch it a bit into a small cup-like shape. The more pressure you use with the knife, the more visible those ridges will be!
- How to pair it: Often with a combination of cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) and sausage, though it also pairs well with vegetable sauces and meat ragu.
- What it is: Sicilian busiate are a hollow spiral-shaped pasta reminiscent of a telephone cord. Historically, busiate were made by rolling the dough along a busa, or local reed. Today, it’s traditional to use a long metal rod known as a ferretto. Me? I bought a knitting needle and some wooden skewers from my local crafts store and they work great.
- What you need: A rolling pin and thin knitting needle or wooden skewer
- How it’s made: Flatten a portion of dough with a rolling pin into a ¼-inch plank, then cut it into 1/2-inch strips. Roll the strips into thin ropes and cut them into about 4-inch lengths. Position each piece vertically on a wooden surface, then place the knitting needle at the top at a 45-degree angle—it should look like an upside-down V. Holding the bottom end of the needle in place, roll the other end with the dough in a wide, downward curve. It will naturally coil into a spiral. Gently twist the needle to release. Busiate can be kept on a dry dish towel or semolina-floured tray for several hours or overnight to maintain their shape.
- How to pair it: With pesto trapanese (a tomato- and almond-based pesto) or any lighter, vegetable-based sauce.
- What it is: Traditional lorighittas, which look like small braided rings, are made only in the Sardinian village of Morgongiori. The pasta is so delicate that its production hasn’t been mechanized—but don’t let this deter you! They may be time-consuming to make, but they’re worth every effort and are especially gratifying as a group activity.
- What you need: Dexterity and patience!
- How it’s made: Roll a piece of dough into a long, very thin rope. Wrap the rope around your three middle fingers twice and pinch ends together to seal. Remove your fingers and hold the loops delicately where they cross. Starting at the bottom where the ends are sealed, gently twist the strands together like you’re winding a watch. It’s helpful to watch this Pasta Grannies YouTube video for the full effect. Place the lorighittas on a dry dish towel or semolina-floured baking tray for several hours or overnight so they maintain their shape.
- How to pair it: A tomato-based sauce, often with chicken, and a dusting of Pecorino.