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 all the tools you'll need for each)—and will show us how pasta is a great way to make great friends and have lots of fun.
Making pasta during the holiday season is an Italian tradition—and for good reason. There’s a rhythm to making dough that calms the mind, and folding tiny tortellini is a wonderful way to bring together family and friends (whether in person or even on Zoom!).
In northern Italy, home to many of the country’s most well-known pastas, intricate filled shapes—like cappelletti, anolini and, of course, those tortellini—often find themselves at the holiday table. And since most are served in brodo (a richly flavored broth), they couldn’t be more perfect for any winter feast, whether it’s for twenty people or two. So with the days getting shorter and the air getting colder, what better time is there to give homemade pasta a try?
If you’re looking for a place to start—and a few culinary gifts to add to your list—here are some of the must-have tools you’ll find in my collection, ranging from kitchen staples to specialty items.
A pasta roller
If there’s one thing that will make your ravioli dreams a reality, it’s a pasta roller. I’ve tried my hand at several brands, and every time I go back to my manual Marcato Atlas 150. It may not have the speed of an electric machine, but it’ll churn out beautifully smooth and consistent pasta sheets every time.
A set of cookie cutters
I always opt for a set of cookie cutters over specially designed ravioli cutters or molds. Their sturdy and sharp edges get the job done and give me more flexibility with sizing. Not only are they perfect for making ravioli, mezzelune, and cappelletti, but they also come in handy for some lesser-known pastas like the hat-shaped cappellacci dei brigante. Plus, it’s great to have a stash of cookie cutters in the house for all of your baking needs!
A fluted pasta cutter
When I first started making pasta, I was able to track down a beautiful vintage cutter from Italy that hasn’t left my side since. Yes, you can buy an inexpensive version that’ll give you the ruffled pattern you’re looking for in shapes like farfalle. But a traditional brass cutter is designed to cut and seal your pasta, and it’s exactly what you need when trimming tortelli, cutting agnolotti, and making one of my favorite pastas: bite-sized ravioli known as sfoglia lorda.
A bicycle pastry cutter
Speaking of pasta cutters, I added a five-wheel bicycle cutter to my collection a couple of years ago, when I first decided to try my hand at tortellini in their traditional ¾-inch size. And I haven’t regretted it for a moment. Just as a cookie cutter set will meet all of your circular pasta needs, this multi-pronged cutter will make easy work of all of the squares and rectangles in your pasta-making life. I use this for everything from garganelli (a hand-formed precursor to penne) to pappardelle: just make sure to invest in a sturdy one like the Ateco because the cheaper versions will fall apart quickly.
A gnocchi & garganelli board
I often gravitate toward southern Italian hand-formed pastas for their delightfully chewy texture. These include gnocchetti sardi (also known as Sardinian gnocchi or malloreddus), which are little pasta pillows rolled across a ridged board to create deep sauce-grabbing crevices. You can use a range of household items to create texture, but this budget-friendly board can do no wrong. Plus, it can be used for rolling other types of gnocchi and making garganelli.
The Eppicotispai is my go-to mainstream brand, but there are some incredible artisans all over the world who specialize in textured pasta surfaces. My favorites? Wooden Essentials (made in the USA) and IMAIKOUBA (made in Japan). You can also find traditional garganelli boards from Marco Galavotti of Al Marangoun based in Modena, Italy.
A traditional corzetti stamp
This is perhaps my most specialist tool, but it’s also one of my most treasured. If you’re looking for a gift that’s totally unique and handmade in Tuscany, a corzetti stamp from Filippo of Romagnoli Pasta Tools fits the bill. Corzetti (or croxetti) are discs of pasta dough imprinted with various patterns (to help catch that sauce!), and they’re one of the oldest pasta traditions from Genoa and Liguria dating back to the 13th century. The Romagnoli family has been carving corzetti stamps by hand in the Chianti region since 1918, and they offer traditional designs like the Florentine fleur-de-lis as well as custom creations. Oh, and Filippo also hand-carves traditional pasta rolling pins known as mattarelli, too!
A digital kitchen scale
I hope one day I’ll be able to fully trust my inner nonna and know exactly how much flour I need with my eyes closed. Until then, you won’t find me making pasta without a kitchen scale, a tool that will take you far in all of your cooking and baking endeavors. This trusty gadget keeps my doughs looking and feeling consistent no matter the season. And yes, I even weigh my eggs!
A wooden surface
It’s not a coincidence that pasta is traditionally made on wood. A natural (unvarnished) wooden surface provides friction when kneading and shaping, which is especially helpful when making southern Italian pastas like cavatelli and orecchiette. The porous material also absorbs excess moisture so you don’t have to worry about sticky dough. A traditional board is designed with a front lip to secure it in place on any table or countertop, but a large wooden cutting board also works well. Just lay a damp dish towel underneath it to keep it in place.
A bench scraper
I love bench scrapers because they’re as sharp as you need them to be without running the risk of cutting yourself. I use one of these to incorporate ingredients and cut my dough into any size. You can also use a bench scraper to form shapes like gnocchetti sardi and trofie (a Ligurian spiral pasta), which gives them a more uniform look.
A roll of pastry bags
If you’re looking to add stuffed pastas to your repertoire, storing your filling in a large pastry bag makes shaping a breeze and cleanup a whole lot easier. Piping the filling gives you more control and precision, which is especially helpful for pastas like Piedmontese agnolotti and the show-stopping raviolo al uovo (ravioli with an egg yolk nested inside!).
A spray bottle
Pasta-making is my form of meditation, so I never want to feel like I’m rushing against the clock. Since pasta dough dries out quickly, having a spray bottle with water nearby keeps my dough hydrated and helps seal filled pastas when I need it. A little water goes a long way, so the light mist of the spray bottle is perfect for maintaining texture without over-saturating the dough.
A few sheet trays
Once I’ve shaped my pasta, I store it on a floured baking sheet and let it air dry as I work. Since I live in a one-bedroom apartment, small half- and quarter-sheet trays are my friends: they fit perfectly in the freezer when I want to flash-freeze pasta for long-term storage.
And last but not least…
Once your pasta is ready to go, it’s time to cook it! My setup is simple: a large stock pot of well-salted boiling water alongside a large sauté pan of whatever sauce I’m making. I always use a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs to transfer the pasta directly from the water to the sauce, where I cook it a bit longer to meld the flavors. Or, better yet, grab an Italian pasta pot that has the strainer built in so you can transfer all of your pasta at once without sending that precious cooking water down the drain!