Dinner

Master Pasta Dough, Two Ways

July  2, 2020
Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Author Notes

Do I make pasta because I love eating pasta? Of course! But I also make pasta because it calms my mind. I put on some music, get my hands a little dirty, and it’s just me and my dough. Other times I’ll share the process with family and friends, and we’ll catch up over rolling thick strands of Tuscan spaghetti. Better yet, after that last piece is done, I’ve got a bowl of handmade pasta in my lap within 10 minutes. What’s not to love? It’s meditation, it’s arts and crafts, it’s good food, and—best of all—it’s building community.

I couldn’t be more excited to share my love of making pasta with all of you. And what better place to start than with the dough? I get a lot of questions about the ins-and-outs of perfect pasta dough (and I’m here for you!). But for now, let’s go back to basics: pasta is a simple combination of flour and liquid. Don’t have ‘00’ pasta flour? No problem! All-purpose works just fine. Want to use up that last bit of whole wheat in your pantry? Throw it in there! These recipes are a starting point, so don’t be afraid to mix it up. I love adding a little white wine, olive oil, even sour cream to my pasta dough now and again. The world is your pasta oyster!

While it may take a bit of trial and error when you first start your pasta journey, just remember: anyone can make great fresh pasta with knowledge, patience, and practice. It’ll only get easier. You’ll only get faster. And whatever it looks like, good news: it’s still pasta!

The following are recipes for the two most common types of pasta dough you’ll see. Oh, and one more thing: I’ve listed approximate volume measurements here, but the precision of a food scale is hard to beat.

Having trouble? Check out the FAQ below.

How do I know if my dough is the right consistency?

Pasta dough is a bit like play-dough: smooth, firm yet pliable, and neither sticky nor crumbly. It's resilient, not soft like bread dough or delicate like pastry. I find making a mental checklist of those visual cues and comparing them to what’s in front of me helps the most: Is the dough sticking to my hands or the board? Give it a few more dustings of flour. Is it cracking and crumbling? Kneading a little water into those areas should do the trick.

Can I knead my pasta dough too much?

Not really. A key component of great pasta dough is gluten development—simply put, working the protein in wheat flour so it becomes elastic and can seamlessly roll into beautiful sheets or stretch into perfect orecchiette. While you can certainly under-knead your dough—which will crumble and tear with unincorporated dry and wet areas—over-kneading would take much longer than your arms can bear. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and you should be in good shape!

How does all-purpose flour compare to ‘00’ flour?

Both all-purpose and ‘00’ are soft wheat flours with a similar protein content, so they’ll yield similar results. The latter is more finely milled and powdery in texture, so it’ll make for slightly silkier pasta. Similarly, semola rimacinata is “twice milled” semolina, so its finer grind will make for a more supple dough than its coarse counterpart. That said, use what you have!

What is durum wheat, and why use it?

Durum wheat is another name for semolina or semola rimacinata flour. It’s a "hard" strain of wheat with a high protein content that yields a stronger, firmer, more elastic dough—perfect for stretching into dragged strascinati and other hand-rolled pasta shapes. Plus, it has a nice bite when cooked.

Can I use gluten-free flour for these recipes?

The short answer is no. A strong gluten network keeps the dough together and enables you to manipulate it into various shapes. Without that network, the dough falls apart. There are, however, many traditional pastas that incorporate naturally gluten-free flours (chestnut, fava bean, etc.) into their doughs, though always with a mix of regular flour. If you want to experiment with gluten-free pasta-making, you’ll need to incorporate standard gluten alternatives, like xanthan or guar gum, and opt for egg-based pastas rather than durum wheat pastas.

Why is a wooden surface recommended for making pasta?

Wood with a natural, porous finish absorbs excess moisture as you knead and shape the pasta, providing a little more insurance against sticking. Its surface also provides the friction you need for rolling out shapes like cavatelli, capunti, and orecchiette.

Does using whole eggs yield a different result than only using egg yolks?

Absolutely. Whole eggs are a combination of fat, protein, and water, while the yolks are solely made up of fat. An all-yolk pasta dough will certainly be luxurious. But I find without the extra protein and water content from the whites, it lacks the elasticity and strength I need for intricate stuffed pastas. Using a combination of whole eggs and yolks is the best of both worlds!

Why does pasta dough start to turn brown?

After a time, the dough will start to oxidize. This is much more apparent with egg-based pasta dough, and the discoloration after a few hours at room temperature—or a day in the refrigerator—doesn’t mean it’s gone bad. Just re-knead the dough a little bit to expose the yellow interior and continue working.

Can I store unused pasta dough and, if so, for how long?

Pasta dough can be stored for about a day, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator (although it will start to oxidize—see above). Bring the dough back to room temperature before use. I do find that durum wheat pasta dough continues to soften and absorb ambient moisture over time, which can make shaping it difficult since a very firm, almost dry dough is ideal. The best way to store pasta? Shape it same-day and freeze it!

Can I dry my pasta and keep it in the pantry?

Homemade pasta is not shelf-stable like the boxed stuff. Without a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment, homemade pasta will start to get moldy after a few days and continue to discolor. Additionally, when durum wheat pastas are fully dried, they often lose their wonderful chewiness and become tough when cooked. Instead, freeze your pastas on a flat, semolina-dusted tray until solid, then transfer them to an air-tight bag or container for longer-term storage. If I’m in the mood for dried pasta, I’ll happily grab a box of the store-bought stuff from my cupboard. —Pasta Social Club

Test Kitchen Notes

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. —The Editors

  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 6 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 4
Ingredients
  • Egg Pasta Dough
  • 275 grams (~2 1/4 cups) '00' soft wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 25 grams (~2 tablespoons) semolina or semola rimacinata flour* (SEE NOTE)
  • 170 grams (approximately 3 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk, depending on egg size), whisked together
  • Durum Wheat & Water Pasta Dough
  • 300 grams (~2 cups) durum wheat flour (semolina or semola rimacinata)
  • 150 milliliters (~2/3 cup) very warm water
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Choose the type of dough you'd like to make, based on the shape you'd like to achieve. Generally, egg pasta dough is used for most stuffed pastas like ravioli, tortellini, and agnolotti; long strands such as tagliatelle and pappardelle; some short hand-formed shapes like garganelli. Durum wheat and water pasta dough is used for Strascinati ("dragged") shapes, such as orecchiette; many short, hand-formed shapes, like cavatelli and capunti; some stuffed pastas such as Sardinian ravioli (culurgiones); some long strands such as sagne ritorte (twisted tagliatelle).
  2. Weigh the flour(s) in a large mixing bowl. Either transfer the flour to a clean surface (ideally a large wooden board) or, to avoid mess, keep it in the bowl. Make a wide hole (or “well”) with your fist in the center of the flour so you can see the bottom of the surface or bowl. There should be a wall of flour on all sides.
  3. Add the eggs or water to the well and, using a fork, gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid in a circular motion—à la scrambled eggs—until a thick, smooth, and custard-like batter forms.
  4. When the mixture is too thick to continue whisking with the fork, incorporate the remaining loose flour by folding and pressing it into the center of the well with a bench scraper or your fingers. Whenever you hit a wet area, fold and press in more flour—you should be able to incorporate nearly all of the flour into a rough and shaggy mass, though it’s normal to have a few tablespoons left over. If you started in a bowl, transfer the shaggy dough to a flat surface, along with any remaining loose flour and flaky pieces. (PS: it’s supposed to be a total mess at this point, so don’t panic!)
  5. Knead the dough vigorously by stretching it forward with the heel of your hand, then folding it halfway over on itself. Do this a few times in one direction, then rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat, shifting 90 degrees every few strokes. You may still have leftover flour—remove it once the dough has come together and there are no more sticky areas. If the dough still feels dry and crumbly after the first few minutes of kneading, add small amounts of water with your fingertips to the dry areas and continue kneading until smooth. If the dough is very soft and sticky, dust its surface with light layers of flour until it firms up.
  6. After about 10 minutes, the dough should be smooth and firm (pliable but not soft). When it bounces back from a light touch to the surface, wrap it tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  7. After the dough has rested, shape and cook as desired.
  8. NOTE: If semolina or semola rimacinata flours are unavailable, omit the semolina flour from this recipe and use the same weight in ‘00’ or all-purpose flour.

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Meryl Feinstein is a chef and pastaia who left the corporate world for the food industry in 2018. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, Meryl got her start at the renowned New York establishments Lilia and Misi, where she was part of the pasta production team. During that time, Meryl founded Pasta Social Club, a platform that brings people together over a shared love of food, learning, and making connections both on- and offline. She now lives in Austin, where she hosts virtual pasta-making workshops and develops recipes. Her dishes draw on her travels in Italy, ongoing research into the rich history of traditional pasta-making, and her Jewish heritage.