A Hands-On Project Your Little Ones Will Enjoy Making and Eating
Most days, the need to get food on the table means you'll need to focus on things that can be cooked quickly and efficiently. Every once in a while, though, it's comforting—and practical—to invest your time in a homemade dish that will provide several future meals. Homemade noodles definitely fall into that category. Preparing your own handmade pasta takes time, but stocks up your kitchen for fast, kid-friendly lunches and dinners to come. It's also a fun craft in its own right, and something the kids can gleefully help you with.
Special Equipment Is Optional
If you don't have a kitchen full of pasta-making gadgets, don't worry. A hand-cranked pasta roller or a pasta attachment for your stand mixer will make the project easier, but they're purely optional. The only thing you really need is a rolling pin and a clear space on your counter. As for ingredients, homemade pasta requires just flour and eggs. Many recipes call for a pinch of salt or a splash of oil, but they're optional as well. For a basic batch of dough to learn from, you'll need about 4 cups of flour and either 4 large eggs or 3 eggs and 2 extra yolks.
Mixing the Dough
Traditional Countertop Method: Mound the flour on your countertop, and make a well in the middle. Crack your eggs into the well, and add a pinch of salt. With a fork or your fingers, break up the eggs, and pull some of the flour from the edges of the well into the middle. Work your way around the eggs in a circular motion, bringing more and more of the flour into the eggs, until you have a stiff, elastic dough. You'll leave some of the flour behind, and that's fine. Sweep it away, then knead your dough for a few more minutes until it's very hard to work with. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
Stand Mixer Method: Pour the eggs into your mixer bowl. Add the first cup of flour, and whisk them together with a fork. Attach the mixer's dough hook; add the second cup of flour, and start mixing at medium speed. Once the flour is incorporated, add the third cup. By this time, the dough will be coming together nicely. Add the fourth cup a tablespoon or two at a time, until the dough is very stiff. You won't need it all.
Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, and then tip the dough out onto your counter and let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
Rolling the Dough
Rolling Pin Method: Cut the dough into 8 or 10 small pieces. Place one on your work space, and keep the rest covered with plastic wrap. Roll the first ball into a thin oblong, until it starts shrinking back as quickly as you can roll it. Set it aside under plastic wrap, and move on to the next piece. By the time you've rolled them all once, the first piece will have relaxed enough that you can roll it further. Repeat this until each sheet is almost thin enough for you to see the pattern of your counter through the dough.
Pasta Roller Method: Cut the dough into 6 or 8 pieces, keeping one out and covering the rest with plastic wrap. Flatten the first ball with your hands, and feed it through the roller on its widest setting. Fold the long strip of dough in thirds, to make a neat rectangle, and feed it back through the rollers again. Do this once more, and then set it aside under plastic wrap and move on to the next dough ball. When they've all been rolled once, move on to the next-thinnest setting and roll them all twice more. After this, keep setting your roller to the next-thinnest setting. You'll only need to roll each dough ball once, at this point. It helps to have a second pair of hands to help guide the dough as it comes out of the roller, so it doesn't pile up and tangle. If the strip of dough becomes inconveniently long, cut it in half and continue.
Drying and Cutting
If you're using your fresh-made pasta for lasagna, congratulations! You're already finished. If you plan to cut it into smaller noodles, though, leave it to sit uncovered for a few minutes, turning it once, so it becomes slightly dry and leathery to the touch. This makes it easier to handle. If you're using a pasta roller, place your chosen cutting attachment on the roller, and feed the strips of dough through the cutter one at a time to make noodles. If you're cutting the noodles by hand, roll up each strip of dough into a tight cylinder. Cut across the dough with a sharp knife to make your noodles: thinly for tagliatelle, almost pencil-width for fettuccine, or finger-width for pappardelle.
A Few Final Notes
Fresh-made noodles cook in just a minute or two, and they're ready to cook as soon as you've cut them. If you plan to keep some for later meals, hang them over a wooden dowel or—pro tip—an adjustable tension rod, the kind used for shower curtains. Hang them until they're completely dry, and then store them in an airtight container until they're needed. Alternatively, you can freeze your pasta in whole sheets. Lightly flour the sheets and stack them, with parchment paper between the layers, on a baking sheet. Freeze them flat, then bag them airtight for later use.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.