Kneading the Dough
One of the most important steps of the entire pasta making experiance, is kneading the dough. The reason we do this is because one of things that takes place during the knead process is the development of gluten. Gluten is the binding agent within the dough, allowing a cohesive texture that will allow the pasta to not fall apart during boiling. Also, if we do this right, the past will come out silken, and it’s a sensation that you will miss out on with store baught pasta.
Many “modern” chefs and TV cooking shows will tell you you can use a processor. I think that doing it by hand offers something unique to the process and is also easier to gauge the pasta as you go. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find making it by machine tends to accentuate mistakes and can compound issues of moisture …
Either way, here’s how I do it by hand.
Using your hands is satisfying, therapuetic and, most importantly, allows you a tactile sensation that instantly reports the condition of your pasta. Too dry, and it becomes tough, gritty and crumbly, too wet and it’s sticky and slimey. In both cases the fixes are easy, a spoonful of water to wet it, or a sprinkling of flour to dry it.
Use both hands! Start by scooping the flour from the outside of the well into the center. Then, squish it with your fingers to mix all the ingredients together. Now, get the balls of your hands in there as well and really start to mush it together. Once you have a cohesive e mass, lift it from your bench, scrape up any bits that remained stuck using a dough scraper and then sprinkle the bench with a light coating of flour.
Now the fun starts, start by roll-kneading your mess away from you, do this a dozen times, then fold it the dough, rotate it 90° and roll-knead it another dozen times. Twist the dough, rotate it 90° and roll-knead it another dozen times. Now Pick up the dough and slam-knead it (just remember to throw it against your bench straight down and not at a 45° angle, otherwise it’ll just bounce straight off. As an extra bonus, it’s a great way to get rid of all your tension) a half dozen times, then start the whole process again and do this for about 6 to 10 minutes. Your aim is to achieve a supple and slightly elastic ball of dough. Pack the ball in some cling wrap and leave on the counter for 30 minutes to rest. It can also stay in the fridge overnight if you run out of time – but allow it to return to room temperature before rolling it.
Rolling the Dough and using a Pasta Machine
Having your supple, elastic and rested ball of dough, we know begin the work of rolling it out and forming the pasta sheets that will become the basis of our final product.
Set up your pasta machine, clamping it to a table, countertop or sturdy cutting board, and turning the dial to the widest setting (usually setting number 1 on the dial).
I tend to hand roll out the ball first, creating a half centimetre thick sheet. Then, when that has been done, I slice the sheet into 10cm wide strips and then, keeping the other wrapped in the cling wrap, I take the first piece and begin to feed it through the rollers.
When it comes out, fold the dough as though you’re posting a letter, so grab one side into the middle and then fold the other side in to form a three layer rectangle. Rotate the rectangle 90° so that the narrower side of the dough is facing the roller, feed the pasta through the machine again. Repeat this process about 6 times. Once this is done, you can begin to roll it thinner. Turn the dial to the next narrowest setting and oll the pasta through the machine. If you don’t have an electric engine, then it’s best to acquire the services of a helper. This way, one person can crank the handle while other person guides the pasta through the machine. Without folding the dough between settings, keep reducing the thickness setting until the dough is rolled as thinly as you’d like. When the sheet gets too long, simply cut it with a knife or dough scraper. If there are any “off cuts”, cover them with cling wrap and you can re-knead and roll those into new sheets at the end.
Lay the sheet(s) out on a dusted bench or tray and dust them with flour. I find that maize or semolina are perfect to ensure that the pasta doesn’t stick to each other, however, plain flour will be fine for short term drying. Repeat the process for each of the peices of dough, laying out the sheets in preperation for cutting into fettuccine, or roll-out onto ravioli molds … or simply cut into lasagna sheets.