Mom’s Pasta Dough

Hand-Rolling the Dough

Making pasta at home sure has changed a lot, just during my lifetime. For centuries, Italian women took a mound of flour, made a volcano-like cavity in its center, added a few eggs or some water, and slowly started combining the 2 ingredients. Eventually, a ball of dough would be formed, which they would knead before setting it aside to rest. (Let’s be clear: it’s the dough that rested.) Then, using long rolling pins, they rolled out the dough into huge sheets, 3 to 4 feet in diameter, and as thick as that day’s pasta required. The sheets would be laid somewhere to dry a bit before being folded repeatedly upon themselves to make sfoglia, which was then cut by hand with a sharp knife. It was the width of the noodle that determined the pasta — i.e., extremely thin: capellini (angel hair); somewhat thicker: spaghetti; a little thicker: trenette; a shade thicker: linguine; thicker still: fettuccine; etc. I think you get the idea. For generations, this is how pasta was made and our house was no different.  I have fond memories of the women of the house wielding their rolling pins; of wheels of dough drying on floured sheets covering tabletops, beds, and even the backs of chairs; of the family dog being banished while the dough dried; and, of the sound of Mom’s knife quickly cutting perfectly sized linguine, while holding a conversation with one of us or whomever entered her kitchen — and it was her kitchen. Then, about the time I entered high school, everything changed. Our family’s first pasta machine was purchased.

Sfoglia

Although relatively commonplace now, I’ve no idea how widespread their use was in the late 1960’s. I do know that Mom got her machine first and that things changed from that day forward. Mom’s long rolling-pin was all but retired. (She gave it to me a few years before she died.) Instead of round wheels of dough drying around the house, there were now strips of dough — and far fewer of them. You see, if you didn’t have to hand-roll the dough, you could do it more often and make less when you did. More change was to come when my sister and I bought Mom a food processor. Gone were the flour mounds and volcanoes, replaced by a 30 second whirl in this beauty built by Cuisinart.

Pasta Machine

Against this backdrop of technological advancement stood my Dad, a bit of a “pasta purist.” He insisted that he could tell the difference between pasta that was hand-rolled and that which was rolled by machine. As my sister lovingly recalls, if Dad noticed Mom preparing to make pasta that morning, he’d remind her of the benefits of rolling the dough by hand and ask that she do so. Mom would agree and a satisfied Dad would leave for work. Dad’s car was barely down the street when Mom went to the cupboard and pulled out the machine. (As I mentioned, it was her kitchen.) Later, at dinner, the hint of a wry smile would grace Mom’s face as Dad praised her “hand-rolled pasta.”

Pasta dough recipes abound on the internet. Just google “pasta dough recipe” and you’ll see what I mean. The one constant that all of the recipes share is that there is nothing exact about making pasta dough. For starters, not all “Grade A Large” eggs are created equal; some are larger than others. As for the flour, not only do you have to contend with differences between the kinds of flour, things like humidity and how you measure it will affect your dough, as well. These things may seem minor but you have to remember that as little as a tablespoon of liquid can make your dough too wet or, if it’s lacking, too dry.

Double Batch

Dough at Rest

This recipe was given to Mom by long-time family friend, Emilia, who had converted a few recipes for preparation using a food processor. (“Milia” and her husband were my brother’s god-parents.)  I follow this recipe because it uses a specific amount of liquid, thereby removing any variance resulting from eggs of differing sizes. Though flour-related variables may remain, at least we’re using a constant amount of liquid. Beyond that, one thing is certain: when making pasta dough, experience is the most important ingredient.

This post will only cover making pasta dough. Future posts will detail its uses.

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Pasta Dough Recipe

makes about 1.5 lbs

total time: approx. 45 minutes (includes 30 minutes rest)

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 whole large eggs + enough water to equal 1 cup of liquid. Egg should be allowed to sit on a counter for about 30 minutes before use.

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in food processor and mix until a ball of dough forms, about 30 seconds. Place dough on floured work surface.
  2. Dough should not be stick to your fingers but should be moist enough to form a cohesive ball.
  3. Begin kneading the dough, adding flour or water, in small amounts, as required. Knead until a smooth dough is achieved, at least 5 minutes. The longer you knead the dough, the better the pasta’s texture will be.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour. If dough is to be rested longer than an hour, place it in the refrigerator. When removed from the refrigerator, temper the dough by leaving it on a counter for 30 minutes before using.

Variations

  • I prefer to add a pinch of salt and a dash (about 1/8 tsp) of olive oil to my pasta dough.
  • For green (verde) noodles, mix a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped spinach with the flour before adding the egg liquid to the food processor. Zia recalls that, years ago, they used spinach baby food when making pasta verde. 

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51 thoughts on “Mom’s Pasta Dough

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  4. Nice to have the moisture amount calibrated. My grandmother was from Illinois and handrolled egg noodles and I always remember them hanging and drying. Thanks for the good memory of my childhood.

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    • You are so right. It is such an easy thing to do, measure the liquids, but it takes so much of the guess work out of making pasta dough.Those childhood memories are so special, aren’t they?

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    • Milia was a very special woman, my brother’s God-Mother. She taught my Mom many of the Sammarinese dishes that my Dad loved. Once Mom gave me the food processor recipe, I became serious about making pasta. There was no need to guess about both, how much flour and how many eggs, to use. My dough became much more consistent.

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    • A convert! Well, this recipe certainly is easy enough to follow and the results are consistent. Like anything else, though, practice makes perfect. Even with a 30 minute rest for the dough, I can make a batch of pasta in under an hour. That certainly wasn’t the case when I began. I hope he’s successful enough to keep trying. There just is no comparison to the taste and texture of home-made pasta.

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    • Oh, yeah! You can make it as thick as you like and that can change the dish’s emphasis from the pasta to the filling & sauce. It’s been a couple years but now I use only home-made pasta for my lasagne. If you’ve got the time, it’s the only way to fly.

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      • I have to tell you because this is funny. John eats his lasagna made with your pasta recipe and says humm, this pasta is good,.. it was all light and moist and soft and so yummy, our teeth just glided through. (Mine was always chewy and sad before ) He says to me,, is this recipe from one of your new Blog Buddies .. yup I says Mouth full. .. mm..he chews.. good.. Well, (swallow) you can make this one again he says.. which is actually the Highest praise you can get from the silent fella!. yoo hoo c

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    • Yes, for us pasta makers, getting a set amount of liquid to use is heaven-sent. There will always be variances in the flour due to the humidity or just to make life a little more difficult but, with the cup measure of liquid, at least half of the variables are removed. Thanks, Colline, for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

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  11. Hi, I can’t wait to try this. My 86 year old mother always made pasta dough so fast that we never caught on to the amounts. Now she doesn’t ever remember making pasta (sadly) so I am going to try this one. One thing she did do when she finally got her processor was to use the kneader attachment to do her kneading in the processor. Do you suggest that or have you ever tried it that way? I don’t mind kneading it but am just wondering.

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    • Hello & welcome, Camille! I’m not familiar with an attachment on our food processors for kneading, although both have a dough blade. Could this be the one to which you’re referring? Even when using the dough blade, I always hand knead the dough a few minutes before letting it rest for a while. On the rare occasions that I didn’t knead the dough, my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough to notice any difference. I swear, however, that I could hear Mom’s voice asking, “You didn’t knead that, did you?” Yeah, I pretty much always knead the dough. :)

      Thanks for dropping by and good luck making pasta!

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    • Greek markets sell our “little squares” in packages. Look for them among the pastas. Like anything else, they aren’t as good as homemade but they sure do make a wonderful bowl of nostalgia when you need one. :)

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  19. This looks so temptingly easy. My food processor is still sitting on the counter after last nights spinach pesto…. What do you think about using the dough hook on a stand mixer to knead the pasta?

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    • I’ve always used my food processor or made dough the old fashioned way, starting with a mound of flour on a pasta board. A blogging buddy, Stefan, has a post in which he makes dough using his stand mixer. He uses a semolina flour, though, and we use all-purpose. Even so, the process would be the same. You can see how he does it HERE. The main points are to start with the paddle, add the flour gradually to the eggs, and switch to the dough hook. I hope this helps.

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          • I did it! Squid ink fettuccine alla ChgoJohn. I did skip the food processor and mix everything in the stand mixer with a dough hook just cuz I wasn’t sure what the squid ink would do to the dough since it’s salty and a little oily and I thought I could watch over it better that way. Otherwise I followed your very clear and easy directions. I’m fairly certain that you could even teach my pooch (dew claws and all) to make pasta. So easy and delicious. Thanks!

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          • YAY!!! I am so glad you made your own fettuccine. The whole purpose of this blog was to save my family’s recipes for future generations and so that they would be used again. I think of it as a bit of a success every time someone uses one and is happy with the result. Thank you so much for giving it a try and for taking the time to come back and tell me. You’ve made my night! Really!

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