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The Perfect Pasta Dough Recipe

Pasta is one of those fundamental “from scratch” things that can seriously impress your dinner guests and also totally change the game on what you thought you knew. Once you’ve had fresh homemade pasta, it’s really hard to even call that stuff you buy in boxes pasta anymore.

I learned to make pasta the way I learned to make bread, which is to say with a few bumps in the beginning. My first bread was like a hard little football shaped rock. My first time making pasta it was similarly hard, which was all the more difficult since I didn’t have a pasta machine back then and so it needed to be (laboriously) rolled out the old fashioned way. The final cooked pasta wasn’t much better.

Somehow with both bread and pasta it was only the first time that was a disaster. Every time after was not only passable but definitely edible and quite good in fact.

The first pasta recipe I got to know and like was Giada’s recipe found on Food Network.

It’s a good recipe and turned out some very good pasta quite a few times. The only hang up I had with it is that it’s measurements are given in volume rather than by weight, which I think is important especially in the early stages of learning the fundamentals like bread and pasta.

If you don’t have a kitchen scale then it’s still a good starting place but if you want to really get into the finer points of pasta (or bread) then in my humble opinion a kitchen scale is essential to the learning process.

When I got my pasta maker a few weeks ago I decided to look for a more precise recipe so I could control and understand the process a little better. I am forever grateful to the lovely people at seriouseats.com who put together this super comprehensive guide to fresh pasta making, which takes into account so many variables like egg or no egg and water or no water.

The results of their intensive research and great documentation is this beautiful and foolproof go to pasta recipe.


Fresh Pasta Go-To Recipe

Ingredients

2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg for every 5 oz (141 grams) of flour. No water.


Isn’t that just a thing of beauty? That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Each time I’ve made this I doubled the recipe, which made enough pasta for 3-4 very generous servings.

Special Equipment

Kitchen scale (optional but highly recommended) – substitute volumetric recipe like the one above)

Pasta rolling machine (optional but recommended) – substitute rolling pin.

As I mentioned above a kitchen scale is not essential but very good to have when learning about the nuances of pasta and bread. Likewise, a pasta machine isn’t absolutely necessary and can easily be substituted for a rolling pin but I think it produces much better results with less effort. More on the pasta machine below.

Simple Ingredients & Good Technique

Italian and French cuisine are characterized in part by their very simple preparations executed with utmost attention to detail. So of course the first step to good pasta is good flour and good eggs. What’s also important is good technique, which can be summarized mostly as a bit of patience.

Mixing the Flour & Eggs

Most recipes ask that you make a little mountain of flour with a hollow in the middle where the eggs are placed.  A fork is then used to mix the eggs, pulling flour in slowly as you go.

I’ve done it this way on a marble pastry board (as shown above) but I’ve also done it just in a bowl (which makes for easier clean up) and honestly it comes out virtually the same as far as I can tell.

No Water

The recipe I followed is very clear on the point of no water. Unless your dough is so dry that you’ve been kneading it together for 3-5 minutes and it’s still a pile of bits then you shouldn’t add water.

I haven’t had a problem so far. It may not seem like enough but the amount of liquid in the eggs is enough to hydrate the flour.

Salt

Whether you add salt to the pasta dough is up to you. I’ve done it both ways (with or without salt in the dough) and it seems indistinguishable since the pasta is boiled in salted water.

Other Additions

Added at the mixing stage

Juices: I’m planning to make some coloured ravioli soon with the help of some beet juice, spinach juice, and maybe carrot juice. About a tbsp of strained liquid should be enough to colour the pasta without upsetting the liquid balance too much.

Spices & seasonings: Of course you can add any spice or seasoning that you like. Dried oregano comes to mind but I think it’s pretty flexible.

Added at the rolling stage

Basil: A few times I’ve added basil leaves during the rolling out process. I wish I had taken a photo. I will in the future. I think it gives the pasta a nice basil flavour and makes it look very pretty. The basil stretches a lot during the rolling and by the end you have very large green leaf motifs.

I usually add it just after the first setting (so around 1) but you could also add it at a later stage in the process (maybe at 5 or 6) for smaller basil motifs and see how that works. More on rolling out below.

Resting the Dough

After the initial mixing pasta dough (like bread dough) likes to rest covered so it doesn’t dry. I like to cover mine with a layer of plastic wrap and then a cloth. There’s nothing worse for dough than it drying out before you’ve had a chance to use it.

The resting period is so that the flour can fully hydrate (which aids gluten formation) and also so the dough has a chance to soften, which gives it that beautiful spring and body. If you try to roll out pasta dough too soon after mixing, it will snap and break because it doesn’t have sufficient elasticity. About 20 minutes should do it.

Rolling out the Dough

Before when I would make pasta without my pasta roller I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin. I found this to be very physically demanding, so much that I didn’t want to make pasta too often. It’s possible I wasn’t letting the dough rest sufficiently and I will have to try one day to see.

A more important point may be that the roller makes the dough much thinner than I’ve ever made any dough, from pie to empanada to roti and of course pasta.

Side Note: Short vs Hard Dough

Doughs can be hard (i.e. with gluten) which makes lovely elastic doughs like pasta or wonton, or they can be short (i.e. ideally no gluten development) which makes crumbly and tender pie crusts and tart shells. For pasta we want the gluten, but the gluten also fights back.


Pasta Rollers vs Rolling Pin

I very much recommend a pasta roller if you can afford the cost and the space in your home and plan to make pasta often. The one I bought is the Atlas Mercato 150mm manual crank machine.

I read some reviews before buying which suggested it was the best one but since I’ve had it I’ve noticed it literally everywhere. It seems to be the roller of choice for bloggers and chefs alike. It’s also the machine seriouseats.com used in their pasta experiments.

Every time I see this I’m more convinced I made the right choice without even having all the information. So lucky.

Laminating the Dough

After the dough has a chance to rest you can begin working on it by cutting it into pieces to be fed into the pasta roller on the widest setting. You should do this at least 2-3 times per piece of dough (though some suggest up to 10), folding it and returning it into the roller on the widest setting each time.

This process is called laminating and it helps gluten formation which makes for better pasta texture.

When you’ve finished laminating a piece of dough I recommend putting it under a cloth again while you work on the rest so that it doesn’t dry. It’s best not to put the pieces on top of each other or they will stick together. These are best practices that I don’t always follow myself (to save time and space) so I work quickly to prevent drying and gently pull the pieces apart if they’ve stuck together. The choice is yours. Definitely don’t do this with thinner dough because it’s too fragile to pull apart.

If your flour and egg didn’t mix quite enough you may notice dry pieces, chunks or uneven texture when you first cut the dough. Usually this can be remedied by a thorough lamination process. If my dough is dry and uneven I laminate up to 6 times and it usually does the trick.

Rolling out the Dough

Once you’ve laminated the dough start again from the first piece feeding it through the machine from widest setting (0) to thinnest setting (9). Sometimes I skip a few of the steps, which I think makes the dough crimp weirdly. It’s never caused a big problem but the choice is yours how to proceed through the steps. Definitely more patience makes better texture.

Since the dough dries so fast (especially when it’s rolled out) what I like to do is to roll out each piece all the way from thickest to thinnest, then shape it or cut it into my desired form, and put it properly to dry before I move on to the next piece of dough.

That’s just my process to deal with fast drying dough. You may find one that suits you better.

Shaping & Cutting the Dough

The Mercato machine has 2 cutting attachments that make fettuccini and spaghetti. I’ve made both and I think the spaghetti is slightly harder to work with but also my favourite as it soaks up so much sauce and has such a hearty mouth feel.

You can also make different kinds of pasta once the dough is rolled out. You could cut it into 1 inch strips for pappardelle, or into bigger pieces for lasagna, or even into tiny squares for macaroni (see Handmade Macaroni From Scratch.) I think I’ll need to write a whole post just about pasta shapes. Coming soon I promise.

Drying the Dough

The little baskets I made from the fettuccini in the feature image for this post look very cute but I’m not sure it’s the most practical solution. When the dough dries in this shape it can adhere together, which makes for clumpy stuck together pasta once it’s cooked.

When I made these cute little fettuccini baskets I ended up re-rolling all the pasta I had rolled and cut because it was sticking together so badly. I know a lot of very professional chefs do it this way and maybe with a good dusting of flour it won’t stick but in my experience this is probably a pro move not the best for beginners.

My favourite way to dry pasta is either on the edge of a large bowl as shown below or otherwise on the back of a chair (only if I’m cooking it right away since it’s a vulnerable spot for our hungry dog and stray elbows.)

When I posted this on Instagram I got a few suggestions:

  • A friend’s Italian grandmother dries her pasta on a cloth hanging off the edge of a table.
  • Another friend dries hers on a broomstick suspended between two chairs.

Cooking the Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks in boiling water very quickly. Depending on the shape about 3 minutes should be enough for perfectly al dente pasta. I recently heard a chef on Chopped say that fresh pasta cooks in 45 seconds, but that hasn’t been my experience. Ultimate test is the taste test.

Shown here is fettuccini in a simple homemade alfredo sauce with seared scallops. This was our very first pasta after buying the pasta machine.

I hope I haven’t missed anything and that this has been helpful. Please comment with any questions below.

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Classic Tarte Tatin

I have a confession to make. This is my third time trying to make this tart. The first time it sort of fell apart. The second time it burned. I was so determined to make it and I’m still not really sure why. It seemed so chic and…classically French.

What makes a tarte tatin what it is is the process of cooking the apples underneath the pastry and then flipping it upside down…or right-side up. I gave up on the classic for a little while and tried my hand at potato leek with thyme. I got the hang of it!

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In order for it to work you need a buttered non-stick skillet (about 9 inches / 23 cm ) and precise cooking – see below. Once I knew how to make one type of tarte tatin, it was only a matter of trying my hand again at the classic. It’s really fun to make and the fact that you flip it upside down makes it a bit more forgiving as far as pastry skills go.I really prefer making my own pie dough. It tastes better and isn’t full of artificial fillers. Check the ingredients on any store bought dough you’re considering before buying. The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz bread flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

 

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it onto the apples then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, you’re going to use it to cover the apples. I used a 9 inch  23 cm non-stick skillet that was about 2 inches / 5 cm high. You’ll probably have some dough leftover if you use the same size…maybe make a hand pie? If you go larger, remember to also make more filling.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

5-6 medium sized baking apples like McIntosh or Gala

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 TBSP salted butter (melted) + a bit more to butter the pan

1 tsp cinnamon (I’m obsessed with Vietnamese cinnamon at the moment)

Dash of salt

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack in the upper 1/3.

Peel and core the apples then slice them into 1 cm wedges.

Toss them in a bowl with the sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt.

Arrange them in a buttered non-stick skillet in whatever way looks nice to you. I did a sort of swirl on the outside and another swirl going in the opposite direction on the inside.

Cover with the pie dough above or store bought. I like to gently push the edges down to envelope the apples.

Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.

Allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes and then place a plate over the tart and, using both hands, flip both upside down so the tart slides onto the plate. It should slide out without any issues.

Garnish with powdered sugar, toasted walnuts, or salted caramel.

so. good.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart with Gruyère & Thyme

It was such a pleasure making this tart. Bogdan and I met up with some friends at Eastern Market on Saturday and there were beautiful heirloom tomatoes everywhere. I didn’t have any plans for them but I had to have some. Just look how beautiful they are. Slicing them for this tart was almost as good as eating the finished product. The smell of sweet fresh tomatoes filled my kitchen and I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve seen quite a few tomato tarts on Pinterest lately and they all look so wonderful. I decided that would be the best way to highlight the tomatoes while also making something really eye-catching. You know what’s amazing about food? The sheer variety of preparation methods that can transform virtually the same ingredients from a margherita pizza to a rustic tomato tart. It’s incredible.

So about this tart. It looks really impressive but it’s surprising how simple it is to make. I made my own pie dough (recipe & instructions below) but you can substitute store bought if you prefer – that would make it even simpler. I think I used about 250 grams / 8.8 oz of tomatoes.  I used the small ones because I liked the look of it but you can also use large ones or even both. They have to be sliced thinly then laid out on a paper towel lined surface and sprinkled with salt so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Gruyère and thyme has been my favourite combination lately. I bought a little thyme bush from the farmers market a couple weeks ago and I’ve been using it in everything. The combination of gruyère and thyme is a classic. It lets the tomatoes shine while still adding a bit of interest. I garnished with a small sprig of basil just for appearances but you could also fully substitute basil and pecorino for the gruyère and thyme.

You’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of ingredients in this tart. Simple preparations like this are meant to highlight the quality of the few ingredients used. In this case, the tomatoes were really the star of the recipe and their quality and taste was noticeable. Try to take advantage of the harvest heirlooms available at farmers markets this time of year. Also, if at all possible don’t shy away from making your own pie dough. Not only does it taste infinitely better than store bought, but it also isn’t full of preservatives, stabilizers, colours and whatever else  store bought doughs are always full of (have you ever looked at the ingredients? It’s scary). The flour you choose makes a big difference too. My personal favourite (for almost everything I make) is Antimo Caputo Chef’s “00” Flour, however, for pastry it’s best to avoid a high gluten flour and use an AP instead. As always, unbleached is always better.

Unless you have somewhere you can buy all natural pie dough, make it yourself. It’s part of the experience. The secret is just to keep all the ingredients super cold – then it’s (almost) fool-proof. Also, this particular dough is made with a combination of lard and butter, which provides an ideal flour-to-fat ratio. If you don’t have or prefer not to use lard it’s best to substitute vegetable shortening instead of more butter because all butter can make for a mealy pie dough that’s hard to work with.

The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz unbleached AP flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it into my tart shell then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, press it into a tart shell. I used a very shallow (about 1 inch / 2.5 cm) tart pan that’s 10 inch / 25 cm across. I had a small handful of dough leftover so I think this would be enough to cover a 2 inch deep pan as well (especially if you don’t make the crust as thick as mine was).

Blind bake the tart dough (without anything in it) at 375 F / 190 C for 15 minutes. You can use pie weights or beans if you choose but I generally don’t.  You can move on to the tart recipe at this point.

When finished baking, remove from heat and assemble following instructions below. Leave the oven on.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

250 – 300 grams fresh heirloom tomatoes (either cherry or full sized)

1 prebaked pie or tart crust

1 TBSP fresh thyme + a bit more for garnish (fresh really makes a difference but if you have to use dry then substitute 1 tsp dried thyme for 1 TBSP fresh)

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated gruyère + more for garnish (after baking)

Method

Thinly slice the tomatoes (as thin as you have the patience for) and lay them out on a paper towel lined surface. Sprinkle with salt and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they release water and you don’t end up with a runny pie. It’s really easy to over-salt so just remember while you’re salting that what you sprinkle on the tomatoes to release water will also end up in your tart.

Take your tart or pie shell and sprinkle 1/3 of the thyme, then 1/3 of the cheese and layer on enough tomatoes to cover. Repeat for 2 more layers, using the rest of the ingredients. I had a few tomato slices leftover that I just ate as they were. If you have leftovers or not enough, adjust accordingly The tart should be relatively full so if you use a 2 inch tart pan then you’ll need to double your filling. PS: The top of the tart should be tomatoes and not cheese because the cheese will harden unpleasantly.

Bake at 375 F / 190 C for 15 – 20 minutes or until crust is a nice golden colour and tomatoes have dried.

Remove from heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with more thyme and gruyère.

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Honey & Chile de Árbol Skillet Cornbread

Usually whenever I want cornbread I just toss a few things in a blender and it’s done in about five minutes. This particular iteration of my many five minute cornbreads was absolutely perfect. It had a great sweet to spice balance and was just moist enough. I made it to go with frijoles borrachos – in case you’re interested. Best part is how fast it is.

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Ingredients 

2 cups cornmeal (I used medium ground like for polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

1.5 – 2 cups yogurt/buttermilk/kefir (enough to make a batter that pours)

1 egg

1/3 cup softened salted butter + 1 pad for buttering the top of the finished cornbread

1/3 cup honey

3/4 cup of corn (frozen is fine)

Dried chile de árbol, seeds removed (use however many you can handle – I used 5 or 6 small ones and it was perfect for me.)

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Method

I usually just toss everything in my mini blender and it’s good to go but because this recipe has corn in it too I removed the batter to a bowl where I added the corn and mixed with a spatula. If you want to be precise about it you can mix wet ingredients first, then dry and pour the wet into the dry. However, I don’t see the point of dirtying more dishes when it isn’t necessary.

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If you aren’t using a mini blender or food processor I recommend you dice up your chile however fine you want it (ideally very fine) before adding it…in case that isn’t obvious.

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Bake at 400 F / 200 C for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 325 F / 160 C and bake an additional 5 minutes. The reason for this is that you want to achieve a solid centre without burnt edges.

Remove from oven and butter the top. Slice and serve with honey butter if you want to do things right.

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Truffle & Thyme Pâté

P1120648Pâté. A small word with many accents and assumptions. I think just the word makes most people think of something fussy. Pâté is not a fancy word in Romania. In fact, pâté is considered to be a quite rustic food. This is the case throughout Europe, where pâté finds it’s origins in humble peasants’ ingenuity and creativity. In North America pâté finds it’s origins in Europe. Probably has something to do with all the pomp.

If you can believe it, I didn’t realize pâté was fancy until well into my 20s. It was such a common feature on my family’s breakfast table that it never occurred to me. it was so common, in fact, that we took it camping. Earlier in our relationship Bogdan and I would go camping every summer with a big group of friends. Naturally, I packed pâté for an easy breakfast (obvious choice). You can imagine the reactions. That’s when I realized pâté was fancy. It was on the same camping trip that I also brought taramosalata, a Greek fish roe spread that’s usually described on the jar as “Greek style caviar spread”. I don’t think our friends will ever forget the summer we brought pâté and caviar camping.

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For the sake of accuracy, I think what we were eating when I was growing up was not actually pâté in the French sense but liverwurst in the much less fancy Eastern European sense. In any case, in Romanian we called it pateu so I always thought pâté was nbd. I don’t think the distinction has anything to do with ingredients. French pâté is often made from chicken or goose liver, but it isn’t exclusively so. Likewise, central and eastern European pâtés can be made from a variety of ingredients from poultry liver to pork, beef, and even seafood.

P1120625_Fotor pate

So, the point I was going to make is this: if you want to buy pâté in the French sense in stores, it usually has a high price tag to match the fancy assumptions. Cast those assumptions aside because pâté is not only not fancy, but it’s so easy to make and will cost very little. It’s as easy as whizzing up some cooked liver and aromatics in a food processor. The recipe is adapted from one in  The Food of the World by Murdoch Publishing. I added truffle oil and upped the thyme.

I really recommend making it ahead and not trying it until it’s been refrigerated. Warm pâté is pretty unappetizing. I sealed it with a layer of clarified butter so it keeps longer. The flavours continue to develop and are at their peak about 24 hours after. This pâté keeps in the fridge for about a week but you’ll know it’s past its prime if it begins to taste slightly bitter. As for serving, pictured here is thinly sliced and toasted ciabatta loaf.

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Ingredients

1 lb / 500 grams chicken livers
80 ml / 1/3 cup brandy
1 whole onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 oz / 90 grams unsalted butter
2 TBSP chopped thyme
60 ml / 1/4 cup whipping cream
1.5 TBSP truffle infused olive oil
Salt to taste (about 1 tsp for me)

2 oz / 60 grams melted clarified butter (to seal)

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Method

Wash and trim chicken livers. Put in a bowl with the brandy and allow to marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
When the liver is finished marinading, melt butter in a pan over low heat.
Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is transparent (about 3-5 minutes).
Increase heat to medium-high and add livers and thyme. Sauté until they change colour to brown and there’s no more pink or red in their centers (you can break them apart to see).
Pour contents of pan in a food processor and add cream, truffle oil, and salt.
Blend until very smooth.
Pour the pâté into a storage container (I used glass tupperware) and smooth down as flat as you can with a spatula. Pour clarified butter over the pâté, cover and refrigerate.

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