New year, new flavors. You’ve resolved that 2020’s the year you’ll make more of your own food. You’re determined to prove to your partner/mother/self you can conquer your fears of the kitchen. Besides, it’s Dry January and you’re in desperate need of distractions.
You’re determined to learn to make fresh pasta.
Pasta making requires focus and finesse but offers rich rewards, especially in the dark and cold days of winter. Fresh pasta is ideal for richer, seasonal recipes as it pairs best with creamy, dairy-based sauces like Alfredo, carbonara and even bolognese.
If you can, visit a local Italian restaurant and grocer that makes fresh pasta to glean wisdom from an expert (and enjoy some delicious field work). New York City is home to a few famous historically Italian neighborhoods, one of which is the Belmont section of the Bronx. Arthur Avenue and the surrounding side streets are dotted with restaurants opened by immigrants from Napoli and other regions of Italy nearly a century ago. Today, their descendants still serve the same beloved dishes while newcomers aim to contribute to the vitality of the renowned culture enclave.
We consulted Aurora Cerrato, chef and co-owner of MangiPasta, which opened just off Arthur Avenue in 2018. She, her husband and staff are dedicated to recreating the flavors she grew up in her Neopolitan-American home and so traveled around Italy before opening to source the best ingredients for their menu, including semolina flour for their pasta.
Here are Cerrato’s recommendations for making restaurant-quality pasta at home.
Split the Labor With a Food Processor
Don’t be a hero—your hands will thank you since you’re going to have to really work the dough. One of the biggest pitfalls to avoid is underworking your dough, so enlist mechanical help to do so. Mix it rigorously before working it manually, continually flattening it out on your counter.
Moisture Level is Key
You don’t want a goopy glob of wheat, eggs and water, you’ll also add flour to the surface on which you’re flattening out and cutting the pasta, so dough hydration probably requires the most finesse in the whole process. The more flour, the drier the dough and the higher likelihood it will crumble or tear, so take care not to over-flour your dough.
For filled pasta like ravioli or tortellini, Cerrato says, “do the same process of working the dough, making it flat and so on. But when filling the pasta with ricotta—or any other ingredient. It’s best if the filling is dry since wet filling could break the pasta.”
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, moisture level is key at every step of the pasta-making process. And while the making of the dough requires strength, finishing filled pasta needs a soft touch. “Once the pasta is filled, use the tip of a fork to gently close the edges.”
You’re now ready to try your hand at making fresh spaghetti, orecchiette or any other pasta your inner Italian chef desires. And if you master the dough but get befuddled by shaping, just remember: sheets of pasta are perfect for aren’t-you-impressed lasagna.