Pasta By The Book


When I was experimenting with Asian chicken salads with noodles, I said to myself, “I really have to start making pasta, again.” We used to make it a lot in Newton, as a family. We still have the pasta machine, but I think the only time we have used it in San Francisco is when Brian visited. So I went through my cookbook library and pulled the ones that would feature pasta. I was astounded to see that I have 11! I put them in a pile in some sort of order, pretty much chronological, and started reading and making notes.

Meanwhile, a friend loaned me an audio book called HEAT, by Bill Buford. I had read excerpts from this book in the New Yorker, and it was on my must have list. The subtitle pretty much captures the essence of HEAT: An amateur’s adventures as kitchen slave, line cook, pasta-maker, and apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany. In short, through a friendship with Mario Batali, Buford quit his job at the New Yorker and went to work in the kitchen of Babbo, Batali’s restaurant in New York. Eager for root knowledge, he made several extended trips to Italy to learn pasta. Later, he went to butcher pig and then cow, but that’s another subject.

So, pasta is more than buying a box of Barilla on sale. My interest in pasta is not so misguided. It’s hard to make notes from an audio book—especially when I listen to it on my morning walks—but I did pick up a few nuggets:

  • 1 egg, 1 etto (one etto is 100 grams of flour, about 3/4 cup). This is an Italian pasta recipe he learned in his apprenticeship. He repeated it over and over, as a pasta making mantra. One egg, one etto, one egg, one etto. But the egg is very important; 1 good egg, 1 etto.
  • Buford went on a search to find out when the egg entered pasta, in addition to, or instead of water. He read Italian cookbooks from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, finally finding that the egg became an ingredient in pasta at the same time that the tomato began to be used for sauce for the pasta. Which puts it at the time when tomatoes were introduced to Italy from America.
  • At BABBO they make their pasta in the mornings and then freeze it until needed for service.

Paula and John—extended family—are moving to the city from their home of 12 or so years in the hills of San Rafael. Carol and I promised them a “house-cooling” party so we can stand on their deck and view the sunset over Mount Tam one time more. Leslie, the fifth member of our Dinner Club will toast the occasion with us. In July in Marin County, we should have a hot weather menu that can be prepared ahead; no roasts or stews or sautés—we promised P&J that we would bring everything; they would need to do nothing. The menu is a Spicy Cheese Spread, for crackers or vegetable dipping, Shrimp Remoulade, a shrimp cocktail with lettuce, served in a beer goblet, and Chinese Chicken Salad with Noodles. That’s where the homemade pasta comes in.

I’m gonna read a bunch about pasta; just to learn. But now I have a goal: Be ready to serve my pasta at the House Cooling, and make a practice dish or two beforehand.


The Italian Traditional
Italian Family Recipes from The Romagnolis’ Table
by Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli, Atlantic Monthly Press/Little Brown 1974

Let’s start with the extra-traditional. The Romagnolis’ Table came on Channel 2 (PBS) in Boston shortly after Julia Child, The French Chef. Margaret and Franco were homey, plump and soft spoken in contrast to the boisterous and showy Julia. We became regular viewers and bought the book. We still use it.

No proper Italian meal can begin without a primo piatto (a first course) of either minestra (soup, with or without pasta) or pasta asciutta (pasta without soup) or a variation of the two.

Most commercially packaged pasta is made with flour and water, and it is the flour you have to watch out for. If the box is labeled ‘Made from Semolina’ or ‘Made with Durum Wheat’ you can be sure it contains pasta that will keep its character during the cooking process, as no other kind will.

Pasta fatta in casa (homemade pasta), whether for soup or for use with sauce, is made with all-purpose unbleached flour, eggs, and a pinch of salt. Also called pasta all’uovo (egg pasta), it is the most delicate of all, the Queen of Pasta.

Homemade Egg Pasta

3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (approximate)
5 medium eggs at room temperature (= 4 large eggs)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Incidentally, for beginners we advise starting with a small batch of pasta: let’s say 2 eggs, approximately 1 1/2 cups flour, and a pinch of salt, for 2 to 3 people. This will give you… a good idea of how many eggs and cups of flour you will eventually need for the exact number and size of portions you wish to serve.

Make a mound of flour in the center of your work area and form a crater in the center. Break your eggs into the crater. Start beating the eggs with a fork until it becomes too stiff, and then continue with your fingers and hands, until the paste turns into a real dough. Knead the dough for about ten minutes until your ball of dough becomes smooth, golden, and elastic. They go on for several pages about making, kneading, rolling, cutting and cooking; including four pages of black and white illustrations. There is a variation for Pasta Verde.

An old Italian saying is, ‘The Death of the pasta is by boiling it: it can go to hell or to paradise in the process.’ The main goal is to cook it al dente. Some sort of literary prize should be given to the poet who can describe pasta al dente. They go on about cooking and draining and then, Anybody who rinses hot pasta with cold water should be punished and condemned to eat cold pasta all of his life. With the pasta cooked and al dente, there is little time to waste. The pasta should be married immediately to the waiting sauce, served, and consumed.

So there.

What am I eager to cook from this book? We have made Vermicelli Alle Vongole (Thin Spaghetti with Clam Sauce), both red and white versions, many times. Their other sauces are the traditional Italian sauces that we all know and love. There is no mention of ravioli.

The Teacher
Beard on Pasta
by James Beard, Knopf 1983 (from Brian on Mother’s Day)

This is a book of good times to have with pasta.

The point of all these reminiscences is to show how, even in a small American city at the beginning of this century, there were several quite distinct traditions of cooking with pasta.” He mentioned Chinese, Greek, Bulgarian, German, even Italian.

It’s just because pasta is part of the cooking of so many different cultures that we don’t have to feel bound by the rules of any one country when we cook it. That’s why I’ve made no attempt in this book to be particularly classical or traditional. My aim here, as in all my books and teaching, is to encourage pleasure and individual taste in the way we eat.

All the recipes in this book were tested with all-purpose flour, because that’s the kind you can buy in your supermarket. But the best for the task is hard-wheat flour, sometimes called durum flour or pasta flour. It’s the gluten in the wheat that gives tension and elasticity to dough. Durum-wheat flour has more gluten than ordinary flour… it makes the best pasta.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil if using a food processor

Mixing using a food processor
Measure the flour and salt and pulse to blend them. Drop the eggs and oil through the feed tube and run the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Add a bit of flour if too wet, a bit of water if too dry. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and continue the kneading. Work for 3 to 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until you have a smooth ball of dough. Set it to rest under a dishtowel or in plastic wrap.

Resting 1
I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of letting the dough rest between the kneading and the rolling. During this period, which should last at least 30 minutes and can continue in the refrigerator for days, the gluten in the flour relaxes and the dough becomes soft, well blended, and easy to work.

Rolling by Machine
After the ball of dough has rested for a few hours, cut it into four pieces. Put three of them back under the towel and flatten the fourth. Set the machine with the rollers at their widest opening. Feed the flattened ball of dough through the rollers four of five times, folding it in half each time before it goes back through the rollers. You’ll know when it’s rolled enough, because the dough will become smooth and satiny.

Now begin to narrow the opening between the rollers by turning the dial one mark each time the dough goes through. Keep going until you get to the thickness you want, and make a note of it for the rest of the dough.

Resting 2
Once the dough has been rolled out, it should lie on kitchen towels for around 5 minutes to give it a chance to dry.
(I love James Beard; he’s so conversational.)

Feed the rolled dough through the appropriate cutting roller.

Dry your pasta on a rack. You can use anything, a broomstick, back of a chair, whatever. Cook whenever you’re ready. Once the pasta is really dry, you can put it in a tin or jar and store it in the pantry as though it were commercial spaghetti. Be careful when you handle it: it will be very brittle.

Homemade pasta cooks in no time. It will be practically done as soon as your water returns to the boil. Have your sauce ready before you put the noodles anywhere near the water!

Green, Tomato, Beet, Golden, Basil, Whole Wheat, Buckwheat, Parmesan.

What am I eager to cook from this book? His Fresh Tomato Sauce, or Light Tomato Sauce when fresh tomatoes aren’t available are the essence of simplicity and goodness. He is especially passionate about Crabmeat Ravioli, so I’m eager to try that. I’ve never made ravioli.

The Italian Traditional 29 years later
Cucina di Magro: Cooking Lean the Traditional Italian Way
by G. Franco Romagnoli, Steerforth 2003

Cucina di Magro signifies a cookery without meat or poultry, a ‘lean’ or ‘meatless’ cuisine. It is not strictly vegetarian, since it leaves the kitchen door open to fish and shellfish, as well as to eggs and dairy products.

…the American food scene has changed a lot since The Romagnolis’ Table. Many fresh ingredients are more easily available, and so are new kitchen tools and equipment.

Homemade Egg Pasta
“And now the modern way. This food-processor recipe makes pasta for 6.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade attached. Beat the eggs and the oil in a small bowl and pour them slowly into the food processor with the motor running. Process in two to three second bursts until the mixture forms tiny pellets, roughly the size of peppercorns, that cling to each other when pinched together.

His recipes include sauces in four groups: The first are cheese and/or vegetable such as Pasta with Cauliflower, and Linguine in Lemon Vodka Sauce. The second group adds tomato, such as Pasta, Cart Drivers’ Style (tomatoes, fresh basil) and Pasta with Tomato-Onion Sauce. Herb and/or Nut sauces make up the third group; Tagliatelle with Walnut Sauce. The fourth group celebrates fish sauces starring anchovies, clams, mussels, squid and tuna with herb seasoning and/or tomato. Do not look for grated cheese to top these pastas; In Italy a fish sauce and cheese are not considered good table companions. There is no mention of ravioli.

What am I eager to cook from this book? Those noted above, and especially Fettuccine with Peas.

The Celebrity
The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook: Recipes from Spago, Chinois and Points East and West
, by Wolfgang Puck, Random House 1986 (from Tom & Lynn 1986)

How did the Austrian, Wolfgang Puck, get in here? He is the least traditional when it comes to pasta dishes. Maybe that’s why. Another reason is that I’ve made his pizza dough, with success, many times.

He makes no mention of flour, except to use equal measures of all purpose flour and semolina flour in his Pasta Dough Recipe.

Gone are the days when pasta belonged to Italian menus alone.

Makes 1 1/2 pounds
1 1/2 cups semolina flour, finest grind
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
2 tablespoons xv olive oil

Place flours in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the salt, eggs and olive oil. Process until the dough begins to mass on the blade. Remove the dough from the processor and press it into a ball. Wrap in plastic and let rest at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before rolling and cutting.

He has variations for Spicy Pasta Dough, Fresh Herb Pasta Dough, Spinach Pasta Dough and Black Pasta Dough.

What am I eager to cook from this book? Angel Hair Pasta with Goat Cheese and Broccoli, Spicy Pasta with Wild Mushrooms and Grilled Duck Breasts, and Lobster Ravioli with Fresh Dill Sauce.

The Passionate Italian
The Classic Italian Cookbook
by Marcella Hazan, Knopf 1976 (from Eric 1987)

Marcella Hazan does serious pasta… only by hand. She does recognize the existence of pasta machines: It is truly effortless, but, unfortunately, machine pasta is not really as fine as the handmade kind. Something happens to its composition as it goes through the steel rollers that gives the dough an ever so slightly slippery texture.

But, oh my, she spends pages and many drawings on many kinds of pasta, complete with actual size templates for maltagliati, pappardelle, quadrucci, tagliolini, fettuccine and tagliatelle. She also shows us how to make tortellini, cappelletti, capellacci, cannelloni, lasagne, garganelli, and all their glorious variations.

Marcella Hazan writes with a commanding, some might say condescending, tone… this is how it’s done, no matter what others may say…

For 3 or 4 persons
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups AP flour

In Emilia-Romagna we never add oil, water, or salt to pasta dough.

I would say that her method is the one learned by Bill Buford from a woman in Italy, passed down for several generations… by hand, on a wooden board with a wooden rolling pin… In the last step the sheet is wrapped around the pin and stretched again and again until it is almost paper thin and transparent.


The very simplicity of cooking pasta appears to have had an unsettling effect on some writers, to judge form the curiously elaborate and often misleading procedures described in many Italian cook books. Ah pasta, what sins have been committed in thy name. Here is the way it is really done.

Water — Italians calculate 1 liter of water per 100 grams of pasta (4 quarts for 1 pound).

Salt — When the water comes to a boil, add 1 1/2 heaping tablespoons of salt for every 4 quarts of water.

When and how to put in the pasta — When the water has come to a rapid boil, add the pasta all at once. Stir. Cover the pot to accelerate the water’s return to a boil. Watch it, lest it boil over. When it returns to a boil, uncover and cook at a lively but not too fierce a boil, until it is al dente.

Al dente — Al dente means “firm to the bite,” and that is how Italians eat pasta. (She goes on for three paragraphs about the sins of soft pasta) As soon as pasta begins to lose its stiffness and becomes just tender enough so that you can bite through without snapping it, it is done… Do not be afraid to stop too early. It is probably already overcooked, and, in any case, it will continue to soften until it is served.

Draining, saucing, and serving pasta — The instant pasta is done, drain it, sauce it, and serve with the briefest interval possible. Sauce thoroughly, but avoid prolonged tossings… there is one thing worse than soft pasta and that is cold pasta.

Reheating — don’t

Choosing pasta shapes — Spaghettini = seafood sauces and any sauce whose principle fat is olive oil. Spaghetti = butter based white sauces or tomato sauces. For meat sauces, use rigatoni or shells, fusilli and rotelle.

Marcella Hazan describes scores of sauces, I’m eager to try her Sausage Cream Sauce.

Have I reached the Zenith of pasta books? We shall see, there are five to go.

California Style
Chez Panisse Pasta Pizza & Calzone
by Alice Waters, Patricia Curtan & Martine Labro, Random House 1984

Our style of pasta and pizza is more Provencal than Italian in inspiration, highly personal in execution.

Here, Ms. Waters talks about the flour, but focuses on the egg. The quality of the flour is an important consideration in making good pasta, but what is often overlooked is the quality of the eggs. The difference between a dough made with a regular market egg and one from a homegrown chicken is dramatic. Chickens that are well fed and allowed to run and scratch and not fed steroids and antibiotics, produce remarkable eggs.

1 cup unbleached AP flour
A little salt
1 egg
A little water, if necessary

She mixes the dough in a bowl and then turns it out onto a board; otherwise, the process is similar to those above. She assumes rolling and cutting by a hand-cranked machine, although she encourages hand cutting for wider or unusual shapes.

What am I eager to cook from this book? Taglierini (thin and narrow) with Basil, Green Beans & Squid; Scallops & Roasted Pepper Pasta, Onion Confit & Winter Greens Pasta.


So right here, after all this obsessive reading and note taking, I actually made some pasta dough. I used a bowl, as Alice Waters suggested… 1 1/2 cups of AP flour (I have looked, but haven’t yet found Durum or Semolina flour), 2 eggs (large brown from the Farmers Market)… beat the eggs with a fork, working in the flour and then mixing with my hands. Many of the books said the amount of flour could depend on many things, and I worried; what if there’s too much flour? Not to worry, there was flour left over that the eggs just wouldn’t absorb.

If I’ve made pasta dough by hand before, I don’t remember it. We made pasta a lot in Newton and always used a food processor, starting in about 1974. I remember because my client in Minneapolis bought a Cuisinart and showed off by chopping vegetables for a salad. Wow. So we got one not much later, complete with all the slicing and shredding attachments… we did everything with it. Now, I rarely use it. It’s a mess to clean up, and I enjoy slicing and chopping by hand. I’m making a Cheddar Beer spread today; the Cuisinart is good for that.

The kneading was harder than I thought. I worked it for over ten minutes and got a pretty nice ball, about the size of a baseball. Not perfect, has some fissures, but its smooth and firm and round. Its resting now in a small bowl covered by a wet dishtowel… a calendar dishtowel for 1979, no doubt used for this purpose before, it’s not much good for drying dishes—too small, too thin.

The dough rested for about four hours while I was doing other things. I weighed the ball: 1/2 pound, just right for two… there will be some waste.


I remember raggedy edges, dough going through hopelessly crooked, and all. This time everything seemed flawless: good edges, nice length for the finished pasta… how can that be? Because I read the books? Probably because I made a small recipe. A baseball sized dough ball is easier to handle than a softball sized dough ball. So when I quarter it, I’m working with a smaller hunk of dough. I like that.

The pasta is for Cold Sesame Noodle Salad. The recipe calls for soba noodles, but I wanted to do homemade pasta. We’ll see how it goes.


Went well! The pasta turned out to be perfectly cooked, sez I. I threw it in the water, gave it a quick stir and put the lid on, as soon as it was back to a big boil, it was done.

The Scientist
Cooking by Hand
by Paul Bertolli, Clarkson Potter 2003
Paul Bertolli recently left his restaurant, Oliveto, to concentrate on making salumi with his new company Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Salumi.

While it is common to think of pasta as a vehicle for sauce, under the best of circumstances, pasta and sauce are equal partners in a harmonized interplay of texture and flavor.

Paul Bertolli grinds his own flour and spends several pages on the importance of flour. He also discusses extruded and laminated pastas. I’m dealing only with the laminated, which I can make with my hand crank pasta machine. He mixes his dough in a bowl, for control and less mess. He uses an atomizer to add water, if necessary.

Once kneaded, wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for one hour. This permits the flour to fully absorb the water. First time I’ve heard that reasoning.

The cooking is not unlike others, for 12 ounces of noodles, use a gallon of water and 5 teaspoons of salt… Pasta made with hard or whole-grain flour requires at least two times as long as that made with softer flour. Taste it… have your colander ready.

Now Mr. Bertolli goes into “Pasta Types and Sauces to Match.” Here he enters a world with which I am not acquainted and speaks in a language with which I am not familiar. There are separate formulations and recipes for Whole Egg Pasta with Artisan flour, Egg Yolk Pasta with a mixture of Artisan flour and Baker’s Choice flour, Durum Semolina Pasta with water (not eggs), Wet Dough for Filled pasta with Artisan flour and Baker’s Choice flour, and then there are off the chart flours such as Spelt, Farro, Chestnut, Spinach, Nettle, Rye, Herb, Corn, Buckwheat, and Squid Ink. He does tell us where to get these flours, but how often will I make pasta, once a week? I have in my cupboard All Purpose and, as of today, Semolina flour.

I have eaten at Oliveto, Paul Bertolli’s former restaurant, more than once and it is wonderful. But can I make that pasta, that salumi, that meat sugo at home. I suppose I could, but that’s why I go to his restaurant.

The Stylists
Rogers Gray Italian Country Cook Book
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Random House 1995

This book is not about making pasta. It is about stunningly beautiful pictures of sauced pasta. Which is not to say that London’s River Cafe is not about making pasta. Or that thier sauce recipes are not wonderful.

There is a recipe for their fresh pasta:

Pasta all’ Uovo
Fresh Pasta
5 1/2 to 6 cups pasta flour type 00
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 whole large eggs
9 large egg yolks
About 2/3 cup medium semolina flour


The instructions for the making and kneading and rolling are simple and complete. Their pasta is made with a processor and rolled with a hand cranked pasta machine. The origin of their extruded pasta (such as penne, which they use a lot) is not explained.

It is ironic that Random House would publish this book of much glamour and scant substance, as well as Cooking by Hand, virtually a scientific treatise with black and white photographs.


I went to A.G. Ferrari, a fabulous Italian deli in Laurel Village, and bought Semolina flour (Mulino Sobrino, Semola di Grano Duro, Semolina Flour). I was unable to find it at the usual places I shop. It’s grainier than AP flour and maize to yellow in color. I’m making practice noodles… I’ll use them in a scallop dish tonight for dinner, practice before the party tomorrow when other people will be eating my pasta (friends, but still…).

I started with the food processor in the James Beard method. After all this reading and research, I still find myself going back to James Beard on Pasta when I get out the board, eggs and flour. The dough came together nicely and cleanly and the kneading was clean, though with some effort involved. The dough ball is slightly bigger than the ball made by hand with AP flour. I wrapped the ball in plastic wrap and let it sit while I made Country Cabbage Soup for lunch.


Pasta time! I unwrapped the ball and cut it into quarters, re-wrapped three of them and put the other on my floured board. Lesson 1] Put a folded dishtowel under the board so it won’t slip on the counter. (A lot of dishtowels are used.) I rolled the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and put it through #1 on the pasta machine. Okay the first time through. I folded it and put it through again, it tore part way through, so I patched everything together and put it through again. Tore again. Must be too dry. Paul Bertolli says to use an atomizer to add water. There’s a spray bottle on the floor of the back deck, infrequently used to quell flare-ups in the grille. I fetch that, wash it and add water. Spray the pasta, fold it and knead it and repeat. Now I feed it through with no cracks or tares, or tears, for that matter. Fold and feed, fold and feed several times through #1 and on to #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. My machine has a #7 but I don’t go there. The dough is very thin and very long, nearly 30 inches long. It feels good and looks good. I cut it in half, lay the pieces on a dishtowel and lightly flour both sides.

On to the second quarter of dough. This time I spray and knead before starting to roll. The rolling is good. I find myself creatively folding the dough from time to time to try and keep the shape a proper rectangle and keep the edges from getting too raggedy. At #4 I cut the dough in half so it won’t get too long.

It turns out the rolling is the easy part. After rolling all the dough I have 8 pieces, the first piece is ready to cut. My machine has only two widths for cutting, fettucini size and spaghetti size. I’m doing the wider one today. The first piece goes through pretty slow, but steady. The dough wasn’t feeding as fast as I was cranking… slipping. The second piece just wouldn’t feed at all. I sprayed, I floured, and eventually it got through, sort of. By the fourth piece, I figured out that I have to push the pasta through. Did you ever try to push pasta? Well if it’s stiff, and if it’s floured, you can push it flat along the metal leading to the rollers and kind of force it in. Close enough. What one really needs is a third hand to gently ease the pasta on its way as it comes out of the cutters.


Once through the cutters hang the pasta on a rack. There it dries and when you try to take it off the rack, it breaks. Damn. Have I already said that? But broken pasta tastes just as good as the unbroken, if it tastes good at all. This one does. I don’t know the time it cooked. Following the advise of… someone, I had a bowl at the ready to catch a pasta strand, briefly cool it and bite. If the bite is rite, you must dump. Doesn’t rhyme, but you get the idea. Mixed into a sauce with scallops, peas and pearl onions, this pasta is just right.



Straight from Italy
The Silver Spoon
, Phaidon Press 2005
The Silver Spoon is the most successful cookbook in Italy, the book that has its place in every family kitchen, the one that many brides have received as a wedding gift. Conceived and published by Domus, the Italian design and architectural magazine famously directed by Gio Ponti, the first edition came out in 1950 with the title Il cucchiaio d’argento (the silver spoon).

To compile Il cucchiaio d’argento, experts were commissioned by Domus to collect hundreds of traditional recipes from throughout the Italian regions, showing every regional specialty. It has been constantly updated during its more than 50 years in print.

Phaidon Press published the English language edition of The Silver Spoon in 2005, and my brother Tom gave it to me for Christmas.

As for pasta, basic fresh pasta is made with eggs and all-purpose flour (preferably Italian type 00). Lasagna is probably the best known; comprising thin sheets of pasta dough, it can be layered within a traditional oven-baked dish or, when they are rolled up, instantly transformed into cannelloni (I didn’t know that). They go on to describe the many fresh pasta shapes and their uses.

Pasta all’ Uovo (Ricetta Base)
Fresh Pasta (Basic Recipe)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (preferably Italian type 00)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

The procedure, mixing by hand and rolling by a hand-cranked machine, is as described many times above.

What am I eager to cook from this book? Tortellini Bolognese (283), Tagliolini with Scallops and Lettuce, Tagliolini with Langoustines (or Shrimp) (both 282)

The Testers
Italian Classics
by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, Boston Common Press 2002

We wanted to develop a foolproof recipe for basic fresh egg pasta. This meant figuring out the proper ratio of eggs to flour as well as the role of salt and olive oil in the dough. Perhaps most important, we wanted to devise a kneading method that was easy. They chose to make their pasta in a food processor.

In most tests, a ratio of 3 eggs to 2 cups of flour produced perfect pasta dough without adjustments. We found no benefit in adding salt to the dough. Adding olive oil makes the dough a bit slick, and the olive oil flavor seems out of place in many recipes.

Fresh Egg Pasta
Makes about 1 pound
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten

The procedure, mixing by food processor and rolling by a hand-cranked machine, is as described many times above.

What am I eager to cook from this book? Ravioli with Meat and Ricotta Filling.

Saturday morning, ready to start preparing for the party. I made two dough balls with Semolina flour and eggs fresh from the Farmers Market this morning. While they rested, I made the Remoulade sauce for the shrimp.

The rolling of the pasta dough went well, I had the hang of getting it into nice regular shapes and rolled out both balls before beginning the cutting. I started cutting about 12:30, right on schedule and with plenty of time to get everything together. The cutting was a struggle. Today I was using the spaghetti size cutter rather than the wider one, and I had rolled the dough only to 5, so the pasta would come out square, spaghetti sized. I was using my “pushing” technique I developed the day before, pushing about 1/4 inch of dough at a time through the cutter. I thought the cutter was supposed to pull the dough through. When Carol got home from her haircut and witnessed my agonizing process, she suggested that maybe I needed a new cutter. Can the cutters be bought separately… and if so, where? By now, I was nearly through the first batch, but it had taken well over an hour. I was very wary of time now… but this is just not working. I’m also very hungry. “I’ll go to City Discount, but first I have to eat something.” I warmed up some leftover pizza that I had made for yesterday’s breakfast.

City Discount is one of my favorite stores in the city. They sell pots and pans and all manner of kitchen stuff, as well as some food imported from Italy, such as olive oil, tomatoes, condiments and such. Rita, a small Italian woman at least as old as me, is the owner. I’ve been going there for as many years as I’ve lived in the city. The store used to be on Polk Street, just a block away from our flat on Union, but a few years ago, their landlord raised their rent so much that they moved south to near Sacramento Street, still on Polk.

I walked in and asked Rita if she had a pasta maker. She did, an Atlas like mine, and another Atlas that is wider. She was saying she likes the wider one and explaining its features. I said, “I’m in the middle of making pasta for a party tonight, and the cutter on mine just won’t pull the dough through.” She guessed that maybe I didn’t have the crank in right, and started to show me how to do it. “Does it matter that I’m using Semolina flour?” I asked.

“All Semolina?” she asked.


“Oh, no no no no no… you never use all Semolina!” she said, “Just a bit… here, use this flour.” She handed me a bag of ITALBRAND Superfine “00” Wheat Flour. “I use three cups of this, including a little Semolina, just a bit, one egg and one egg white. And I sift the flour 4 or 5 times… you want it to be very light.”She went on to say that she learned this from her grandmother in Italy, and that’s the way she always makes pasta.

I thanked her and bought the flour. I wasn’t going to change recipes in mid-stream, but I would make a new batch with this flour and ‘just a bit’ of Semolina.

While the dough was resting, I looked at some of my books again. James Beard said, “All the recipes in this book were tested with all-purpose flour, because that’s the kind you can buy in your supermarket. But the best for the task is hard-wheat flour, sometimes called durum flour or pasta flour.” Wolfgang Puck’s basic recipe is half all-purpose and half Semolina. Chez Panisse uses all AP flour, but she has a recipe with half AP and half Semolina. Nobody showed a recipe with all Semolina. I guess I was so excited to find the Semolina flour that I rushed to use it with out properly checking back.

I rolled my new pasta, it’s much softer and easy to work. I got it all laid out for its second rest. Here’s the moment of truth… I fed it into the cutter; it rolled right through. Damn! I wasted so much time on that Semolina, but now the pasta is done and we have time to finish everything. Barely.

I cooked the two batches separately and mixed them together with the sauce. Tastes good. No one will know—except me. I’ll never forget!

We’ll use the “extra” sheets of Semolina pasta for lasagna. No waste here.

4 thoughts on “Pasta By The Book

  1. The Mother Book
    The Cooking of Italy: Foods of the World by Waverly Root and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Time-Life Books 1968

    This looks and feels like the Mother Book of Italian cooking. Of course, it was produced as a subscription series for The Time-Life Foods of the World Series, a commercial venture. But they did employ first-rate writers, and recipe consultants. I signed up and received France, Germany and China, that I remember. As life went on and my cookbook collection grew and we moved, they all got gone. Now, I wish I’d kept them.

    Rummaging around the Internet in search of something or other, I came across Janet Jarvits Bookseller a used cookbook store in Pasadena. They have most of the Foods of the World series of cookbooks in either the hardback or the spiral bound recipe book, and sometimes both. I couldn’t help but buy the books on Italy (hardback), China and Provencal France (by MFK Fisher!), for the grand sum of $25.

    They came too late for my Pasta post, but the Italy book is too good to ignore, so I include it as an addendum.

    “Far from being identical throughout Italy, styles of pasta cooking forma basis on which the whole country can be divided, north and south, into two quite separate culinary territories. The north is the country or pasta Bolognese, the flat ribbon type, often cooked fresh at home, usually made with eggs. The south is the territory of pasta napoletana, most often manufactured commercially in tubular form, frequently made without eggs and bought at the store in a dried form that makes it possible to keep it for long periods before cooking.”

    This book has the most comprehensive illustration of pasta shapes of any of my books; a double page spread with pictures of 42 pasta shapes. “It is no secret that Italians eat quantities of pasta; what is astounding is the variations they make out of the basically very simple dough.” Pasta for Soups: 5 shapes, mainly tiny. Pasta to be Boiled: 16 shapes, mainly long, both round and flat, with and without eggs. Pasta for Baking: 15 shapes, flat (lasagna), tubular (penne, elbow macaroni, etc), and shaped (farfalle, etc). Pasta to be Stuffed: 6 shapes, generally formed (cannellone, ravioli, etc).

    Homemade Egg Noodles
    1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
    1 egg
    1 egg white
    1 teaspoon salt
    a few drops of water

    What am I eager to cook from this book? Cannelloni, Gnocchi alla Romana (this is not made with potatoes, but with Semolina flour and grated Parmesan) (perhaps I was seduced by the picture).


  2. Recipe called for soba noodles, you made Italian pasta. I’d be willing to bet that 1) Japanese and Italian pasta flours are different, if not VERY different, and 2) the Japanese don’t use eggs in their pasta.

    Doc B challenges you to make the same dish but with Japanese noodles rather than Italian. Serve it to the same people and you might even come up with something to write about.

    You live in what is likely the most Japanese city in the US. You should have all the resources you need at yer disposal. And you’ll prolly learn something too.


  3. When I first started messing with Chinese Chicken Noodle Salad, I did it with store bought Soba noodles and it was quite good (see Ballpark Food). But this time I was into making pasta, so I made it with pasta. The pasta is softer than the Soba noodles, in both taste and texture, but they both carry the Asian flavors well.
    You’re right, I can get Soba flour here, so maybe I’ll give Soba noodles a shot next time.


    A cooking show with Joanne Weir was on the Kitchen TV and she was teaching her nephew how to make pasta. I really wasn’t paying attention until she rolled through #4, cut her sheet of pasta in half, placed herbs (parsley, basil, arugula, whatever) on one half and placed the other half on top. The herbs were spread out, like flowered wallpaper. Then she rolled that through to the final thickness. Cool!


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