I used to have this delusion that only the best chefs could make fresh pasta, that only the grandsons and granddaughters of Italian women could master this seemingly complicated trade. After numerous failed attempts and retakes on recipes, I was finally able to make a good pasta of my own. I could taste the egg, flour and water combination for what it was: a symphony of flavor. It was the proper combination of the ingredients combined with the proper preparation techniques that produced this flavor punch. Forget your bagged and dried pasta. Forget that frozen stuff you grab from the grocer. Fresh pasta has no exceptions.
This is how I make 100% hand made tortellini:
When making fresh pasta, the dough is first and foremost the biggest part of the art. You will need:
2-2 1/2 cups flour
3 eggs whole
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water
Pinch of salt
The choice of flour is strictly up to you. A lot of pasta connoisseurs would choose semolina flour, durum or the mixture of the two. Truthfully, all purpose flour brings its own strength to the game.
To begin, using a bowl or countertop, pour the flour and make a well in the center of it. I have heard some describe it as looking like a volcano. You want the well to be big enough to hold your egg and water mixture without running over.
Now take the egg and water mixture and pour it into the “volcano.” sprinkle salt to your liking at this point. Using only a fork, whisk the eggs together, gradually working your way to the outside of the “volcano.” You want to work the mixture until the eggs have touched most of the flour.
At this point, if using a bowl, dump its contents onto the floured work surface. Using your hands, start to knead the dough. Kneading is a process of folding and pressing the dough together to combine the proteins. Right handers: fold the dough from the top towards you with your right hand. Then press the fold with the heal of your hand. Use your left hand to turn the dough counterclockwise at one quarter turn. Repeat the kneading process until the dough is firm and smooth on the outside.
Left handers will do this step the same but for turning the dough clockwise with your right hand and pressing with your left.
Once the dough has been kneaded long enough (5-10 min or so), simply form it into a ball and cover it with a bowl or place it in a bowl with a damp (not wet, but moist) towel on top. Let it rest for at least 25-35 minutes. This process allows the dough to enhance its structure. If you skip the resting step, your dough will not listen to you when you tell it to take this shape or that. Let it rest, it’s had a long day thus far with all the kneading beatings its been given.
During this down time, you can make the filling (easy filling is to just use goat cheese crumbles and your favorite herbs mixed). I made a goat cheese prosciutto mix, thickened with heavy cream. I simply filled a sandwich bag with the mixture and cut off a corner to make it a piping bag.
Once your dough has relaxed and ended its despise of you, take the bowl off of the counter and apologize for what’s to come… Then cut it into four equal pieces. One slice straight down the middle and the other side to side.
Now that the dough is dismantled, it shouldn’t cause you any more problems (unless the dough shows air pockets after cutting, in which case discard). Take one of the four cuts and place it on the floured work surface. Dust your rolling pin with flour and gently push the center of your dough. This is the first step to hand rolling. You want to make that first impression to see how tough this dough is going to be. If it seems too soft, more flour on the work surface may be enough to bring it together. Roll the dough outward then inward adding a light amount of weight. As it starts to stretch, you can add more weight and be more forceful. Once you have a nice strip of dough from the outward/inward motions, start rolling side to side to spread the dough across more surface space. Your going to roll then flip the dough almost constantly.
This part of pasta making shows if you can hang with the pros. Do you have the strength to push out four sheets of dough to an equal 1/16 of an inch? If not, you should go back and apologize to the dough again for wasting it’s time…or I guess you could just use a pasta machine to roll it out.
Once you have the thinness you like, let the first sheet hang on something while you roll the next three. I just use the edges of my bowl to hang the pasta.
Once all four sheets are done, take one and place it on the work surface. You don’t need fancy gadgets for this step, just a cup. Use the rim of the cup to cut out circles in your dough.
Once all of the pasta sheets have felt like Swiss cheese, you are ready for the next step: align the dough circles on the work surface.
Once they have all been filled with about a tbsp of filling, you can start the “forma” (shaping). Simply fold half of the pasta over the other half.
Once all have been folded, push the dough around the filling and release any air pockets. Then press the edges together with your thumb. You can cut the edge however you like. I prefer to use a zig zag edge.
This is the part where you say to yourself “oh that’s how they do it!” Using your finger, take one corner of the pasta and wrap it around your finger until it reaches the other corner. Gently press the two together with your thumb and “walla!”
Do this to the stragglers you have left. There you have it: Fresh, 100% handmade tortellini.
These will keep well in the freezer for about a month, but you know you’re gonna try them right away.
This pasta will go well with a thin butter sauce or in soups made from stock.