Making fresh pasta can be incredibly fast, we learned last week when Marc Vetri dropped by the Food & Wine test kitchen. The Philadelphia chef (whose new book, Mastering Pasta, is currently the top-selling Italian cookbook on Amazon) walked in with an armload of ingredients, and just over a half an hour later we were all eating tender, part-whole-wheat noodles covered in silky pesto. But as anyone who's ever attempted pasta from scratch knows, it's easy to arrive at a tasty outcome but not so easy to make the kind of finely tuned, perfect-textured noodles you encounter at a great Italian restaurant. Here, nine tips from Vetri that could help take your pasta from serviceable to spectacular.
Consider your flour. “Wheat has flavor—no one thinks about that,” Vetri says. “Like wine grapes, it has different subtleties. You can add a new layer of flavor to your pasta by choosing different wheat varietals.” Right now, he likes Red Fife wheat, which lately he's been milling at his eponymous Philadelphia restaurant, Vetri. Flavor degrades within 48 hours, says Vetri, so it's worth seeking out freshly milled flour at farmers' markets.
Fine-tune your recipe. Before Vetri starts combining flour and eggs, he thinks about the finished dish. “If it’s going to be a vegetarian sauce, you might want to add extra yolks for richness,” he says. “If it’s a hearty meat sauce, you’ll want to use less yolks.”
Make the well. As long as you’re just making pasta for a few people, go old-school by making a well of flour on your counter, then cracking the eggs inside. When Vetri makes pasta at home, his kids like to help by stirring the egg yolks in the well.
Err on the wet side. It’s easy to add flour to the dough to soak up any liquid. It’s much more difficult to add more moisture.
Get the texture right. “The dough shouldn’t be too soft or too hard,” Vetri says. “It should be like Play-Doh.”
Don’t hold back when you’re working the dough. You want to knead the dough like you're angry with it. “You have to put your full force into it—from you feet,” Vetri says. “For me, it’s therapy.”
Let it rest. After kneading, you'll want to give the flour in the dough a chance to fully hydrate. Let it rest for about 30 minutes.
If you hand-roll, go slow. Don’t rush rolling out the dough, or you’ll risk ripping it. The end result should be so thin it’s basically transparent.
Don’t worry about uniformity. After rolling, Vetri folds the dough a few times and chops out noodles by hand. “Who wants exact?” he says. “I love it when the noodles are random.”