Make Pasta Like a Pro, Starting with These 3 Shapes

The first step to making great pasta at home? Relax and have fun, says Pasta Social Club's Meryl Feinstein.

For Meryl Feinstein, founder of Pasta Social Club, a supper club–turned–pasta school–turned–viral Instagram account, making pasta should be about one thing and one thing only: having fun. That philosophy stands at odds with homemade pasta's reputation, because most people think of it as a genre of cooking that requires years of practice.

Although Feinstein has put in those years — after graduating from culinary school, she spent time at pasta maven Missy Robbins' Brooklyn restaurants Lilia and Misi — she argues that pasta newbies shouldn't be intimidated. "It's not really about perfection," she says. "It's about enjoying the process."

Meryl Feinstein of Pasta Social Club makes fresh pasta
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford / Hair and Makeup by Alex Smith

In November 2018, Pasta Social Club started as a series of intimate dinners. Feinstein cooked tasting menus consisting entirely of pasta dishes, and strangers from across New York City came together to eat, drink, and make new friends. The dinners gained traction; soon enough, Pasta Social Club was becoming less of a side hustle and more of a full-time gig.

Feinstein relocated to Austin in 2019 and started doing hybrid events that were part cooking class and part supper club. Then, in 2020, once in-person events were no longer a possibility, Feinstein shifted to virtual pasta-making classes, her own role changing from host to teacher. Last year, she moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where she's continued to broaden her reach via online classes and social media.

Feinstein has found pasta-making to be a form of self-care.

"In every class that I teach, at least one person says, 'I feel like I'm meditating,'" Feinstein remarks. And, she adds, making pasta really can be cathartic, with all of the gentle folding and repetitive rolling. Whether she's making zipper-pleated culurgiònes or the "little ears" known as orecchiette, Feinstein has found pasta-making to be a form of self-care — a sentiment that has resonated with Pasta Social Club fans.

Another thing Feinstein loves about pasta is that there's always something new to learn. "There are thousands of pasta shapes and sauces, as well as endless combinations of the two," she says. "It would take a lifetime to even scratch the surface." Here, Feinstein shows us how to make three pastas and sauces: Pici with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes, Ossola-Style Gnocchi with Sage-Butter Sauce, and Smoked Mozzarella Mezzelune with Braised Onion Sauce — all perfect for winter cooking.

Fresh pici pasta
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford

The Pastas

These three shapes will take your pasta skills from basic to advanced. Remember, it's OK to ask for help. "Having more people to help in the kitchen is a good thing," Feinstein says.

1. Pici

Pici with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford

If you've never made pasta before, Feinstein recommends starting with pici, a thick, hand-rolled spaghetti from Siena that looks like a plump udon noodle. Pici is made with all-purpose flour, water, and olive oil, and it doesn't require any special equipment. Feinstein likes to coat the dough in olive oil before rolling it out because pasta dough dries out quickly. "The more time you take to roll out the pieces, the more the surface will dry out and start to crack. I never like people to feel rushed, and olive oil is a little bit of insurance; it keeps the dough silky and smooth."

2. Gnocchi

Ossola-Style Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford

Throughout Italy, you'll find pastas made with all kinds of gluten-free flours, like chickpea flour and fava bean flour. This likely started because, when wheat flour was too expensive, Italians would make pasta dough by grinding whatever grains or legumes they had on hand. These days, alternative flours are often combined with wheat flour. In this pasta, which Feinstein based on a traditional style of gnocchi from the Ossola Valley in Piedmont, chestnut flour provides nuttiness and warmth. "It makes me want to put on a sweater and sit by the fire," she says. The chestnut flour is optional, but it's worth using — both for amplified flavor and the caramel color it will bring to the gnocchi.

3. Mezzelune

Smoked Mozzarella Mezzalune with Braised Onion Sauce
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford

Recently, Feinstein came across a pasta made by Nina Napolitano, a vegetarian Instagram creator based in Ravenna, Italy; it was a ricotta-filled agnolotti with tomato-onion sauce. "As someone who doesn't really eat meat, it's so nice to find somebody in Italy who's making vegetarian-friendly recipes." Feinstein's spin uses mezzelune, a crescent-shaped stuffed pasta similar to ravioli. She fills it with rosemary and smoked mozzarella, which balances the delicate sweetness of the braised onion sauce.

Meryl Feinstein, Founder of Pasta Social Club

It's not really about perfection. It's about enjoying the process.

— Meryl Feinstein, Founder of Pasta Social Club

The Sauces

Because making pasta by hand can be time-consuming, Feinstein likes to stick with simple sauces. These three are largely hands-off and are made with very few ingredients.

1. Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes

Roasting garlic won't just make your kitchen smell like heaven, it'll also add extra oomph into an otherwise-standard tomato sauce. "It always amazes me how the flavor and texture change so drastically when you roast garlic. It gets this sweet creaminess but still retains those savory notes." The resulting sauce is complex in flavor and almost jammy in texture — a perfect pairing for pici.

2. Sage-Butter Sauce

Feinstein pairs her chestnut-forward Ossola-style gnocchi with butter and herbs, but instead of just tossing the blanched gnocchi in the sauce, Feinstein first crisps them in oil and then tosses them in the sage-infused butter just before serving to intensify their flavor and preserve their crunch.

3. Braised Onion Sauce

Of the many different kinds of braised onion sauces that exist within the canon of Italian cooking, Feinstein has found that most go heavy on the tomatoes. In her version, Feinstein wanted the onions to shine, which is why she chose to double the onions and use tomato paste, instead of whole tomatoes, for a more mellow and less acidic flavor. "I was expecting this sauce to taste like caramelized onions, and it doesn't. Especially with that little pinch of clove, it's very different — a bit sweeter."

Pasta Party

Show off your skills and host a pasta party with Feinstein's tips and tricks.

Freeze It

"When I did my first Pasta Social Club dinner, I was still rolling ravioli when people showed up. It was so stressful." Simplify things by making pasta in advance and popping it in the freezer. Feinstein recommends blanching her gnocchi and mezzelune before freezing to prevent cracking and to help the pasta maintain its integrity during cooking.

Let It Rest

Feinstein likes to let pasta dough rest for about 30 minutes, especially if it's an egg-based dough. Typically, the longer you let a dough rest, the easier it's going to be to work with.

Buy a Basket

Especially if you plan to make all three pastas at once, Feinstein recommends buying a pasta basket to pop into your stockpot. When a pasta is finished cooking, you simply lift the basket out of the pot and transfer the pasta into the sauce.

Heat Factor

Pasta is best served hot, of course, but Feinstein urges people not to stress too much about temperature. "I often let pasta sit while I'm photographing, and when I come back to it, it tastes just as good." However, in cases where multiple plates need to be served at once, Feinstein likes to warm up the plates themselves, which can help the pasta retain its heat.

Don’t Panic

"With pasta, pretty much everything is fixable. Don't take it too seriously, and try to remember it's about having fun." If your pici cracks or your mezzelune is lukewarm, don't worry. Your pasta will still be delicious!

Meryl Feinstein of Pasta Social Club
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Missie Neville Crawford / Hair and Makeup by Alex Smith

Cook the Book

Want more pasta? Check out Feinstein's forthcoming cookbook, on deck for fall 2023 with Voracious Books.

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