Though many people think of dried and fresh pasta as interchangeable ingredients and usually opt for the convenience factor of dried pasta, these two pastas are meant to be used differently from one another. The dried pasta with which we are all familiar is a fantastic choice for heavier cream and meat-based sauces, but if you’ve never had delicate fresh pasta, lightly sauced with a vibrant pesto or silky alfredo sauce, you’re missing out. Fortunately, making fresh pasta is neither a difficult nor finicky process, and if you can tuck away a simple ratio in your head, you won’t even need a recipe to make it.
The basic ratio for making pasta is a 3:2 ratio by weight of flour to eggs (or think of it in percentages: your flour will weigh 150% of whatever your eggs weigh)*. The math on this one is easy: each serving of pasta will require one egg, and one egg weighs about 2 ounces. So, if you need dinner for four people, go with 4 eggs (4 eggs x 2 ounces each = 8 ounces of egg) and 12 ounces of flour. Dinner for six? Six eggs (12 ounces) and 18 ounces of flour. See how I did that? Three parts flour, two parts egg, by weight. All you need now is a few sprinklings of salt, and you can make pasta for 1 or for 20 on a whim.
If you find yourself in a kitchen without a scale, figure two eggs for every 1 3/4 cups flour. It’s not a perfect translation of the weight ratio, but close enough that it will work. You can use all-purpose flour, but I like to use half all-purpose and half semolina for a more toothsome pasta.
You would think it would make more sense for the ratio to be written with the ingredient of the least weight first, as in 2:3 ratio of egg to flour, but ratios are always given in the order in which the ingredients are utilized in the recipe. This way, you know not to dump eggs on your workspace before the flour is there to keep them from making a very, very big mess.
To make pasta dough, make a small mound of flour on your work surface and then sprinkle it with a few pinches salt (figure one or two healthy pinches of salt per serving). Make a well in the center of the mound, one large enough to accommodate the eggs, and then crack the eggs into the center of the well. Use a fork to start pulling flour from the inner wall of the well, stirring it into the eggs as you go. Once enough of the flour is worked into the eggs so that the eggs won’t run all over the place, start pulling larger amounts of flour in, mixing as you go, until the dough is firm enough to mix with your hands.
Use your hands to incorporate the rest of the flour until you have a cohesive ball of dough, then knead by hand for about 8 minutes. Don’t skimp on the kneading- it’s how you build the gluten necessary for structure. Your dough should be elastic and tacky, but not sticky. If it feels either too wet or too dry after a few minutes of kneading, correct it with the addition of a tablespoon or two of either flour or water.
Once your dough is done, wrap it in wax paper and then slip that into a resealable plastic bag and let it rest for an hour at room temperature, then proceed (or move it into the fridge and store for a day, but make sure you let it come back to room temperature before rolling it out). At this point, you can either use a pasta roller to roll and cut it, or you can go by hand with a rolling pin and knife. I love this with pea and arugula pesto, pasta alfredo, lasagna bolognese, and in a wide variety of lightly-sauced pasta dishes.