What pasta making equipment do you really need? Part two: going further

This is the follow-up post to ‘What pasta equipment do you really need? part one‘. That looked at the basics to get you started (and they are very ‘basic’ basics!).

This focuses on what I think you may want to start considering or using if you’ve had a few goes at making something plain, like lasagna sheets, wide papperdelle or a simple shape like orecchiette.

There are two sections in this part of the post – the first is what will make your pasta making much easier, past hands, knives, rolling pin etc. Many of these gadgets are inexpensive, though I have included a pasta machine here as it made such a difference to me I felt it needed to be in this section.

Then, I look at everything else – the stuff you don’t really need but is either fun, a nice addition to a burgeoning hobby or a really aspirational purchase for a serious pasta making addiction.

I’ve added a 🍝 pasta emoji next to all those I’ve used or own. Also I’ve given a rough idea on expense, from £ meaning very cheap (at just a few quid) to ££££ prohibitively (ie getting to professional equipment) expensive.

Next steps – what really will help if you continue to make pasta

A large bowl (possibly) 🍝 £-££

Hmm – this is a next step dependent on how you intend to mix pasta and how you are to measure your ingredients… Some wouldn’t want to be without a bowl, while others would never miss one.

You can just mound up the flour and eggs on your work surface and do away with even a bowl and many people prefer to do it this way. I’m 50:50 and don’t mind either. However, if I can spread out onto my dining room them I’ll just mix it all on the table, but if the table is full and I have to work in my cramped kitchen I’ll do it in a bowl (I am a messy cow and would coat the kitchen with semola and egg otherwise).

Whether you like working straight on the table or not, it’s possible that you will need a bowl to measure out the weight of the ingredients – so this could be classed as a basic for you, unless you have scales with an integral bowl. It’s such a fundamental all-round kitchen requirement I suspect you’ll have more than one in your cupboards already if you use it for pasta or not.

A pastry brush 🍝 £

For wetting the edges of pasta to seal ravioli etc. It may be a simple item, but I’ve added it here rather than in basics as you can just use your finger tips! I actually use children’s paintbrushes (the flat ones, not the round ones) as I find they moult their bristles less and they’re considerably cheaper. And, on a totally flippant note they’re usually brightly coloured!

IMG_0182
Cheap but invaluable: a pastry brush

A dough scraper 🍝 £

Not an essential, but a very useful piece of kit. You can use a knife but you may end up ruining your blade or making large cuts in your work surface. I use my dough scrapers for lots of things and not just pasta. Yes, I did say ‘scrapers’: I have an antique one, a strong steel one and about three plastic ones (some are curved down one side for bowl emptying). The pastic ones are very cheap indeed. Bring the dough together, scrape it out of the bowl or processor, cut the pasta instead of a knife with your scraper. They’re invaluable for bread doughs, scraping your tabletops clean after baking a mess and the plastic ones make great car windscreen ice scrapers!!

Fine polenta – or fine semolina 🍝 £

Ok, so it’s an ingredient and not a piece of equipment, but I’m listing it here for dusting the pasta instead of flour. Pasta dough just sticks less when tossed in polenta (make sure it’s the fine stuff) and if you do have a machine it won’t stick to the metal if you dust effectively with it. It is now not difficult to find either in supermarkets, health food stores and asian supermarkets. I mean, blimey, our local ASDA now stocks it. Look for the fine stuff, not coarse.

A pasta rolling pin 🍝 ££

You can get these fairly cheaply and range from linguini to quite wide cutting strips. Choose a mid-sized one if you’re only going to buy one. Once you’ve rolled out your pasta to the correct thickness you just roll it over and it produces uniform strips. There is a knack to it, but you’ll get it and often you’ll need to peel the strips off the roller or give them a helpign hand to separate them fully.

You can also get ones for ravioli making. I’ve never used one of these so I can’t vouch for how effective they are.

This is a cheap step up before you commit to a machine. But they do become defunct for you once you have a machine or an alternative way of cutting (actually you may prefer to go back to simple folding and cutting…). Once this happens, you could pass it on to someone you know who is just starting to try pasta making themselves 🙂

A few things from my pasta making kit

Skewers 🍝 £

Yes, really! A fist full of skewers is useful for a lot of things, not just spiedini, kebabs or making mini teepee huts for your kids’ action figures. Wood or metal, it doesn’t matter.

In pasta making, using a skewer will help you make busiate/fusilli, in fact you can’t make them without one.

busiate
handmade busiate – skewers essential!

A drying/airing rack 🍝 ££

So much easier than all the balancing tricks I mentioned above. Although the makeshift stuff works, when I actually splurged on an airing rack I did think to myself why didn’t I do this sooner. Not least because it keeps all the pasta hanging in one area rather than spread all over my kitchen/dining room.

You can buy a wood frame one fairly easily (or make one yourself I suspect). I saved and went for a posh, design-led thing. OK, it’s a bit OTT but it’s a thing of beauty and so well designed. It makes me happy when I use it. Also, if you shop around you can get something for a low price now – mine was very reasonable indeed, as I got it from an online retailer rather than the manufacturer’s site.

A pasta machine 🍝 £££ (for a ‘decent’ one though some are cheaper)

Oh boy, this was a revelation and now I have one I love using my machine.

It is so much easier and less exhausting to make pasta with a machine (I’m talking about the manual ones here that clamp to your table and you turn a handle, not electric models). Once I obtained mine I started to make pasta so much more often as it became a joy rather than necessary hard work as a means to an end.

However, what I did find out before I bought one was that any lightweight or cheap ones out there are probably not worth the money. There are plenty of reviews to suggest this. I’m glad I took that advice and didn’t succumb to buying cheap just to get one sooner. Get a robust, decent make and I’m sure it will last a lifetime of kitchen abuse – mine still looks a ‘minter’ still. The research I did before I bought one churned up two marques as the most reliable and seemingly well loved: Marcato and Imperia. Neither are cheap but they do appear to represent value for money and quality. I have seen other makes but there are few reviews, poor reviews or nothing online about those. I eventually bought a Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness which came with cutters for tagliolini and fettucini (you can make these out – just – in the photo below). It’s just personal preference, and I suspect I’d have been equally happy with an Imperia. Each machine does come in different widths for larger sheets of dough if you prefer (or are making an industrial-sized amount) so make sure you buy the size you need – 150mm wide appeared to be a useful home size.

You can buy these machines with an electric motor (which is detachable and do come with a spare crank handle) or actually later purchase the motor unit separately and retro fit it.pastaAndMachine

Cookie cutters 🍝 £

A couple of round cookie cutters (one slightly smaller than the other) will allow you to make very good ravioli. Cut out the pasta with the larger one, wet one side to help it stick and then tamp down round the filled ravioli with the top (rimmed edge ot sharp edge) of the smaller one to seal it. Fluted or plain is up to you.cutRavioli

Flour shaker 🍝 £

I find a flour shaker filled with fine polenta invaluable – seems ridiculous that it’s easier than just flinging some polenta with your hands, but it delivers just the right amount to dust pasta with.

Long handled scoop colander or wire sieve 🍝 £

If you make ravioli or other filled pasta you can’t just tip them out into a sieve or colander over the sink. You need a gentler alternative or your hard work will rip and ruin.

I think these are so helpful to scoop out the ravioli gently, drain off the water over the pan and then transfer. You need a long handled scoop/sieve so you don’t hurt yourself over the heat and you can ‘dig down’ into the water to gently raise the pasta out. The alternative to this is to have a proper pasta colander that fits inside your saucepan before you start to cook the pasta – I’ve listed on of these in ‘added extras’ below as they look really useful.

However a scoop colander or sieve provides you with a gentle way to drain pasta too and is much, much cheaper. I recently got myself a triangular-shape heat resistant plastic scoop which was pretty cheap and is just perfect for the job. Prior to that I used a traditional Chinese wire skimmer. These are exceptionally cheap from an Asian supermarket and do the job – although the wire can make an indent or even cause a tear if the weight of the pasta is quite high or you’re rushing! (That’ll be me then.) The solution to this is only scoop out a small number at a time and be more careful/gentle than I am.

Pasta server 🍝 £

A slotted spoon with ‘fingers’ radiating from the centre – or little dowels in the case of wooden ones. This goes hand in hand with buying a long handled scoop/sieve, as what one won’t pick up out of your saucepan the other will. I’d suggest having one of each. Best for ribbon pasta, like spaghetti or linguini. The fingers/dowels grip the pasta ribbons to stop them slipping off the spoon.

The added extras – what you can buy but don’t *really* need but might be fun

Ravioli cutters 🍝 ££

These come in the typical round and square shapes but also I’ve seen stars and hearts. You don’t need these – you can use the cookie cutters mentioned above. However these cut, give a fluted edge and seal all in one press.

IMG_0170
Making ravioli with a ravioli cutter

Garganelli board (or gnocchi comb/ridger) 🍝 ££

A grooved paddle which comes with a little mini rolling pin or stick. Anything you make in this gets a nice set of grooves down it! It’s very similar to a butter pat, if you’ve ever made your own butter, but these come in pairs.I love using mine but I get rather messy with it – I suspect this is my technique rather than a given!

A cheap alternative to get your groove on for gnocchi (won’t work for pasta) is to use the tynes of a fork or a roll over a wooden honey dripper (one that’s cylindrical in profile rather than oval).

A garganelli board is used for a few things:

  • it joins squares (or other cut flat shapes) of pasta together into tubes by rolling the pasta down the board with the stick, sealing the ends together
  • you can press bits of pasta down it with your thumb or knife edge to create shapes like gnochetti
  • make gnocchi with the board – it works for this as well as for pasta

    IMG_0193
    Gnocchiette (pineapple pattern and bi-coloured) all produced on a garganelli board

Fluted wheel 🍝 £

Great for making wavy-edged pasta, remember to use a rule or something straight as a guide to get a good straight line. Or alternatively, let loose with wild abandon go wavy edged freeform!

Additional add-ons for pasta machines ££-£££

Your Marcato or Imperia can use interchangeable pasta cutting heads (I do not know if other makes have these). Your machine will probably come with cutters that produce two widths of straight pasta (my Marcato is fettucini at 6.5mm and tagliolini at 1.5mm) but you can buy a number of different attachments to swap out these for such as spaghetti, bigoli, ravioli cutters and mafaldine (the wavy-edge sheets).

Ravioli moulds ££

Little trays with multi indentations that help you produced uniform ravioli quickly. You lay a pasta sheet on, press in fill with meat or veg filling and then lay another sheet of pasta on top, then roll over with a rolling pin. This simultaneously seals and separates the ravioli. These come in various sizes to make big or little ravioli and in circles or squares.

There are other types (though the ones mentioned above seem more prevalent and more traditional) which are more ‘snap shut’ contraptions. You lay over the pasta sheet, fill, lay over a top pasta sheet and close. This closing action seals and cuts.

Food processor 🍝 £££-££££

While you can knead pasta dough by hand, it takes just a minute between tipping the ingredients in and getting perfect dough out when you use a processor. I confess I now mostly make my doughs in this (depending on which doughs and for how many people). Of course, it’s a bit OTT to buy a food processor just for pasta dough but if you’ve bought one for all your cooking, then do try your dough in it.

One caveat: it’s more difficult to tell the perfect dough consistency when adding egg, liquid or other ingredients to your flours than when mixing by hand, as this manual process allows your hands to assess the consistency as you work it.

A pasta attachment for your stand mixer £££

Most good makes of stand mixers sell pasta attachments to do the job of the hand cranked pasta machine. These attachments fix to the front of your mixer and basically turns the rollers continuously. Unlike a normal, manual pasta machine, you don’t need to turn the handle so you have both your hands free. I can’t advise you what’s it’s like to use one of these, as I continue to use my manual Marcato machine (I’ve got so used to it I’m pretty quick now).

Some makes of stand mixer actually include pasta extruders. Hmmm, I’m not sure about these – I’d actually reach for dried pasta when I was making a sauce which required maccheroni or penne (for example). They’re also very expensive and some look flimsy as they’re made of plastic but there are ones with proper copper dies too. However, I could see that they would certainly be fun to use.

Pasta saucepan with internal colander (🍝 sort of) £££

Now, I covet one of these sets. [I have recently bought a pasta colander/boiler but it’s a standard one that goes in any saucepan you already own. While it works, it doesn’t fit perfectly and the base is quite a bit higher than the base of the saucepan, so it needs extra water to cook the pasta. As such, I only use it when I am cooking filled pasta as it needs that more careful handling. I still aim to buy a proper set or fin a saucepan that this insert actually inserts into properly.]

Not that I *need* one of these sets at all you understand, it’s just that they are just so made for each other. The set comprises a normal large, but deep, saucepan with a snug fitting internal colander – what you do is fit them together and cook your pasta inside the colander, lifting the colander out with the cooked pasta and leaving the water in the pot.

Of course, it’s ultimately the same job as tipping the pasta out over a colander in the sink, but way more elegant and also useful for refreshing pasta when not everyone eats at the same time. Plus, the idea I believe is that it is more gentle on the pasta shapes than tipping the lot out – so less breakage of the pasta which is useful for filled pasta especially.

The saucepan can clearly be used as a normal saucepan as well. I wish you could just buy one of these colanders to fit a standard saucepan (already in your cupboard). You can get little wire frying/boiling baskets for saucepans (not specifically for pasta), but they’re just not the same sung fit, purpose built thing at all.

Adjustable or multi blade pasta cutter ££

This is a little gadget like several mini pizza cutters all in a row. It cuts multiple parallel lines in pasta sheets and usually you can alter the width of the cut. They come with straight or wavy blades and some even have interchangeable heads. I don’t own one but there are some that area fixed width, some you adjust but lock off the width of the gap between blades and some which don’t lock – I can imagine these are tricky to use and not accidentally move the blades.

Rather than use one of these I stick to rolling/folding my pasta sheet and cutting ribbons by hand (for widths wider than the fettucini cutter on my Marcato). I can see that these cutter gadgets might also have use for fondant icing or pastry to create perfect ribbons for lattice pie tops though.

Ravioli roller ££

This little contraption is rolled along a sheet of pasta and the curved blades press out circles or squares as you roll along. It’s supposed to be very fast to use, cutting down time from pressing out circles/squares with a normal circular cutter. Not sure what these are for, as I think it’s much better to cut out my ravioli after I’ve filled it and popped the top sheet of pasta on… I tried pre-cutting and just ended up with uneven edges and squashed shapes. Maybe someone can tell me?

Airing rack (£ if you make it yourself) 🍝 ££

A tray-like airer, usually with a wooden frame and a soft mesh so that the pasta shapes are not damaged as they dry. These sometimes come stackable, so you can have a much larger drying surface area in a smaller footprint. Pasta shapes will dry just tossed in fine polenta on a tray, but these allow for air to circulate all around the shapes so they’d dry more quickly and more evenly and you’d probably use less polenta overall. I’ve not used one, so I’ve no idea if pasta would stick to the mesh or come off cleanly.

You can make one of these fairly easily yourself. I’ve just made two myself – a smaller test one and a large one. The smaller one I’ve drilled holes in and inserted dowels for legs and I used this as a test project. It worked and I will go back and make two or three more of these as I can then stack them on my table. The larger one I based on the ones that Italian pasta makers actually use – it’s pretty large and has no legs. I think this will be useful when I make a lot of pasta and I’ll stack it on chairs or even outside. As these have been so recently made (in the last week as I write this – late April 2017) I have no images yet – I’ll take some photos and add them here.

Chitarra pasta cutter £££

A guitar-like (hence the name) cutter frame. If you have a pasta machine with a fettuccine or tagliolini head you wouldn’t need one. The idea is to lay a sheet of pasta over the strings and roll a rolling pin over the pasta, forcing it through the wires. The strips of pasta get collected in the base of the frame. It does look very medieval, and therefore quite cool!

I’ve found a website which details having a go at making your own chitarra! I think this may be too much effort even for me (I don’t think it’s *that* highly skilled but it clearly takes a lot of time and patience, neither of which I posess…). https://www.math.columbia.edu/~bayer/Chitarra/

Pasta extruder ££££+

This is getting serious and is feeding a serious pasta making addiction. You can get extruders aimed at the home pasta maker that are either hand cranked (almost looking like old-skool meat grinders), hand-press ones that look gun-shaped, ones that add on as an attachment to your stand mixer or dedicated large electric machines.

The full-on electric machines for home use are pretty plasticky-looking. I’m sure they’re robust enough: they must’ve been tested, right?! However, one of the key enjoyments for me of pasta making is that everything is just so, well, darned cool to look at and to use. I know, I know. I’m a shallow, design-led, arsey aesthete but I don’t want a white plastic giant machine on my countertop. Plus, I have so little space something more crucial would have to give way – like the kettle!

There are nice shiny metal electric extruders out there, but you’re talking over a thousand pounds-worth of industrial kitchen machine. Most are technically small enough to fit into a home kitchen, but you’d have to have some serious money and pasta addiction to warrant one of these – I can’t see a home cook going this far. Something like a pop-up kitchen or small cafe I assume would be the bare minimum of establishments to make sense of purchasing one.

Pasta extruders make those shapes you can’t make by hand, effortlessly, including tube and spiralled shapes. However, not only could I not justify how often I cook with such shapes to obtain a machine (or even stand mixer attachment), I’m not sure I want the shapes that these make. I think dried is better for the type of sauces that are best with these complex shapes, so why would I make trompetti fresh (for example) when a dried pack is convenient and probably better for the ragu?

I can image these machines are an incredible amount of fun to use though. Have you ever watched a you tube video of an industrial pasta extruder? Mesmerising…

Finally…

Thanks for getting to the end of this mammoth article and its partner piece (part one). It did start out pretty small then I just kept thinking of equipment that could be used. Please do feel free to leave any comments on which equipment you think is essential or which is simply your favourite to use on either post.

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