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!).

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sofia Loren

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 (moving on from hands, knives, rolling pin etc). Many of these gadgets are inexpensive, though I have included a more expensive 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!

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Cheap but invaluable: a pastry brush

A dough scraper/cutter (also sometimes called a bench 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 plastic ones are very cheap indeed. Bring the dough together, scrape it out of the bowl or processor and cut the pasta instead of a knife with your scraper. They’re invaluable for bread doughs too, scraping your tabletops clean after baking a mess and the plastic ones make great car windscreen ice scrapers!

Fine semolina (semola) – or even fine polenta 🍝 £

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 semolina (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. You can, at a pinch, also use fine polenta for dusting, but don’t make your pasta with it.

A pasta rolling/cutting 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 helping hand to separate them fully (which can get a bit annoying).

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 in part one. 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 for a posh, design-led thing that I’d been coveting. OK, it’s a bit OTT but it’s a thing of beauty and so well designed – a true product of “form follows function” (if you’ve trained as a deigner, architect or engineer you’ll be well versed with this Louis Sullivan quote).

It makes me happy when I use it – the opening twist action is a joy (yes, I am that sad). 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.

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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 (although I do still stretch and roll out pasta by hand some of the time).

It is 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).

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 if you make fresh pasta often. 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 brands’ main models are cheap (though both have cheap entry level models) 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 (though I have used one and I think the roller setting action is preferable on a Marcato). Each machine comes 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 they do come with a spare manual crank handle anyway) 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, not the 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 semola invaluable – seems ridiculous that it’s easier than just flinging some flour 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 (called a scolapasta in Italian) over the sink – unless you’re exceptionally careful. Better to have a gentler alternative or your hard work may 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.

However, a scoop colander is pretty cheap. I recently got myself a triangular-shape heat resistant plastic scoop which is just perfect for the job. Prior to that I used a traditional Chinese wire skimmer. These are easily and inexpensively found in Asian supermarkets 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.

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Making ravioli with a ravioli cutter

Garganelli board (or gnocchi comb/ridger) 🍝 ££ (and cavarola boards 🍝 which are £££ to purchase)

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 butter pats, if you’ve ever made your own butter, and you can actually use these if you already have some.

diffTextures.png
Gnochetti made using a variety of textures found in my kitchen – from a simple fork (centre) to various graters, sushi mats, textured rolling pins, cavarola boards, sieves and placemats

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) – or experiement with other textures from your kitchen (that can be washed) such as the back of a grater or a sushi mat.

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
    Gnocchetti (pineapple patterned, left, and bi-coloured, right) all produced on a garganelli board

Another similar item is a cavarola board, which traditionally essential for cavatelli pasta shapes. This is a hand-carved board with patterns (typically a herringbone pattern) on, that transfer to the pasta shapes as you press them along it – in the same manner as you’d use the garganelli board. These hail from the southern regions of Italy and are very expensive and hard to get hold of. The traditional ones are passed down through families and usual around the size of a cutting board and often with a handle and additional decoration.

Typically, I had to have a go and have made some for myself. All you need is a nice piece of wood, a good chisel and some patience. I’ve made mine smaller than the traditional ones, as I found them to be big enough for use – I don’t make huge width pasta shapes so don’t need a large board.

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My cavarola board I carved myself from a piece of lime, and the cavatelli shapes it produces

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 🍝 £££-££££ (I’ve asterixed this as I think it’s debatable that it should be on the list of pasta equipment)

It would be a bit OTT to suggest buying a food processor just for pasta dough, but if you own one for all your cooking then you can bring your dough together with it, but it is unlikely* that you will be able to “knead” with it (see the note below).

I have a food processor and the only time I use it to bring together the raw ingredients in it is if I’m making a coloured dough with something that will stain my hands – or I have used to processor to whizz up veggies for coloration (such as spinach), after which I just add in the eggs and flour on top for a quick whizz-up. I’m barely ever bothered by my hands getting coloured, so unless I’ve used the processor for other ingredients, I simply don’t use it for pasta.

Unless you have a machine that specifies in the manual that it will knead pasta dough, you MUST take out the dough as soon as it is brought together. Few machines are capable of this, so please refer to the documentation or contact the manufacturer to check.

If it can’t be used to knead, you can at leat bring the dough ‘together’: that is, add in your water, eggs (if using) and flour and anything else and whizz them up until they just come together in a ball. Stop there and take out the dough.

If your machine does not specify it can knead dough, you could even break your expensive equipment if you try to do it.

I think it’s also an uneccesary additional piece of equipment to clean: You’ll have to tip out your dough onto a table or work surface to knead it anyway, so why use the machine? The process of kneading brings the ingredients together so it almost ‘self cleans’ the worktop, picking up every scrap of egg, water and flour as you work. If you are worried about making a mess (or colouring your hands, say when using beetroot or turmeric), mix your ingredients in a normal bowl first by hand – much easier to clean one simple bowl than a raft of food processor accessories.

An additional note: it’s also more difficult to tell the perfect dough consistency when adding egg, liquid or other ingredients to your flours in a machine than when mixing by hand. As you become accustomed to working with pasta dough you start to assess the consistency as you work it with your fingertips and the resistance of the dough in your hands: you’ll get used to judging the correct consistency by feel. Something you’ll miss if mixing in a machine.

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. They appear to be expensive. Some look flimsy as they’re made of plastic but there are ones with proper copper dies too, but again this would be even more expense. However, I could see that they would certainly be fun to use – I suspect if I could afford it I’d buy one for the fun, even though I don’t think I actually need one.

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), even thoguh I have one. They can also be used for fondant icing or pastry, though, to create perfect ribbons for lattice pie tops, for example.

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 but frankly I find it’s not that fast as you often have to stop and peel out a piece of pasta before you can carry on. This slows things down somewhat. Although they come out neatly I’m not convinced that it’s better to cut out my ravioli after I’ve filled it and popped the top sheet of pasta on…

I find that with pre-cutting I end up with uneven edges and squashed shapes. That all said, it’s pretty fun rolling them down a sheet of pasta. A word of warning though, they are fairly sharp and will mark whatever you’re cutting the pasta on, so place a cover or board down or risk having lots of squares and circles indented into your worktop.

Cavatelli maker ££

This is a hand cranked (or less commonly an electric) machine that clamps to your table. It looks a bit like an old fashioned mincer, but in the top you press the pasta dough and out comes cavatelli shapes. It has two rollers into which you feed a long rope of pasta dough, these are ridged to create the characteristic cavatelli (or malloreddus/gnochetti sardi) pattern. As the rope of dough goes through the rollers, a wheel with paddles on cuts the right amount off for each shape and curls it over at the same time. I’ve seen people use these and it’s like lightning – you can make the shapes consistently perfect in very little time. I’m not sure I would need one – it sort of may spoil the enjoyment of making them by hand for me, plus I don’t serve up enough of this single shape to warrant one, preferring to alternate the artisan shapes I make. I can imagine it would be very useful for a pop-up cafe or restaurant who can’t stretch to the expensive of an extruder but which needs that level of automation and time-saving.

Corzetti / Croxetti / Curzetti stamp ££ 🍝

These are beautiful, artisanal tools made by hand and a speciality of Liguria (and a few other northern areas) in particular in order to stamp out traditional patterns onto coin-shaped corzetti pasta. They come in two parts – a top stamp (usually with a handle) and a bottom stamp, which on the reverse has an edge to cut out discs of sheet pasta. These discs are then stamped between the two imprinted faces, so the pasta has images on both sides for decoration and to trap sauces. Apparently their origin was to display coats of arms and represent ducal coins.

I’ve coveted one of these for a while – they are expensive and hard to get hold of outside of the traditional regions they’re used in. Typically for me, that’s not stopped me: I’ve hand carved a few of my own now using proper hand carving tools and techniques (following some research) in a traditional beech. Beech is used as it’s quite a taste- and odour-free wood, though I think walnut is also used. The only difference with mine is they’ve obviously been carved in Derbyshire, UK, not Liguria, Italy, plus I’ve drawn up the designs myself. Some I’ve made with a nod to traditional Ligurian designs and others I’ve gone totally modern (for instance I’ve carved my own blog name into one!).

 

I have noticed that there are a few more now available that are clearly made by programming a design into an automated machine, and you could cheat by imprinting on a cavarola board or something similar and cut out the circles afterwards. This is not entirely in the spirit of traditional, but hey, if it’s cheaper, more readily available and you don’t care about tradition I say go find one of these machine made ones or improvise with other stamps. Better to make fresh corzetti yourself by using something modern than not be able to find an authentic one and give up bothering to make your own pasta.

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.

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My home made pasta airing rack (and trofie)

You can make one of these fairly easily yourself. I’ve made some myself: smaller ones and a large one. The smaller ones I’ve drilled holes in and inserted dowels for legs (I first did one as a test project). It worked and have now made three more to stack together 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 is useful when I make a lot of pasta and I stack it on blocks or between two chairs, and sometimes in summer I sit and make pasta in my garden and I rest it on my bench while I work.

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: https://www.math.columbia.edu/~bayer/Chitarra/ This has inspired me and I’ve drawn up my own design to make a fairly simple one, and have recently bought all the materials. I now have to find some spare hours to have a go… easier said than done at the moment. I suspect it’ll be a disaster but I’ll report back [May 2018].

Pasta extruder ££££+

This is getting serious and is feeding a serious pasta making addiction – or a small business. 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 and 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, 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.

[Last update: March 2018]

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