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In the Before Times, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I used to teach pasta classes in private homes to groups of six to 10 people. Together, we’d make a couple of different doughs, shape and cut them into traditional shapes, talk about the history of pasta while snacking on appetizers, and eventually cook our lesson into a feast. When COVID-19 hit, though, things changed. Now I offer virtual classes — and because it’s harder to share my arsenal of tools during a Zoom class, I mail out little pasta parcels to participants before our sessions.
If you want to build out your very own pastificio kitchen, here’s what I think you should have to get started.
You can roll out egg pasta dough by hand with a rolling pin, but unless you have years of practice and muscle memory, you’ll want to use a machine to help you. I use this attachment with my mini KitchenAid stand mixer every single day. It’s just so quick and easy, and it hardly takes up any extra space in my kitchen. While I use a roller primarily to get my dough thin and even, this attachment also has two feeds for cutting spaghetti and fettuccine. If you don’t have a stand mixer, or if you want to spend less than $100, get yourself a hand-cranked pasta roller. I like the Marcato Atlas because you can buy some really cool cutter attachments including bigoli, lasagnette, mafaldine, and trenette, to name a few.
Once you have your egg pasta dough rolled out, a pastry wheel (like a mini pizza cutter) is great for quickly and easily cutting strand pasta shapes (like pappardelle, fettuccine, tagliatelle, etc.). A fluted pastry wheel is ideal for making ravioli. Not only does the crimped blade make the signature ravioli ruffled edge, but it also helps to seal the top and bottom sheets of dough together around the filling. I like this pastry wheel because it has both a flat and fluted wheel.
No, you really don’t need a ravioli mold (in my opinion). But you should have a set of biscuit cutters! After dolloping filling on one sheet of thinly rolled pasta dough and draping a second sheet of dough overtop, I use a small cutter (upside down so the blunt side touches the dough) to shape the mound of filling into a neat circle and to expel unwanted, extra air. Then, I use a larger cutter to cut out circular ravioli (or that fluted pastry wheel if I’m making squares). Biscuit cutters are also great for cutting different-sized dough rounds for tortellini, tortelloni, cappellacci, and other pasta shapes that start out as circles.
I buy gnocchi boards in bulk because I think they are the easiest and cheapest way to upgrade your homemade pasta game. As the name suggests, the grooved wooden board is great for making the indentations on little pillows of homemade gnocchi. But, more often, I use a gnocchi board to make my Southern Italian semolina piece pasta shapes like cavatelli and malloreddus (traditional Sardinian malloreddus boards have a slightly different ridge size and direction, but if you’re just starting out, a gnocchi board works!). Make sure to get a gnocchi board with a dowel, like this one, so you can make tubular pasta shapes like rigatoni and garganelli.
Just about every cook I know loves a good bench scraper. If you haven’t purchased one yet, let this be the moment you finally do. It is the best tool for moving flour around your counter, cleaning up after making dough, and scooping up noodles to transfer them from your board to a tray or pot of boiling water. A bench scraper is great for cutting ropes of semolina pasta dough into pillows (while making orecchiette, for example) and trimming up the edges of rolled egg dough sheets. I also use it to drag pieces of semolina dough across my wooden board while making strascinati pugliesi.
Oh, and what about the dough? You can read a library’s worth of material on the differences and nuances of regional Italian pasta — and I encourage you to do so! You will find that pasta dough can be made with whole eggs, just yolks, olive oil, spices, puréed vegetables, different grains … the list goes on. But for new pasta-makers, I suggest starting with traditional Southern Italian pasta — semolina flour and water are the only two ingredients you need. While this isn’t technically a tool, investing in a bag of Italian semolina flour made from hard durum wheat will set you up for pasta success. I recommend getting it imported, because finding the super-finely ground semola rimacinata (which makes the best pasta dough) can be tricky in the States.
There are SO many more pasta-making tools out there. (If you really want to have some fun, check out the handmade corzetti stamps at FlorentineTouch on Etsy!) But if you’re just starting out, keep it simple. Make some pasta dough and practice, practice, practice. Research regional techniques and shapes, and watch experienced hands making pasta. If you start to get overwhelmed, remember it’s just flour and water (and maybe eggs).
Do you have a favorite pasta tool? Tell us about it in the comments!