DIY Fresh Pastas: Make Traditional, Whole-Grain or Gluten-Free Noodles

Making homemade pastas has an ancient history. The reason? Homemade noodles taste terrific.

| February/March 2015

My Italian-born mother made fresh pasta often when I was growing up. I would stand across the kitchen counter and watch as she fed strips of supple dough through her hand-crank pasta roller and then cut them into noodles — wide lasagna, long fettuccine, or square-cut maccheroni alla chitarra, a specialty of her native Abruzzo.

It was once thought that Marco Polo “discovered” noodles during his travels through China. But evidence suggests that pre-Roman Etruscans were making a form of pasta using ground cereals and grains mixed with water. The Romans enjoyed a wide ribbon-like pasta called “lagane” — the precursor to lasagna — as early as the first century.

The history of pasta in the United States is almost as old as the nation itself. Thomas Jefferson, who traveled to Italy in 1787, shipped a pasta machine from Naples and served macaroni (the English rendition of maccheroni) when he was president.

What’s the enduring appeal? For one thing, pasta is economical, comprising, in its most basic form, nothing more than flour and eggs, or even just flour and water. It’s versatile — you can form it into countless shapes, and, depending on how you sauce it, it will easily accommodate everyone’s tastes, from the most adherent vegetarian to the most unapologetic carnivore — and, especially, picky children.

Beyond all of those practical reasons, making homemade pasta is simply a rewarding experience. I get a ridiculous sense of accomplishment when I look at a batch of gorgeous noodles, coiled into nests, that I have just finished cutting. My pasta is never perfect; my half-moon ravioli are always a little off-kilter, my noodles not all the same length. But that is the beauty of making your own pasta. It looks, feels and tastes homemade.

If there is a secret to making good pasta at home, it’s this: Just relax. The more you touch and handle the dough, the more familiar you will become with how it should feel — how firm and how smooth it should be.

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