When Danny and I developed the recipe for fresh gluten-free pasta for our cookbook, we made it over and over again, almost obsessively. There are so many good gluten-free packaged pastas on the market that we both wanted to make sure our recipe yielded better pasta than the bag. So we tried every flour, plus a little xanthan and guar gum, until we had a batch we liked. And then we refined it, and did more, and more. Finally, a recipe we liked. Whew. Friends tested it and loved it too. I typed it up and sent it away in the manuscript.
When the edits came back from our incisive editor, I had plenty of work to do. Part of that work meant making each flour-based recipe again, exactly as written. After all that work on the pasta, I moved to the kitchen almost blithely. I know this one is going to work. To my horror, I found the pasta came out gloppy and oily, too crumbly to run through the pasta machine.
I cried. I did. I’m not proud of it, but I cried those hoarse choking sobs that never look pretty. All that work.
A few days later, I read a copy of Bill Buford’s book, Heat. In it, he writes about an Italian chef who comes to the state to cook an important dinner. To her horror, her pasta wasn’t working. Her pasta! She sat outside in the hallway, crying those hoarse choking sobs. All was ruined. Luckily, someone came by to tell her: American grocery store eggs are different than farm eggs in Italy. She needed to add more yolks for the extra protein.
I leapt out of bed. What did it matter if it was 11 pm? I ran to the kitchen, pulled the KitchenAid toward me, and threw together a dough. For every egg, I also added two egg yolks. I held my breath while the mixer ran. When I looked in, I started grinning. There was the pasta dough. Pasta dough, silky and supple and ready to be rolled.
Thank you, Bill Buford.
When we first created the pasta recipe, we had been using the eggs from my brother’s chickens. These fat, happy chickens make beautiful eggs, with rich orange yolks and far more protein than grocery-store eggs. In fact, the first time Lu ate an egg from the grocery store, after eating the eggs from my brother’s chickens for months, she refused to it. Of course this made a difference in the pasta. Of course.
I changed the recipe. Tested it again. Danny made pasta. Our testers made the new pasta with clear instructions. Worked every time. The cookbook came out and we have heard from hundreds of people how happy they have been to make fresh pasta for the first time.
Why change the recipe?
Well, I can no longer tolerate xanthan and guar gum. Plenty of you have said the same. And since every food I make without the gums is better for their absence, why not pasta too?
Time to start again.
Luckily, the wonderful group of bakers and cooks who are participating in the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally decided that July would be time for pasta.
Time to make more pasta.
Life has been pretty hilariously full around here. We’ve been making one dish after another for our new cookbook, loving every flavor. There are some big projects demanding a lot of my attention right now, work I can’t talk about yet but will. And it’s summer. We have to spend some time at the beach.
So I started making pasta last weekend. Wednesday was the day we were all going to publish. No problem, right? I know how to make pasta by now.
Making pasta by ratio is, like all other baked goods, the way to go. It’s simple: 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg. Try three ounces of any combination of gluten-free flours, a bit of salt, and one egg (since each large egg weighs 2 ounces), and you have pasta. Simple, right?
It’s not that simple.
I tried over and over again to make gluten-free pasta without anything but flour and eggs. I must have made 8 batches with this technique alone in the last week. I tried different flours and starches, thinking that it was the protein content of the flours that mattered. No avail. Too dry. Too sticky. Not working.
Was I going to have to cry again?
Then it hit me. Pasta is one of the gluten-y recipes. Most baked goods don’t require gluten to work, and thus they don’t need an enhancer like the gums to work. But the ones that are particularly gluten-y? Bread? Pizza dough? They need something. For breads, I’ve been using the combination of chia seeds and flax seeds to great success. So I tried those with the pasta.
Much, much better. In fact, on Tuesday night, I thought we had it. I had been inundated all day Monday, happily, by the pie party. Tuesday, I had no childcare, since the daycare was closed for the 4th of July long weekend. I’d have to post Wednesday night and be a little late.
But something didn’t feel right. Danny and I both agreed it wasn’t there yet.
So we made 6 more batches of pasta in the last two days, up until late yesterday morning. And finally, yesterday, a day after the rally, we had our secret.
I’ve been wanting to play this for awhile, after I saw that the incredible Dan Lepard uses it for his gluten-free breads. It’s high in fiber, bulks up in water, and acts as a lovely regulator for our systems. If it’s good for you, I want to try it.
And it works. It works really, really well.
Thanks to the extra time we insisted on making more pasta, I also read the pasta posts from Tara at A Baking Life who reminded me with the quote from Heat at the top of her posts that I should add egg yolks again; doh! and Silvana at Silvana’s Kitchen. Silvana is Italian. Her pasta looks gorgeous. And she didn’t use any gums either. It’s those extra egg yolks!
This is exactly what I hoped would happen when I thought of the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: as a community, we are inspiring and teaching each other.
And it leads to pasta.
You can make this pasta by hand, by mixing the flours and dumping them out onto a clean surface, then putting the eggs and liquids into the well of the center. This is how people have been making pasta for centuries. It takes about five minutes.
You can also make pasta in the food processor, which is my favorite tool right now. It takes even less time than by hand. And it’s more sure.
One of the secrets to a truly great pasta dough? A little nutmeg.
Domenica Marchetti reminded me of this with her recipe for fresh pasta in her book, The Glorious Pasta of Italy. (You should definitely buy this book, once you have made this fresh pasta a few times and feel confident with it.)
Nutmeg has such an interesting subtle taste: a little sweet, a little dark, deeply savory. A touch of it in pasta will make your homemade pasta particularly good.
(As you might know, we were paid by McCormick Gourmet to try their spices and work with them in some of our recipes. We have honestly loved working with these spices. The fresh nutmeg was particularly good.)
If you work with the food processor, this is what the pasta dough will look like when you are ready.
In fact, this might even be a little wet. Just a touch. But it worked well. Look for the curds.
And this is a ball of fresh pasta dough, ready to rest, ready to play with in your kitchen.
With all this pasta making, I wanted Lu involved. And oh boy, did she want to take a turn rolling out the dough.
This is one of the joys of making fresh pasta: your kids can help make their food. Sure, it’s easy and good to buy pasta from a bag. We do too.
But once in awhile, make some pasta with your kids, if you have a chance. It’s joy.
Lu, of course, was not able to roll out the pasta as thin as it should go. (We let her roll out a piece for her own, then we rolled out the one we wanted to cook on the side.)
This is how thin Danny was able to take this fresh gluten-free pasta. That thin.
And if you’d like to see how he rolls out the pasta, we made you a little video.
You can do this. You can make homemade pasta.
If you have a pasta machine, great! This will roll out super thin in the machine. If not, you can also do this by hand. And from start to finish, after you have gathered your ingredients, it takes about two minutes in the food processor, 30 minutes of letting it rest, a few moments to cut the noodles, then 3 minutes to cook.
Making this pasta will certainly be much easier for you than it was for us to figure out the recipe!
I’m grateful for all this learning, however.
GLUTEN-FREE FRESH PASTA
Please do notice that the eggs are extra-large eggs here. That makes a difference.
And as is true of any recipe like this, read through the entire recipe once, then make the pasta. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect the first time. It takes practice to know the pasta in your hands.
6 ounces gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
1 teaspoon psyllium husk powder
pinch ground nutmeg (freshly grated, if you can)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 extra-large egg
3 egg yolks from extra-large eggs
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Making the dough in the food processor.
Combine the flour, psyllium powder, nutmeg, and salt in the bowl of the food processor to combine and aerate the flours.
Mix the egg, egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the water. Pour the liquid into the flours. Run the food processor on pulse 8 to 10 times, then look at the dough. If the dough has formed crumbs that look like dry cheese curds, youre done. If they are a little too dry, add the remaining olive oil, then pulse, look, then add more water, if necessary. If the dough looks a bit too wet, add another tablespoon of flour.
Turn out onto a dry, clean surface.
Making the dough by hand.
Combine the flours, psyllium powder, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl. Whisk them together for a few moments to combine and aerate the flours.
Pile the flours into a small mound on a clean, dry surface and make a well in the center.
Mix the egg, egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the water. Pour the liquid into the flours. Using a fork, rubber spatula, or your fingers, stir the liquids gently, bringing in a bit of flour from the outside walls with each turn. When most of the egg mixture is blended with the flour, bring the rest of the flour into the middle with your hands. If it feels too dry flour flaking off the ball of dough add the remaining olive oil, then water. If the dough feels too wet if it squelches when it touches the board add another tablespoon of flour.
Take a few moments to knead the dough, gently. Push forward on the ball of dough with your hand, then fold the ball back on itself toward you. Rotate the dough and repeat until the dough feels supple and smooth.
Once you have your ball of dough, whether you made it with the food processor or by hand, wrap up the dough in plastic wrap. Let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Spread a little flour on your favorite work surface. (Any of the three flours will do.) Cut the ball of pasta dough into four equal pieces. Working gently, roll out the dough, backwards and forwards, side to side, until it is as thin as it will go. (See video above.)
Using a sharp knife, cut the pasta into noodles of your desired thickness. Move the noodles onto a plate and cover them with a damp cloth as you finish the other noodles.
You may now cook your pasta. Fill a large pan with water and enough salt to make it taste like the ocean. When the water is boiling, gently nudge your noodles into the water and cook until they are soft but still have a bit of a bite, about 2 to 3 minutes. (Dont overcrowd the pan. You might have to cook this in 2 batches.) Drain immediately, reserving a bit of the cooking water for any sauce you might be making. Toss the noodles with a bit of oil to coat.
If you have a pasta machine, roll out the ball of dough to an oval about 3 inches long and 3 inches wide. Then, put the pasta through the rollers, starting at the first setting, then moving up until the dough is as thin as you desire and not breaking. Continue with the cooking steps above.