I’ve made my Aunt Norma’s “Chicken and Dumplings!!!!” The best of the best (mine not nearly as good as my aunt’s). Still, I longed to make scratch Italian pasta. I was not raised making Italian pasta, so a machine to help seemed essential. Year after year I’ve considered buying a pasta machine, but what kind? I pondered one type or another, always unsure and always waiting for more data to inform my decision. Recently I read that Marcella Hazan liked KitchenAid’s roller pasta attachments, which I’d been looking at for at least a decade. I ordered the set and discovered the price had increased by $100, but with a firm recommendation, how could I go wrong?

From my local Italian deli I bought:

Antoine’s Pasta Flour, 100% Durum Semolina from America’s First Pastamaker, Antoine Zerega, Since 1848 for Pasta, Pizza and Bread Cookery.

With my new machine and specialty flour, what more did I need? I invited a few friends to join me in creating homemade Italian pasta. The Best of Gourmet featuring Flavors of Rome cookbook recommended an all-purpose flour / cake flour mixture. It also had a recipe for buckwheat pasta, and I had buckwheat flour on hand. The KitchenAid pasta instruction book included recipes for a basic egg pasta and a semolina egg pasta. We would make and compare the two KitchenAid pastas and, if time allowed, add the buckwheat pasta. We had pasta experts of a sort. One friend had worked at a shop making pasta, but beyond that, her grandparents owned a Chinese pasta factory in San Francisco. Another friend’s grandparents owned an Italian pasta factory in Boston. An uncle had been killed by a giant pasta machine and not surprisingly his father opted out of pasta for a career in chemistry.

The weekend’s Financial Times contained a recipe for clams with Swiss chard. I bought 2 kinds of clams (Manila and Littleneck) thinking we’d taste test the clams as we compared pasta types. As it turned out, there was no taste testing of the clams. Cooked together and in the mouth, one could not be distinguished from the other.

The pasta was a different story. We made a batch of basic egg pasta and a batch of semolina egg pasta, but only taste tested the semolina flour pasta. I had dreamed of the pasta I ate on Italy’s Ligurian coast and hoped to create something close to it. Dream on! We, all pasta novices, followed the KitchenAid recipes to the letter, mixing eggs, flour water, salt, oil. The first batch the basic egg pasta needed to rest to relax the gluten so we proceeded with the semolina egg pasta, mixing, rolling it thinner and thinner, cutting and boiling, mixing with the clam sauce. Result? Homemade pasta that was the ruination of the sauce, pasta grainy, tasteless and tough. We ate it anyway and rolled the egg pasta for guest to take home. Will they dare to eat it? I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t.

What I had waited for years resulted in utter disappointment. Should I hope for better results in the future? The KitchenAid recipes called for only 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. Antoine recommended a cup of warm water. Did the disparity in the amount of recommended water make the difference? What did Marcella say? From her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, page 16:

The basic dough for homemade pasta in the Bolognese style consists of eggs and soft-wheat flour. The only other ingredient used is spinach or Swiss chard, required for making green pasta. No salt, no olive oil, no water are added. Salt does nothing for the dough, since it will be present in the sauce; olive oil imparts slickness, flawing its texture; water makes it gummy ….. Good homemade pasta is not as chewy as good factory pasta. It has a delicate consistency, and feels light and buoyant in the mouth. It has the capacity of absorbing sauces deeply, particularly the ones based on butter and those containing cream.

Well, our inaugural pasta – tough, grainy, bad tasting, which seemed to render the sauce non-existent – had been made with salt, water and oil.

I read further, page 129:

The color of hand-stretched pasta is demonstrably deeper than that thinned by machine; its surface is etched by a barely visible pattern of intersecting ridges and hollows; when cooked, the pasta sucks in sauce and exudes moistness. On the plate it has a gossamer, soft touch that no other pasta can duplicate. But learning the rolling-pin method is, unfortunately not just a question of following instructions but rather of learning a craft. The instructions must be executed again and again with great patience, and mastered by a pair of nimble, willing hands until the motions are performed through intuition rather than deliberation.

The machine, on the other hand, requires virtually no skill to use. (ER: And that is exactly why I had wanted a machine!) Once you have learned to combine eggs and flour into a dough that is neither too moist nor too dry, all you do is follow a series of extraordinarily simple, mechanical steps and you can produce fine fresh pasta inexpensively, at home, at the very first attempt. (In theory. In my case, NOT on the first attempt!)

The Flour: In Italy, the classic fresh egg pasta produced in the Bolognese style is made with a flour known as 00, doppio zero. (ER: I have a bag of that!). It is a talcum-soft white flour, less strong in gluten than American all-purpose flour of either the bleached or unbleached variety. (That is why the Gourmet cookbook recommended a combination of all purpose and cake flour.) When, outside Italy, I make fresh pasta at home, I have found that unbleached all-purpose flour does the most consistently satisfying job: It is easy to work with; the pasta it produces is plump and has a marvelous texture and fragrance.

Confusion exist over the merits of semolina, which is milled from durum, the strongest of wheats (ER: lots of gluten.). In Italian it is called semola di grano duro, and you will find it listed on all Italian packages of factory-made pasta. It is the only suitable flour for industrially produced pasta, but I don not prefer it for home use. To begin with, its consistency is often grainy, even when it is sold as pasta flour, and grainy semolina is frustrating to work with. Even when it is milled to a fine, silky texture…. My advice is to leave semolina flour to factories and to commercial pasta makers: At home use unbleached all-purpose flour.

Well, there you have it: eggs and all-purpose flour. Forget the semolina! It certainly was grainy and, beyond that, it made horrible pasta and ruined the sauce!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I’ll use the semolina flour for making bread. I’ll try Marcella’s pasta recipe and see how it turns out! I continue to hope for good pasta, but it is possible that I may not succeed. Do I have life left to master the art of entirely hand-made pasta?

Marcella’s page 130 recipe follows:

For Yellow Pasta Dough: 1 cup unbleached flour and 2 large eggs produce about ¾ pound homemade pasta, which will yield 3 standard portions or 4 appetizer dimensions.