Pasta Making Equipment
Most pasta dishes can probably be made with the equipment you have in your kitchen.
Basic pasta making only requires a smooth work surface, a rolling pin, and a sharp knife.
However, procedures can be made easier, time can be saved, and your overall skills improved if
you have some additional items.
Many pasta recipes suggest that the pasta be served with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese. The cheese should always be freshly grated and used as soon as possible. A good box grater gives you four sides with various size holes that allow you to grate cheese or other items from a coarse to a fine texture. But you must be cautious not to scrape your fingers with this type of grater. For a very finely grated cheese, a microplaceworks well. You can hold it in one hand and grate the cheesed directly over the pasta. A microplane is great for grating hard cheeses only. It is also a nice tool for grating garlic cloves as it creates a very fine, pureed-style garlic for adding to sauces. Grating cheese with a rotary cheese grater is probably the simplest. The cheese is placed in a drum with a cylindrical grater inside. The drum is cranked while the handle presses against the cheese. Beware of cheap plastic mills which can easily break when pressure is applied to the handle. Rotary graters also need to be disassembled for cleanup.
A good stainless steel colander is dispensable for draining pasta. A colander is essentially a perforated bowl designed to allow liquid to drain through the holes. Look for a colander with handles for a firm and comfortable grip, well distributed holes for fast and thorough draining, and feet or a base for stability in the sink or on the counter top. Other features that you might want to consider are how easily it will store, whether it is dishwasher safe, and the size of the holes if you cook a lot of small-size pasta. Many people like mesh colanders but they do tend to bend out of shape more readily and particles of food are sometimes difficult to remove from the tiny holes. If you cook more than a pound of pasta at a time be sure to get a large capacity colander.
It is necessary for air to circulate around fresh pasta to dry it perfectly. Many Italian households have their own unique method for drying pasta. Some hang it over the backs of chairs, over a wooden dowel suspended between 2 raised platforms, or on kitchen towels or white tablecloths dusted with flour covering every square inch one could find throughout the house to spread their homemade pasta. Pasta drying racks take up little counter space and make for easy cleanup. Look for models that are easy to assemble and store. You want the rack to have a stable base so it does not tip over under the weight of the hanging pasta. Some models have removable dowels to catch the noodles off your pasta maker and transfer them easily to the rack. Also consider the height of the rack; you want it to be tall enough for your pasta to hang freely once looped over the dowels.
A dough scraper is used to bring together the various ingredients of the pasta dough to form
a ball. It is also useful to divide dough when making pasta, bread or pastry and also for
scraping up bits of dough to clean off a pastry board. Look for a stainless steel scraper with
a wide, comfortable handle. Some scrapers have more flexible blades than others, which
may or may not be something that you require. If you chop a lot of vegetables and herbs, you
can use the scraper to transport them from the cutting board to your stove.
Most cooks have some form of food chopper, whether it is an electric food processor or a manual food chopper. They make easy work of chopping large amounts of garlic or herbs. Many Italian cooks use a mezzaluna, which is a two handle chopper with a crescent-shaped (half-moon) blade that you rock gently back and forth to chop fresh herbs to your desired fineness. If you like to make pesto or similar sauces, a food processor is indispensable. You can use it to blend the pasta dough and puree vegetables for colored pastas. When it comes to food processors, don't buy more than you need. Mini processors are great for small amounts of chopping and are easily stored. Buy a large processor if you feel that you will use it enough to warrant the expense and storage required.
A food mill is a good tool to own if you make your own tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes. Blenders and food processors are not good for pureeing tomatoes because they macerate the seeds and integrate them into the puree rather than separate them from the pulp. A food mill can also be used to mash potatoes or puree other vegetables and even make baby food. In Italian it is called a 'passatore" meaning that you pass the vegetables through the mill. Most food mills come with two or three interchangable blades to allow you to choose from a fine to coarse puree. Although a stainless steel model is more expensive, it is worth the investment, as it will last a lifetime and never corrode. Aluminum models rust easily.
A pastry board is a square or rectangular piece of smooth wood, marble, or plastic used for kneading and rolling out dough or cutting out pastries. It provides the perfect surface on which to sprinkle flour and roll out dough with a rolling pin. Buy as large a pastry board as you can handle and store. It is best to have an large a surface as possible to roll out past a dough. The benefit of using a pastry board over simply using a counter top is that the pastry board can be moved. This is an important feature when making ravioli or other pasta that will be cut right on the board. Many pastry boards not have dimensions marked
right on the surface; marked with circles for pie crusts and edged with a ruler for bread and pasta dough.
Pasta dough can be rolled out with a rolling pin and cut with a knife but you will not get the even thickness of dough and precise cutting of noodles that you will with a pasta machine. Pasta machines are fitted with smooth rollers that can be adjusted to turn out various thicknesses of pasta sheets. On a manual pasta machine a knob is turned to widen or narrow
the opening between the rollers. These machines are usually fitted with cutting rollers that are attached to the machine in one piece and will slice the pasta sheets into spaghetti and fettuccine width strands. Additional cutting rollers are available for other widths and for making ravioli. The unit attaches to a counter top with an adjustable clamp to keep it from moving.
If you own a KitchenAid mixer, you can purchase a KitchenAid pasta roller attachment and cutters that will make pasta making even easier because you simply slide the dough through the unit and catch it as it comes out the other side. Electric motors are also now available than can turn your manual pasta machine into a motorized version.
Pastry wheels are a quick and efficient way to cut pasta dough. Look for models with stainless steel blades and a comfortable handle. You can buy pastry wheels with one or two blades. The fluted wheel is used to make the familiar ruffled edges of lasagna, ravioli, and farfalle.
Cooks that make ravioli all have a preference for what they think is the best method of forming them. Ravioli forms vary in the size, shape, and number of ravioli that can be made at one time. To use the ravioli form, place a sheet of dough on the metal frame. Press down gently with the plastic mold to create spaces for the filling.Add the filling and place another sheet of dough on top. With a rolling pin (sometimes included with the form), roll over the top of the dough. The form will cut, seal, and separate the ravioli. Ravioli made with a form are usually the most uniform in shape and size. Ravioli stamps are also easy to use. Simply roll our your dough in sheets, placemounds of filling onto the dough at spaced intervals, and top with another sheet of dough. Use the ravioli stamp to cut, seal and separate the ravioli by simply pressing down around each mound of filling. Ravioli stamps also come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
A rolling pin is a necessity in pasta making. The best rolling pins are made of hard, close-grained wood with a smooth finish. Many cooks prefer a dowel rolling pin, sometimes referred to as a French-style rolling pin, approximately 1-1/2 inches in diameter and about 32 inches long for rolling out pasta dough. Dowel rolling pins also are available with tapered ends. This type of rolling pin is said to create an even thickness of dough from edge to edge. You can apply more pressure in the middle of the rolling pin and that makes the dough spread out more easily than just continuous even pressure of a normal rolling pin. Rolling pins with handles rely on ball bearings for smooth rotation but can be more difficult to use for people with large hands or little hand strength. A good rolling pin can last a lifetime, so just find one that you are comfortable with and take care of it.
Use wooden spoons and forks to stir pasta as it is cooking. Fresh pasta, in particular, is more fragile and should not be bruised with metal utensils. Wooden spoons are great when sauting food in a skillet because they have long handles that keep your hands away from the heat. They are also good to use with non-stick pans because they don't scratch the surface like metal utensils. Slotted spoons are used for retrieving food from hot water or fat. Also available are ravioli skimmers which are wonderful tools for removing cooked ravioli from boiling water. There are a lot of myths about wooden utensils not being as sanitary as plastic or metal. If you wash your wooden spoons well after every use and allow them to air dry before storing them, they will last you for years.
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