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It’s Friday, and you dropped the ball on snagging a dinner reservation. You can either spend an hour loitering at the bar while eyeing a table, or you can call it a night in.
The latter doesn’t have to imply defeat –– even if you’re not the most experienced in the kitchen, you can craft a homemade bowl of pasta with just a few pantry staples (and not Gwyneth Paltrow’s pantry staples, but run-of-the-mill items like eggs and flour). Take it from South End Italian restaurant SRV’s chef and co-owner Michael Lombardi, who started making pasta with his grandparents as a high schooler.
After spending his adolescent and college years rolling out thin sheets of dough, the decision to move to Italy after graduation made a lot of sense.
“Kevin [O’Donnell, Lombardi’s partner at SRV] and I worked at a restaurant there, and in that culture, siestas are a big deal,” Lombardi said. “Everyone would leave and we’d just hang out in the kitchen making a ton of pasta for no particular reason.”
Of course, being able to ask the sous chefs and restaurant staff for pointers went a long way in perfecting Lombardi’s craft, as well, and he returned stateside six months later to open up SRV, known for its generous pours of wine and, above all, pasta good enough to make you fall in love with gluten all over again.
For the next time you forget to grab a table at SRV or any of the other fantastic Italian spots in the city, here’s Lombardi’s dough-to-dish guide to making pasta at home.
1. Just dough it.
SRV’s house pasta recipe calls for 3.5 ounces of Hayden Flour Mills Durum flour, 3.5 ounces of Four Star Farms sifted Richland flour, and 4.6 ounces of whole eggs. If you don’t have the tools (or patience) to weigh those ingredients out, Lombardi said to use one egg and one cup of flour as a ratio.
To get started with your dough, Lombardi suggested clearing off some counter space to make a well out of flour and dumping an egg yolk right into the center. Use a fork to whisk the yolk, and slowly incorporate the flour into a dough ball that you’ll knead by hand.
“You should be able to stick your finger all the way into the middle of the dough without it sticking,” Lombardi said. “You’re done kneading when there are no traces of flour left.”
If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can set it up with a dough hook attachment, dump in your ingredients, and let the machine do the messy work for you. (Warning: This is much less fun.) You can also use a food processor, but Lombardi warned that you might end up with several smaller dough balls that you’ll want to combine by hand.
“No matter which method you use –– the well, a KitchenAid, or a processor –– you’ll know you’re done when the dough is pale yellow,” he said.
2. Take a breather.
If you’re going to make your dough and eat the pasta on the same night, Lombardi said it’s fine to just wrap your dough in plastic (so that it doesn’t dry out) and let it sit on the counter for half an hour to rest.
(Planning ahead? Lombardi said to refrigerate your dough and take it out to rest on a countertop for about half an hour before you’re ready to cook if it’s a warm summer day, and for an hour if it’s wintertime. If you’re not going to use the dough for quite a while, freezing is an option. You’ll just need to thaw it out in the fridge a few days in advance.)
3. Start rolling.
“There are three ways to roll dough,” Lombardi said. “You can roll it by hand with a rolling pin, which is what most people will do at home, put it through a hand-crank pasta machine, or again, use a KitchenAid attachment.”
Making pasta for a crowd or in bulk? Lombardi said the KitchenAid is really worth it for bigger batches.
You’ll know when to stop rolling the dough when you can “read newspaper through it.” There are exceptions, like ravioli, which needs to be a little thicker to support a filling.
4. Get creative with your shapes.
Cookie cutters aren’t just for the holidays in Lombardi’s kitchen. Square and circle shapes are perfect for getting the even cuts you’ll need to make ravioli.
“If you have one around, fill a spray bottle with some water and just spritz down a tray of circular pieces of dough with filling already on it,” Lombardi said. “It makes sealing up the ravioli much easier and faster.”
For a simpler approach, Lombardi said it’s easy enough to just measure out the thickness and length of the noodle you’re interested in making –– a thick pappardelle or a tagliatelle, for example –– and cut along the sheet accordingly with a knife.
5. Check and guess your cook time.
To cook your noodles, you’ll need salted, boiling water.
“A common phrase is that your water should taste like the sea,” Lombardi said.
While it’s easy enough to set a timer for bagged pasta that tells you what the cook time should be, you’ll need to hang around and taste test fresh pasta.
“When you bite into a noodle, look inside –– you won’t want to see any white flour marks,” Lombardi said.
Strain the noodles about a minute before they’re really done, and let them simmer in whichever sauce you’re using for that last remaining minute.
”They’ll soak the flavor of the sauce right up, and your pasta won’t be overdone,” Lombardi said.
6. Pick the right wine.
Broadly speaking, if you’re making a meat ragu (think a bolognese or braised chicken) with your pasta, any kind of Tuscan wine will work, according to Lombardi. Go for a Chianti or a Sangiovese, he said.
If you a have a light, vegetable-heavy pasta, maybe with artichokes, red onion, and herbs, he suggested opting for a white wine, like one from Italy’s Northern Trentino-Alto Adige region.
Need help perfecting your technique, or want to make an afternoon of it? One Sunday each month, SRV offers pasta classes that include an interactive demo, small bites, and a multi-course lunch with wine pairings for $150 per person (gratuity is included). Sign up or book a class for a private group by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.