Fresh pasta always has a better texture and taste than commercially-produced, dried pasta. The dough is easy to prepare, you need flour, water and perhaps an egg, beyond that, just a pasta machine is needed.
There are two basic types of pasta machine: roller-cutters and extruders:
Roller-cutters are the most common type in household kitchens. Pasta dough is passed through rollers and pressed into a sheet, that is then run through cutters and sliced into long ribbons. These machines are usually equipped with a crank-handle to manually turn the rollers but can have a motor attached. Cheaper, less robust models are available, but good quality machines (especially those made in Italy) can range beyond $100 in price.
Extruders create pasta by forcing the dough through shaped nozzles. While manual pasta presses of this kind are available, most extruders are electric machines that also have automatic features. Commercial kitchens will always prefer extrusion pasta makers because of their speed and capacity to create large volumes of pasta relatively quickly. However, there are also models designed for household use. The best machines are simply loaded with the ingredients and set in motion to mix, extrude, and cut long noodles ready for cooking. Electric extrusion machines are generally more expensive than roller-cutters but are a worthwhile investment for households that enjoy regular pasta meals.
One thing to bear in mind with roller-cutter machines is that they are typically supplied with only one or two choices of cutter blades, usually for spaghetti and fettuccine. It may be helpful to choose a brand that sells accessories to make any special noodles you enjoy. A pastry wheel can also be useful if you plan on rolling dough to make ravioli.
A pasta machine enables experimentation beyond the limits of store-bought noodles. Once the basic recipes are mastered, try making colored pasta by adding basil to the dough for green noodles or pomegranate juice for red linguini; carrot juice adds orange color. Semolina flour from durum wheat is the traditional flour in Italian pasta but it is possible to accommodate specific dietary demands with whole-wheat and gluten-free flours.
Finally, a couple of tips from our own kitchen:
- Pasta dough is best left to rest after kneading. Bring the dough together in a ball; cover tightly in plastic wrap and set aside for half an hour before rolling and cutting
- Don’t overcook the noodles. Fresh, home-made pasta cooks a lot quicker than store-bought dried pasta, usually less than two minutes in a boiling pan.
Best Pasta Makers
Imperia Italian Double Cutter Pasta Machine
This Imperia model is a well-engineered Italian machine constructed of chrome-plated steel. The rollers produce pasta sheets of six different thicknesses and the cutters are able to create either tagliatelle or fettuccine. Importantly perhaps to some cooks, additional cutters can be purchased separately for different widths. To avoid rusting, the parts are wipe-clean only (although a user suggests an old toothbrush for removing any pasta ‘debris’). The detachable handle and a tabletop clamp are included in the box. Reviews are generally positive and this is a heavy piece of kitchen kit that should provide good service over many years.
Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Machine
The ‘Atlas’ is a top-rated, roller-cutter machine from Italy. The rollers can be adjusted to one of six thicknesses via a notched dial on the side and the cutters will slice the pasta sheets into either fettuccine or tagliatelle (although other widths are available using different cutters purchased separately). As with other machines of this style, the unit should not be immersed in water. A tabletop screw-clamp and the detachable handle are included in the kit. We like the traditional look of this pasta machine, with its wooden grip on the crank-handle and the shiny, chromed bodywork. (Enamelled paneling is available at extra cost in five different colors: black; blue; red; gold and green).
While a little more expensive than some other picks, this is a sturdy machine that is worth the initial investment and offers the opportunity of ‘expansion’ with a range of available accessories, including an electric motor. Marcato extends a three-year warranty.
Marcato Pasta Machine with Atlas Motor
This Marcato model is essentially one of their manual roller-cutter machines with an electric motor unit included. In fact, the motor’s drive shaft attaches to the holes used for a manual crank-handle (and a handle is included with the kit to allow the machine to be used without the motor). The rollers have ten thickness settings, adjustable via by a notched dial set on the side of the roller cartridge, and produce sheets of even thickness. The included cutters are designed for tagliatelle and fettuccine, and different cutters can be purchased separately.
As with Marcato’s manual machines, a tabletop clamp is included but it may not be necessary when the motor is used; the pasta machine is more stable on the counter-top with the additional weight and smoother drive. In general, the motor makes the machine easier to use. Buying the motor together with the roller-cutter saves money versus buying the parts separately but this powered roller-cutter is not cheap at around $160. However, it is less expensive than electric extruders and built to last. It is a solid purchase for committed pasta chefs.
Best Electric Pasta Machines
Philips HR 2371/05 Viva Pasta Maker
This Philips machine is an automatic, electric pasta maker and part of their ‘Viva’ range of matching appliances. Flour, water, and any other ingredients are added through the lid into the see-through hopper where the dough is stirred and mixed. From there, a worm-screw draws the dough into the kneading tube and it is pushed through one of three discs to emerge as either penne, spaghetti or fettuccine.
The machine can produce 2-3 servings of fresh pasta in 18 minutes. The base is fitted with a drawer to provide storage space for the accessories and, overall, the machine has a clean, modern design, with a wipe-clean plastic housing. The footprint is a compact 5 by 13 inches. Some users have complained of ‘fiddliness’ in cleaning the removable parts (which are dishwasher safe) but this is an easy-to-use pasta maker that will be a great asset to any family that enjoys frequent pasta meals.