Making Pasta By Hand is Surprisingly Simple

Fresh Pasta Nests
Credit: © Subbotina |

Making fresh pasta by hand might seem a bit daunting at first but, in reality, it's surprisingly simple. All you need are a few basic ingredients, a good work surface, a block of time, a bit of instruction, a little patience and some elbow grease. That's it. This article, and how-to video, will show you exactly how to create delicious, nutritious and beautiful fresh pasta by hand at home without any fancy equipment or machines.

Which Pasta Dough Recipe is Best?

The pasta dough recipe used here is a very basic one...just whole eggs, all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt. The process of creating and rolling out the dough does take some practice so I wanted to start you off with a super-easy recipe to keep things simple. Once you have mastered the basics, go ahead and have some fun with it. 

If you want to experiment, try using 00 flour (commonly used in Italy), semolina flour (a heartier flour often used for extruded shapes), cake flour or a blend of flours. Try egg yolks instead of whole eggs. Add some cooked, chopped spinach or toss in a few fresh herbs for a nutritional boost, some added color and flavor. A quick search on the internet brings up lots of options.

One of my favorite recipes is from Food Network Celebrity Chef, Giada De Laurentiis. Her recipe [1] for a super moist fresh pasta dough uses 2 cups of cake flour, 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 4 egg yolks, 1/4 cup of olive oil and a drizzle of cold water. She makes hers in a food processor to save time and mess but it would work just as well with the traditional method shown here.

What You Will Need to Make the Pasta Dough

First things first...get all your ingredients and equipment ready. The French cooking term for this is "mis en place", or putting in place. It's an excellent habit to get into so you aren't hunting around mid-recipe looking for missing elements with dough-covered hands!

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    plus more in a bowl for dusting the surface, your hands and the rolling pin
  • a flour sifter or fine mesh seive
  • 4 VERY fresh large eggs, at room temperature
  • a pinch of salt
  • a small bowl for the eggs
  • a fork to mix the eggs
  • plastic wrap
  • a cookie sheet lined with parchment, wax paper or lint-free linen
  • a drying rack (optional)
  • a large rolling pin or long, smooth dowel
  • a small spatula or scraper tool
  • a sharp knife
  • a serrated pasta wheel (optional)
  • a large pot for water
  • a collander, slotted spoon or tongs to remove the cooked pasta

Add a sauce of your choice. Sauces that are smooth and subtle work best with fresh pasta. Try brown butter with sage, fresh basil pesto, creamy alfredo, or spicy aglio olio (oil, garlic and hot chilies). Go easy on the sauce so you can taste the pasta itself! The textured surface of fresh pasta catches the sauce and helps it cling to each strand so a little goes a long way.

Heavy meat sauces can overwhelm the delicate texture of fresh pasta unless it is a baked dish like lasagna or canneloni. 

Watch the Video First or Save it For Later

The video below walks you through each of the steps for making fresh pasta by hand. The Italian chef demonstrates the techniques you'll need to master while the English voiceover translates so you get the best of both worlds. If you want to practice your Italian, you can listen to it in the original version.

You can watch it now or read the rest of the article or both! Whatever works for you. 

Making Pasta Dough - Old School Italian Style!

Flour and eggs for pasta dough
Credit: © Fabian Schmidt |

Ok, are your ready?

Give your hands a good scrub and put on an apron. It's gonna get messy! 

  • Line a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment, wax paper or lint-free linen and
    set aside. 
  • Sift your flour out onto your work surface and pile it up in the middle. 
  • Make a deep well in the center of the flour with your fingers, making sure the sides are tall and even.
  • Break the eggs into a small bowl (remove any bits of shell) and gently pour the eggs into the well. Add a pinch of salt to the eggs.
  • Using the fork, gently break up the eggs in the center of the well. Scrape a dusting of flour from the inside wall of the well and blend it with the eggs. Continue adding flour slowly, blending it each time, until the mixture becomes fairly dense.

Put the fork aside, grab a sip of water or wine and put on some great will help with the next few steps, believe me.

  • Using your fingers, work the rest of the flour into the dough, sweeping it into the center from the edges as you blend it to form a moist dough. Work it together until it forms a rough ball. Use the spatula or scraper to collect all the little remaining bits and work them into the dough until the ball is smooth and round. This process will also clean off your fingers as you work the dough. 
  • Dust a little flour on your work surface and place the dough in the center. 
  • Flatten the dough ball down with your palm into a circle. Lift the front part of the circle and fold it back toward you, folding the circle in half. Using the heel of your hand, knead the dough, pressing down and away from you. 
  • Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue to turn, fold and knead the dough for 15 minutes until very smooth. To check it, cut into the dough with the knife and look to see that there are no air pockets.'s hard work...but it means you can skip the upper body workout at the gym today! 

  • Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest at least an hour at room temperature. The glutten in the dough needs time to relax. 

You probably could use a break right about now too!

  • If you don't allow the dough to rest, it will be very difficult to roll out as the glutten makes it spring back too quickly.
  • Plan to use the dough the same day you make it as dough left overnight in the fridge turns an unappetizing gray color.

Rolling the Dough Out To The Correct Thinness

Rolling dough by hand
Credit: © Ron Lima |
  • After your dough has rested, unwrap it and cut it into quarters. Re-wrap three pieces and set aside for later. Don't let the dough sit out unwrapped or it will quickly become too dry and may crack when rolled or cut.
  • Put a pile of flour off to one side of your work surface (or in a small bowl). Use this flour to lightly dust your work surface, your rolling pin and the dough as you work. 
  • Put the dough in the center of your work space and press it down with your hands.
  • Place the rolling pin on the edge nearest to you and roll as you gently press down and away. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue rolling until the dough is as thin as a sheet of paper. Be patient as this will take some time. When the dough is the correct thinness, you should be able to see your hand through it. 

Cutting Fresh Pasta by Hand

Cutting fresh pasta by hand
Credit: © Nnaluci | Creative Commons

When the dough is the correct thinness, gently roll it up to form a fairly loose, flat tube. Using a very sharp knife, carefully and precisely slice the rolled pasta into equal-size strips. 1/16" wide for spaghetti, 1/8" for linguini, 1/4" wide for fettuccini and 1/2" for pappardelle. 

Drying Fresh Pasta

Take each slice and give it a gentle shake to unroll it. Toss it gently in a dusting of flour, shake it off and either hang it on a rack or place it on the lined cookie sheet to dry, about an hour or so.

You can also cut the pasta into sheets for a lasagna or a filled pasta such as canneloni. Cut it into small rectangles for farfalle (bow ties). Use the serrated cutter for the fluted edges and then pitch the center together to form the shape. Leftover bits and pieces are perfect for soups and stews. 

Freezing Fresh Pasta

If you plan to freeze the pasta, gently pile the strands into individual nests on the cookie sheet making sure they don't touch. Place the sheet directly in the freezer and, when frozen, transfer the frozen nests into plastic bags to store. Good for up to 3 months. To use, just plop the nests directly in the boiling, salted water and stir gently until al dente (firm to the bite).

Repeat the process for the other three pieces of dough.

Fresh linguini
Credit: © Maceofoto |

Cooking Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks MUCH FASTER than the dried variety - just 2-3 minutes - so watch it carefully.

  • Plan to make your sauce first, while the pasta water is heating.
  • Use at least 4 quarts (liters) of water in a big pot so the pasta has room to "swim". When the water is at a rolling boil, add a generous amount of salt (2 tablespoons or so) to the water and gently add the pasta.
  • Stir gently as it cooks to keep it from sticking.
  • Taste it after 2 minutes and re-taste every 30 seconds until it is perfectly al dente. Keep in mind it will continue to cook when added to the hot sauce so slightly under-done is actually perfect.
  • Reserve some of the starchy pasta water and set aside. The starch in the water smooths out the sauce and adds a lovely, satiny finish to the final pasta dish.
  • Carefully drain the pasta into a collander in the sink, or remove the pasta with tongs or a slotted spoon directly to the pan with your sauce.

Fresh pasta is such a delicious and rewarding taste sensation that it is worth all of the effort that goes into it. And, if you make a large batch and freeze it, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for months!

Buon appetito!

Alternate Methods for Making Fresh Pasta

If you plan to make pasta frequently, you may want to try a food processor, a pasta machine or both to speed up the process and save some time. They even have pasta machines with motors to save on the hand-cranking. Choose the tools that work for you and make fresh pasta a part of your culinary repertoire.

Cutting fresh pasta with a machine
Credit: © Darkkong |

All-in-One Gift Set to Get You Started

Imperia iPasta Pasta Factory Gift Box
Amazon Price: $199.99 $184.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 14, 2014)
Makes a wonderful gift for the pasta cook in your life! This complete pasta set has everything you need to make long strand pasta, wide pasta sheets and filled ravioli - all in one thoughtful and economical gift box.

Smooth-finish Pasta Rack Keeps the Strands From Sticking

Marcato Atlas Pasta Drying Rack
Amazon Price: $59.99 $38.90 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 14, 2014)
The Mercato Atlas pasta drying rack has a nice secure, stable base and enough space to dry 8 servings of fresh pasta. 16 sleek and maneuverable wand arms gently swing out of the way as you add the next batch, keeping the strands from sticking together. The smooth-finish plastic wands release the dried pasta easily and are super easy to clean. Simple to set up and folds away for easy storage.