The One Trick to Making Killer Homemade Pasta (Yes, You Can Do It)
I’d heard about great pasta doughs made only with yolks instead of whole eggs, including one rich batch that turned mythically orange with a concentration of over 50 egg yolks. (London-based chef Giorgio Locatelli made this back in the day, while cooking for Joël Robuchon.)
Though I’d never attempted anything so deluxe, after spending some time with Mastering Pasta, a new cookbook from Philadelphia-based chef Marc Vetri, I went all-yolk and ended up with one of the most delicious pastas I’ve ever made at home—easy to work with, tender, and full of flavor. (Vetri's egg yolk dough recipe called for nine yolks to about two cups of flour, not 50.)
The book leads with an entire chapter on wheat. This sounds like a bit of a snooze, but Vetri makes a pretty good point: The grain is the main ingredient in pasta, so isn’t it important to understand how it works? The gluten network, or development of the wheat’s protein, accounts for pasta dough’s elasticity and plasticity. Vetri encourages experimenting with various kind of flours, depending on the type of pasta you’re making.
I made his most basic recipe, though, which involves a mix of doppio zero, or 00, a smooth, finely ground, baby-powder soft flour favored by Italian pasta makers, and coarser, high-protein durum flour, also called semolina. Once you get these two ingredients together and dust off your pasta rollers, you’re ready to get started.
It’s not complicated. Fresh pasta impresses the pants off people, but I timed the work: 10 minutes to mix together some dough in a bowl with a fork and knead it smooth and elastic on the counter, plus 15 to squeeze it through those rollers and cut it. And it cooks so much faster than dried pasta—in just a couple of minutes.
The variations of things to do with this yolk-y dough are endless because it’s durable enough to use for stuffed pastas such as tortellini. I followed a recipe for ramp ravioli, filling thinly rolled sheets with a mixture of wilted ramps, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese, then serving the ravioli on some whipped ricotta. I loved the idea of pulling apart the ricotta from the filling so you could swipe your ravioli through the melting cheese, but these little pasta pockets were maybe a bit fancy for friends over on a Saturday.
My favorite way to eat the rich, eggy pasta was so simple, it was almost plain. I rolled the dough a little thicker than for that ravioli, cut it in wide ribbons, and boiled them only briefly. Then I tossed them in a pan with some melted butter, lemon zest, chili flakes, salt, and pepper, shifting the noodles around until the sauce thickened a little with starch, and added a bit of grated parmesan.
At the table, everyone took turns grating additional cheese onto their pasta and gulping wine. I didn’t see any point in mentioning how many yolks had gone into the dough.
Egg Yolk Dough
Adapted from Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (170g) tipo 00 flour
7 tablespoons (55g) durum flour
9 egg yolks
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons water (more if needed to bring together the dough)
Combine the flours in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the egg yolks, olive oil, and water, while stirring to combine. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for five minutes, or until smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticky, dust over more 00 flour and continue to knead.
Shape into a ball and flatten into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Cut the disk in four pieces and run each through the pasta roller at the widest setting, lightly floured, a few times. Keep narrowing the setting and rolling the pieces until you attain the desired thickness, then cut. (For tagliatelle, fettuccine, and pappardelle, it’s setting 2 or 3 on a KitchenAid attachment, or about as thick as a thick cotton bedsheet.)
Note: It’s worth buying finely ground tipo 00 flour, which you can usually find at specialty grocery stories or Italian stores. If not, Vetri suggests instead using 1 ¼ cups plus two tablespoons (170g) of all-purpose flour. This works, too.