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Pasta By Hand

Last year when I went to northern Italy, I took a cooking class that taught us how to make fresh pasta by hand. The process is simple to learn, but mastering it is another question. As it happens Chef Jerry Pellegrino received wonderful book  from our friend Cynthia Clover that shines a light on the complexities of a simple dish.

The basic recipe for pasta is very simple:  flour, eggs and a pinch of salt (maybe). However variations do exist.  What kind of flour is used?  By law it must be hard durum (semolina) wheat flour, ideally ground extra fine labeled "tipo 00." This flour has abundant glutens which allow the pasta dough to stretch.  However Jerry has used standard "all purpose flour" and gotten the same results. But if you want to make proper gnochi, you need to work some potato into the dough.          

In addition, some recipes call for a little bit of olive oil.  Others a little bit of water. Then of course you have adjuncts like spinach, squid ink, saffron, or beets.

The single biggest question is do you want fresh pasta or pasta from a box. Although the idea of an lovely Italian grandmother hand-shaping her ball of fresh pasta, most Italians use the mass-produced dried product that come in a box.

Assuming though that we want to stick with fresh pasta, what really separates one regional pasta from another is the shape. The simplest shapes are the long ribbons like fettuccine or linguine. These are made by flattening your ball of pasta with a rolling pin and working it out until it is super thin. You then cut generous rectangles of dough, roll them up from both sides, and cut them with a knife to the desired width.  But those clever Italian grandmothers know dozens of ways to shape pasta with just their fingers or a simple knife.

Jerry has assembled a group of recipes inspired by Pasta by Hand, A Collection of Italy's Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta by Jenn Louis, (ISBN number 1452121888), available through Amazon. Here they are.

Ricotta Cavatelli


3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 pound ricotta cheese, drained of excess liquid

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon salt

Put 2 ½ cups of the flour into a bowl, make a well in the flour, and add the cheese, eggs and salt. Gradually work the mixture together, adding more flour if necessary, to make a soft but not sticky dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it is smooth. Let the dough rest at room temperature, covered with an inverted bowl or wrapped in plastic, for 30 minutes.  Form the dough into a round and cut into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time (cover the remaining dough with an inverted bowl to keep the dough from drying out), on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rope ¼ inch in diameter. With a knife, cut the rope into ½ inch pieces. With your index and third fingers held together, gently press down on each piece, beginning at the top and moving down toward the bottom, dragging your fingers toward you and causing the pasta to roll over on itself. Transfer the formed pasta to a lightly floured jelly-roll pan and let dry at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Potato Gnocchi


2 large russet potatoes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel potatoes and add to pot. Cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and mash with a fork or potato masher.

Potato Gnocchi cont’d

Combine 1 cup mashed potato, flour and egg in a large bowl. Knead until dough forms a ball. Shape small portions of the dough into long "snakes". On a floured surface, cut snakes into half-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until gnocchi have risen to the top; drain and serve.

Basic Pasta Recipe – this recipe works well for mechanized pasta extruders when you’re making any of the longer shapes; bucatini, spaghetti, etc. We don’t use it for any of the short tubular pastas.


2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup semolina flour (or 3 cups all-purpose flour total)

½ teaspoon fine grind sea salt

4 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the eggs and mix until the dough has been formed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for approximately 5 minutes.

Cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough and cut it according to the pasta maker’s directions.

For herb scented pasta: purée 3 tablespoons of your favorite fresh herbs with the olive oil.

For Porcini Mushroom flavored pasta: remove three tablespoons of floor and add 3 tablespoons of porcini powder.

Extrusion pasta basic recipe – this works great in all types of extruders and for every shape.


Basic Ratio - 1kg dry : 330ml wet : 10gr fine sea salt

The salt is for the chemical reaction only, not seasoning and we never us kosher salt to make this pasta because it’s loaded with anti-caking chemicals

Dry should only be semolina or 70% semolina 30% “00”flour (we’ve used AP flour and it works just fine) But, never less than 70% semolina

Wet can be eggs, puréed veggies, squid ink, water, etc. – we like to use 1 or 2 large eggs with the balance being made up with water.

No reason to put oil in extrusion dough. Ever.

Mushroom Ragout


2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped

1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice

6 cloves garlic, sliced

4 cups canned tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a large sauce pot set over medium high heat, warm the oil until just smoking and add the onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes and add the garlic. Cook another 2 minutes and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms, with occasional stirring until they have released all their water and the have started to brown on the edges. Add the oregano, cook for one minute then add the tomatoes. Allow the sauce to come to a boil then reduce the heat. Simmer the sauce, with occasional stirring until it has thickened. Serve over your favorite pasta.

Garlic Cream Sauce


2 cups peeled garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon butter

4 cups whole milk

In a mixing bowl toss the garlic cloves in the olive oil. Wrap the garlic cloves in aluminum foil and roast in a 325°F oven for 20 minutes or until soft and golden brown. After the garlic has cooled, place the roasted cloves and the basil in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Purée the garlic and basil into a paste. In a sauce pot set over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to foam. Add the flour, and with a whisk, stir until smooth. Cook the ‘roux’ for about 5 minutes. Gradually add the milk, with constant stirring until it has all been added and the sauce has started to thicken. Whisk in the garlic/basil paste and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and serve over pasta.

Sausage & Spinach


1 lb. spicy sausage, chopped

1 lb. baby spinach

1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice

6 cloves garlic, sliced

¼ cup olive oil

Salt & crushed red pepper flakes

In a large sauce pot set over medium high heat, warm the oil until just smoking and add the onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes and add the garlic. Cook another 2 minutes and add the sausage. Cook the sausage until done. Add cooked pasta and the spinach and toss just to wilt the spinach. Season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes and serve with grated cheese over top.

-Al Spoler

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.