Five Reasons to Make Your Own Pasta

By Hank Shaw

Weston's Homemade Venison Ravioli Recipe

Making pasta at home isn't as effortless as opening a package and dropping it into boiling water, but learning this simple skill is one of the easiest ways to elevate your home cooking. Beyond the pride you can take in showing off your handmade noodles, here are five reasons you should consider making your own pasta.

You can take mastery of the pasta you make, from flour to what you moisten it with, to shape and size. For example, most of the pasta you buy is just semolina flour and water. But there’s no law that says you couldn't moisten your semolina with eggs, which will give the dough a little more spring. And if you want an egg dough that’s white, leave out the yolks – conversely, leave out the whites for a rich, luxurious yellow dough called tajarin.

Making pasta dough yourself allows you to create any shape, dough, dough consistency and flavor you want. You can literally tailor your pasta to whatever else is on the plate or in the dinner. Sure, you could try to find a barley dough tagliatelle in a store, but you won’t succeed. If you want this noodle, which, incidentally, pairs perfectly with duck, goose or venison, you’ll need to make it yourself.

Making your own pasta allows you to sub in any sort of flour or make any shape you choose. Want rye flour gnocchi for an Alpine Italian dish? How about a buckwheat dough for German spätzle? Easy. What about a dough with pureed spinach for St. Pat’s Day? No problemo. Like squid ink pasta but are bored with the tagliatelle it always seems to come in? Make your own dough (squid ink is easily available online or in Italian specialty shops) and shape the pasta however you wish.

Buy a few pasta making gadgets and you can stretch even further. Beyond the essential pasta machine, there are all sorts of little tools out there to help you make innovative shapes: Gnocchi boards, garganelli combs, guitar-like contraptions for making square spaghetti, even extruders ranging from the ancient torchio, a relic of the 19th century, to ultra-modern machines that do all the mixing for you. Yeah, there are pasta-making “gear heads,” and I am one of them. I got all the gadgets…

Pasta can either be a vehicle for the sauce, or it can be the star itself. Sometimes you can get there with perfectly made egg or semolina pasta, but more often cooks boost the prominence of pasta on the plate with flavors in the pasta itself.

You do this by adding something to the dough besides flour and water. Eggs are common, as is milk or cream. You’ll see tomato powder or pureed spinach all the time; I like to use pureed stinging nettles for an even more vivid green. Adding squid ink will not only turn your noodles black, but it will impart a distinct briny taste, too. Adding powdered kelp also will give you that seaside flavor.

Just be careful about adding wet ingredients to the dough. If your vegetable isn’t pureed absolutely smooth, the remaining fibers will break the gluten bonds in the pasta and make it fall apart.

The flavor factor gets even more intense when you make filled pasta. Good luck buying a venison ravioli, but if you know how to make ravioli, or tortellini, or German maultaschen or Russian pelmeni, you can fill them with anything you like.

The McGyver Factor 
Armed with just a gnocchi board, you can be in deer camp or at a friend’s house and make cavatelli or gnocchi with no other equipment. Don’t even have that? You can make all sorts of pasta – including cavatelli and orecchiette – with no equipment at all. There is nothing more impressive than making fantastic pasta with nothing more than your hands and a tabletop.

Fun… and a Secret Trick 
Once you get the hang of making pasta at home, it will move from being a “project” to something you just want to do. You’ll start thinking about the making pasta an integral part of the food you feed yourself and your family, not as a throw-away starch to bulk up a plate of meat or fish. And what’s more, once you master the basics, you can make a batch of pasta in literally minutes – if you have a vacuum sealer. The secret? Vacuum seal your freshly made dough and it will hydrate instantly, so you no longer need to wait an hour before rolling it out. This is a chef’s trick. You’re welcome. ;-)

Author of two wild game cookbooks, Hank Shaw runs the award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook ( He lives, hunts, forages and fishes near Sacramento, California.

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