Pasta Tools Italian Fresh & Stuffed Pasta

Fresh pasta is neither better nor worse than dried pasta - it is different, and needs different saucing. While dried pasta is firm and chewy, fresh pasta is soft and delicate.

Fresh pasta is more typical of Northern Italy than in the south, but even in the north is no longer a daily ritual. Because it takes time and work, it is generally reserved for special occasions and special dishes.

Pasta mix
Italian Pasta



Tools for Making Fresh Pasta

The essential tools are illustrated in the photo at the top of this page.

  • A sturdy working surface. In this case a 2 foot square sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, the surface rubbed with mineral oil. That's about the minimum size that will be usable.
  • A rolling pin. The type shown is an Italian pasta pin. It is straight, 1.6 inches diameter with no taper and a working length of 18.5 inches. This is about the minimum useful length. The big pasta mamas in Italy use pins over 3 feet long. The knobs on the ends serve no purpose and could be cut off. The tapered French style will work fine if you will be using a pasta machine, but not for hand rolling - the reason is stretching, explained below. The fat ones with handles at the ends may work for pie crust, but not for pasta.
  • A dough scraper, needed for keeping the work surface clear of dough fragments and the like. It can also serve for cutting pasta. Mine is also ruled in inches and centimeters which is quite convenient.
  • Various cutters, straight and wavy.
  • A pastry brush (a natural bristle paint brush about 1-1/4 inches wide) is fine.
  • A drying rack for long pasta. My rack (pictured below) is a length of Cat-5e network cable stretched between two hooks. Actually, the data rate for this application is very low, so Cat-3 cable would work fine.

Pasta Machine There is also a device that may not be essential, but you will most certainly want one - the Pasta Machine. Rolling out pasta with a rolling pin is certainly doable, and will serve to build immensely strong hands, arms and shoulders, but it is rather a lot of work and takes a lot of time. These machines can be had at quite reasonable prices. The one in the photo was about US $34.

The front section with the crank in it rolls the dough progressively thinner, thinner than you can do with a rolling pin, and fast! The removable upper section is a dual cutting unit for spaghetti and fettucini. Other cutter units are available, but none are essential. Of course, you still need the rolling pin to get things started.

Ravioli Mold This Norpro Ravioli mold is very popular, but I'm not entirely thrilled with it. It does get quite a lot of filling in each cell, but the cells tend to have a lot of air in them, and there's no way to squeeze it out. The ravioli are also quite prone to damage or bursting, and you still often have to cut them apart with the wavy cutter.

The traditional method is to cut ribbons twice as long as wide. Fill and fold over. I usually cut the ribbons with a straight cutter, then use the wavy blade to trim the three sealed edges real nice.

Making Fresh Pasta

Flour with Eggs There are two basic recipes for fresh pasta in Italy. The first is used in most of Italy, the second in Emilia-Romagna. The recipe with oil is considered a little easier to work with. Each of these will make about 2 pounds of dough.

4 cups
1/4 t
1 T
Eggs ExtLg
    4 cups
Eggs, Jumbo

Flattening part of the ball

Rolled Out
Rolled out by hand

Cutting Tagliatelli
Cutting Tagliatelli

Machine at work
Machine at work

Drying Line
My drying rack

  1. So, to get started you make a pile of flour with a well in the center sufficient to hold the eggs and oil (if used). The picture shows whole eggs, but for manageability I recommend beating them lightly with a fork before adding to the flour. Don't break eggs over the flour like you see in photos or you'll get lots of shell fragments ruining your pasta sheets.
  2. With a fork, start working flour from the walls into the eggs. To prevent any egg from escaping, work the wall with your free hand. Eventually the fork will get bogged down. Scrape accumulated dough of into the well and start massaging it all together with your hands.
  3. Ok, yes, I cheat. I let my big Kitchen Aid mixer with it's dough hook do this work. I use 3 cups flour, 3 eggs, and dribble in a few tablespoons of water as needed. When it is nearly making a ball, I take the dough out and massage it into a ball by hand.
  4. Once you have a ball, use your pastry scraper to clean the board. It's time to knead the dough, but you don't want to knead it a whole lot or you'll end up with a tough ball and tough pasta. Knead just enough to organize the ball. and get it reasonably smooth. Start working the dough with the heels of your hands, from the center out, then folding and working some more. If when you fold it, the two sides don't stick, wet your hand and wipe the side you're folding in. If the ball is too sticky, dust it very lightly with some sifted flour. What you want is a ball that sticks together well but doesn't stick to anything else.
  5. Flatten the dough ball a bit and cut it into equal pieces. For machine rolling, 1 piece for every cup of flour. For hand rolling you can make the pieces a little bigger. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered in plastic wrap or under a damp towel so they won't dry out.
  6. Mold a piece, round if you will be rolling out by hand, rectangular if you will be using a machine. Roll it out as thin as you can get it if rolling by hand. The example in the photo was rolled to 0.032 inch thick, which is rather thick for fresh pasta, but it didn't want to get any thinner.
  7. To go thinner you need a real Italian pasta pin (or similar wooden cylinder about 1-3/4 inch diameter) - it's long, straight and with no taper. Make sure the pasta slides well on the board. Start rolling up the pasta around the pin, but as you roll, stretch the pasta out both ways parallel to the pin by stroking it with your hands. Roll over it before it has time to pull back. Once it's all rolled up with the stretch locked in, unroll it rotated 45°. Repeat until it is as thin as it should be.
  8. If using a machine, you want to roll out your lump of pasta flat enough and narrow enough to go through the rollers at the widest setting. Run it through. Note that this is easiest done by two people, one keeping the dough feeding in straight and turning the crank, the other guiding it out at the bottom.
  9. Once it's rolled, fold the sides in as thirds, overlapping in the manner of a letter. Next fold in thirds the other way, bringing in the ends to make it shorter. The objective here is to make it rectangular with straight sides. Dust very lightly with flour, then use the rolling pin to get it back sufficiently thin to be gripped by the rollers. Roll it across rather than lengthwise as much as needed to get it to 3/4 the width of the machine. The machine will make it much longer but not much wider.
  10. Roll again and repeat the folding and flattening if needed.
  11. Now turn the rollers closer by one notch and roll it through again. It will get quite a bit longer but not much wider. Repeat, closing by one notch each time until the thickness is less than 0.030 inch. My machine is about 0.030 inch at "3", 0.020 at "2" and 0.015 at "1", but different machines vary. I usually roll to "2". Fresh pasta should be thinner than dried pasta due to cooking characteristics.
  12. Note that, after running through at "4" I cut the strip in half so it's more manageable, then roll each half to "2".
  13. Once you have a lump rolled out, you should cut it or shape and stuff it immediately, but if you do need a little time you can dust it very lightly with flour and interleave with wax paper, making sure it's not exposed to air or it will harden. The best way to dust is to dip a natural bristle paint / pastry brush in flour and "paint" the pasta, brushing off until there is only a faint trace of flour, then flip and paint the other side. Without the flour dusting it will even stick to wax paper fairly quickly. If all goes wrong, you can wad it up and send it back through the machine.
  14. If you cut into noodles, hang them to dry on a pasta rack or some similar scheme, or lay out on a clean towel - do not let them touch and stick to each other. They will not become unstuck in cooking and will remain hard wherever they are stuck together. Even if you will cook them right away, they should be dried for fifteen to 20 minutes.
Storing Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta can be dried, refrigerated or frozen. If dried it will be very fragile compared to regular dried pasta. Refrigerated, pasta will last for about 5 days, frozen for two months or so.

To prepare for refrigeration or freezing, pasta needs to be at least "flash cooked" to keep it from sticking together - or you will have a horrible mess. Bring a lot of water to a rolling boil. Drop the pasta in for just 20 seconds, then scoop out and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well, bag with all air squeezed out, and store. If frozen, the pieces will freeze to each other, but will separate as soon as plunged into boiling water.

Pasta to be baked, such as lasagna or cannelloni, can be cooked 3 minutes, then drain well and store in a container with each piece separated from the others with waxed paper. refrigerate or freeze.

OK, those are the official methods, but that's not how I freeze pasta. I lay out a sheet of thin plastic on the freezer compartment grate, then place pasta pieces on it in a single layer. There's so little water in the pasta it freezes up sufficient for bagging within 20 minutes or so. This way all the pasta pieces are completely separate and you can remove just as many as you wish.

Cooking Fresh Pasta

The general rules are exactly as for dried pasta (see Cooking Pasta) but the timing can be much different

If the fresh pasta has had only 15 to 20 minutes of air drying, and is 0.020 inch thick or less, it will probably be done within a minute of the water coming back to a boil.

If it is thicker, or stuffed, or has had more drying time, it can take quite a bit longer. Try samples while cooking just as with regular pasta.

Fresh and Stuffed Pasta Shapes

Numbers:   The numbers given here are CloveGarden numbers and have no relation any Italian designations.

Agnolotti   -   [193]
Stuffed pasta squares with rippled edges on three sides and a fold on the fourth.

Anolini   -   [314]

These are an easy to make fresh stuffed pasta, just a circle punched out with rippled edges folded over.

Cannelloni   -   [321]
Long tubes

In North America, Cannelloni are most often dried pasta tubes, cooked, stuffed and baked with sauce. In Italy they are often made fresh, and rather than a stuffed tube they are often made up like a jelly roll. The photo specimens, rolled up with a meat filling spread on them, were 5.25 inches long. The original dimensions were 4.0 x 5.0 inches, but the 4.0 inch dimension became 5.25 inches after cooking. About 2 Tablespoons of filling was spread on each one before rolling.

Cappelletti   -   [311; Alpine Hats]
Pasta Hats

These are made from 2 to 2-1/2 inch squares of fresh pasta folded around stuffing into a triangle. The apex of the triangle is then folded down over the flat side and the points brought together across the stuffed side. They are very much like Tortellini, but from a square rather than a circle. The photo specimens were made from 2-1/2 inch squares (because that's half the web width of my pasta machine) and the finished product is about 1.0 inch diameter and 0.75 inch high. These are generally stuffed with meat or cheese, and may be served with the broth they are cooked in or with various sauces.

Egg Noodles
In Italy, egg noodles are generally fresh noodles, especially since it's against the law to sell dried pasta made from anything but durum wheat and water.

Fettuccini   -   [308; Lasagnette, Fettucce ]
long narrow ribbons

This is one of the most common ribbon shapes used with fresh pasta, in fact most pasta machines come with a cutter roll that produces this size, about 0.3 inch wide by however thick you make it. Do Not let it sit as in the photo for more than 30 seconds or you will never be able to get it apart.

Lasagna   -   [318]
Wide Pasta Strips

Lasagna has been made fresh since the time of Ancient Greece, and was quite popular in Rome. It was used in layered dishes, but exact details of cooking are unknown. The photo specimens are about 2-1/2 inches wide and 10 inches long and 0.020 inch thick. Commercial dried lasagna is commonly 2 inches wide, 10 inches long and up to 0.48 inch thick. Fresh is made from less than 2 inches up to 4 inches wide and up to 0.32 inch thick as desired by the cook.

Lingue de Suocera   -   [121; Mother-in-law tongues]
Multicolor Ribbon

This is a multicolor pasta from Puglia. It is fairly wide, has sharp saw tooth edges and it is twisted. Dried, it is available commercially, at an extremely high price, often over US $20 per pound. The photo fragment is © Foodiva's Kitchen where Maya provides complete instructions on how to make this at home - if you dare.

Maltagliati   -   [317]
Pasta offcuts

Meaning "poorly cut", this name is used for various pasta scraps or cuts that resemble them. Commercially, they may be elongated diamonds, or very short tubes cut diagonally. Italian chefs needing to serve consistent dishes named "maltagliati" may take a strip of fresh pasta about the size of a lasagna and cut narrow triangles from the end, alternating left and right.

Manicotti   -   [062]
Very large tubes In North America these are usually dried, large ridged tubes which are almost soft and stuffed with ricotta cheese and/or spinach or such and then baked with sauce over. In Italy "Manicotti" are more commonly made by wrapping stuffing in fresh crepes, or less commonly in squares of fresh pasta.

Orecchiette   -   [032 (bronze die); Orecchiette Pugliesi, Little Ears of Puglia]
Cup Shaped Pastta

A specialty of the "Heel of Italy", this pasta varies quite a bit in shape depending on how it's made. Ideally, they should be hand made, pressed into shape with your thumb, but commercially they are machine made dried pasta shaped to resemble the hand made product. Generally they are a little less than 1 inch across.

Pansotti   -   [313]
Filled Triangles This is a fresh filled pasta made from a 2 inch to 2-1/2 inch square with wavy edges. The squares can best be cut out with a wavy edged roller. Once the filling is placed, it is folded into a triangle.

Ravioletti   -   [319]
Filled squares Ravioletti is like ravioli but smaller, just about any size smaller you like. The photo specimens are about 1.45 inches square. These are often cooked in broth and served with the broth they are cooked in, or they may be served with various sauces.

Ravioli   -   [197]
Filled squares These ravioli were made using the Norpro ravioli mold pictured near the top of this page. They are about 1.84 inches square, and since most ravioli making devices produce squares about this same size I'm considering the "standard" size for ravioli. These may be stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and are served with various sauces.

Ravioloni   -   [198]
Filled squares These are just like ravioli except bigger. The photo specimens were about 2.4 inches square, but it varies with the width I get out of my pasta machine. These may be stuffed with meat or cheese and are served with various sauces.

Spaghetti / Spaghettini   -   [309]
long narrow strands

Most pasta making machines come with a "spaghetti" cutting roller, but it makes square spaghetti, not round (cutters that will make it almost round are available at extra cost). My machines cutter makes it quite a bit finer than regular spaghetti, more like spaghettini. Do Not let it sit as in the photo for more than 30 seconds or you will never be able to get it apart.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra   -   [037]
Long Strands

This pasta resembles regular spaghetti and is about the same size but square in cross section. Traditionally it is cut from rolled out dough by doing a final roll across a wooden box, the top of which is tightly strung with wires - the Guitar / Chitarra. The photo specimens are dried, as I didn't have time to build a Chitarra yet, and were 0.080 inch square. Many pasta machines make spaghetti in this form, but usually smaller.

Tagliatelle   -   [307; Fettuccini]
Wide Ribbons

This is a very important flat ribbon pasta. For fresh pasta there is no standard, so it can be anywhere between 0.15 and 0.45 inch wide and however thick you make it. Tagliatelle is most often served with substantial meat sauces. Do Not let it sit as in the photo for more than 30 seconds or you will never be able to get it apart.

Tortelli - See Anolini.

Tortellini   -   [312]
Stuffed Pasta

These are pasta circles, folded over some stuffing into a semicircle, then the peak of the semicircle is turned down over the flat side and the points are brought together around the stuffed side to form a circle. They are often cooked in broth and served with the broth they are cooked in, but they may also be served with various sauces. A light tomato sauce works well with these. The photo specimens were made from 2.75 inch circles, about the smallest size my manly fingers can handle - the ladies may be able to make them from smaller circles. The finished product is about 1.0 inch diameter and 0.75 inch high.

Tortelloni   -   [113]
Stuffed pasta - a larger version of Tortellini. Available fresh or frozen but too big to dry commercially so only made fresh.

pa_ital 12-22-12   -
©Andrew Grygus - - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted