Fresh pasta always has a better texture and taste than commercially-produced, dried pasta. The dough is easy to prepare, you can start with flour and water and perhaps an egg. Beyond that, a pasta machine is all that is needed.
There are two basic types of pasta machine: roller-cutters and extruders:
Roller-cutters are the most common type in household kitchens. Pasta dough is passed through rollers and pressed into a sheet, that is then run through cutters and sliced into long ribbons. These machines are usually equipped with a crank-handle to manually turn the rollers but can have a motor attached. Cheaper, less robust models are available, but good quality machines (especially of Italian manufacture) can range beyond £100 in price.
Extruders create pasta by forcing the dough through shaped nozzles. While manual pasta presses of this kind are available, most extruders are electric machines that also have automatic features. Commercial kitchens will always prefer extrusion pasta makers because of their speed and capacity to create large volumes of pasta relatively quickly. However, there are also models designed for household use. The best machines are simply loaded with the ingredients and set in motion to mix, extrude, and cut long noodles ready for cooking. Electric extrusion machines are generally more expensive than roller-cutters but are a worthwhile investment in households that enjoy regular pasta meals.
One thing to bear in mind with roller-cutter machines is that they are typically supplied with only one or two choices of cutter blades, usually for spaghetti and fettuccine. It may be helpful to choose a brand that sells accessories to make any special noodles you enjoy. A pastry wheel can also be useful if you plan on rolling dough to make ravioli.
A pasta machine enables experimentation beyond the limits of store-bought noodles. Once the basic recipes are mastered, try making coloured pasta by adding basil to the dough for green noodles or pomegranate juice for red linguini; carrot juice adds orange colour. Semolina flour from durum wheat is the traditional flour in Italian pasta but it is possible to accommodate specific dietary demands with whole-wheat and gluten-free flours.
Finally, a couple of tips from our own kitchen:
- Pasta dough is best left to rest after kneading. Bring the dough together in a ball; cover tightly in plastic wrap and set aside for half an hour before rolling and cutting
- Don’t overcook the noodles. Fresh, home-made pasta cooks a lot quicker than store-bought dried pasta, usually less than two minutes in a boiling pan.
Best Pasta Makers
World of Flavours Stainless Steel Pasta Machine
The World of Flavours roller-cutter is solid, entry-level machine. Nine thicknesses are available through the rollers and two widths can be selected through the cutters: 2.2mm or 6.6mm for linguini and fettuccine respectively. A clamp is included to hold the machine at the edge of a counter or table and the handle is removable for easy storage. Constructed of stainless steel, it is wipe-clean only. This is an excellent choice for a first-time pasta-maker, it has excellent reviews but is budget-priced and available in a choice of three colours: red, blue or yellow.
Imperia Italian Double Cutter Pasta Machine
This Imperia model is a well-engineered Italian machine constructed of chrome-plated steel. The rollers produce pasta sheets of six different thicknesses and the cutters are able to create either tagliatelle or fettuccine. Importantly perhaps to some cooks, additional cutters can be purchased separately for different widths. To avoid rusting, the parts are wipe-clean only (although a user suggests an old toothbrush for removing any pasta ‘debris’). The detachable handle and a tabletop clamp are included in the box. Reviews are generally positive and this is a heavy piece of kitchen kit that should provide good service over many years.
Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Machine
The ‘Atlas’ is a top-rated, roller-cutter machine from Italy. The rollers can be adjusted to one of six thicknesses via a notched dial on the side and the cutters will slice the pasta sheets into either fettuccine or tagliatelle (although other widths are available using different cutters purchased separately). As with other machines of this style, the unit should not be immersed in water. A tabletop screw-clamp and the detachable handle are included in the kit. We like the traditional look of this pasta machine, with its wooden grip on the crank-handle and the shiny, chromed bodywork. (Enamelled panelling is available at extra cost in five different colours: black; blue; red; gold and green).
While a little more expensive than some other picks, this is a sturdy machine that is worth the initial investment and offers the opportunity of ‘expansion’ with a range of available accessories, including an electric motor. Marcato extends a three-year warranty.
Marcato Pasta Machine with Atlas Motor
This Marcato model is essentially one of their manual roller-cutter machines with an electric motor unit included. In fact, the motor’s drive shaft attaches to the holes used for a manual crank-handle (and a handle is included with the kit to allow the machine to be used without the motor). The rollers have ten thickness settings, adjustable via by a notched dial set on the side of the roller cartridge, and produce sheets of even thickness. The included cutters are designed for tagliatelle and fettuccine, and different cutters can be purchased separately.
As with Marcato’s manual machines, a tabletop clamp is included but it may not be necessary when the motor is used; the pasta machine is more stable on the counter-top with the additional weight and smoother drive. In general, the motor makes the machine easier to use. Buying the motor together with the roller-cutter saves money versus buying the parts separately but this powered roller-cutter is not cheap. However, it is less expensive than electric extruders and built to last. It is a solid purchase for committed pasta chefs.
Best Electric Pasta Machines
Vogvigo Automatic Pasta Machine
Vogvigo is the brand name of large Chinese corporation manufacturing a wide range of commercial and domestic machines and tools. Their automatic pasta machine features a choice of nine different extruder discs capable of producing a range of flat, round and tubular noodles. A flat control panel at the top-rear of the machine contains a run/stop button and three separate buttons to programme the quantity of flour loaded into the hopper: two, three or four cups. All ingredients are mixed in the hopper and the stirring, kneading and extruding processes proceed automatically.
The removable parts are easy to clean: a large screw nut holds the extrusion discs in place in a front plate, and the front plate is fastened across the front of the hopper by a screw nut at each side. The gold-coloured housing, the hopper and some parts are plastic but this is quite a chunky machine with a large footprint. We are not excited by the wisdom on the side panel, “the tasty calls out to me”, but this has no impact on the machine’s functionality. We have no reviews of its durability but the shipper provides a two-year warranty. Offered at a low price, this machine may be worth consideration by a family on a budget seeking an automatic pasta maker.
Philips HR 232/11 Viva Pasta Maker
This Philips machine is an automatic, electric pasta maker and part of their ‘Viva’ range of matching appliances. Flour, water and any other ingredients are added through the lid into the see-through hopper where the dough is stirred and mixed. From there, a worm-screw draws the dough into the kneading tube and it is pushed through one of three discs to emerge as either penne, spaghetti or fettuccine.
The machine can produce 450 grammes of fresh pasta in 18 minutes. The base is fitted with a drawer to provide storage space for the accessories and, overall, the machine has a clean, modern design, with a white, wipe-clean plastic housing. The footprint is a compact 13.5cm wide by 35cm deep. Some users have complained of ‘fiddliness’ in cleaning the removable parts (which are dishwasher safe) but this is an easy-to-use pasta maker that will be a great asset to any family that enjoys frequent pasta meals.