How to Pair Pasta with the Proper Dough
by Lisa Elbert, Tastemaker in Residence
As adults, we’ve consumed enough pasta to know there’s a reason that macaroni is the ideal vessel for a melty cheese sauce, and that is inarguable because the elbow can gather enough cheese in its pocket to maximize the sauce-per-bite ratio. It’s just math. But here we are, hundreds of pounds of pasta later, the majority of us entirely unaware that there’s more to pasta pairings than sauce and wine.
At Spuntino in Denver, chef Cindhura Reddy serves four handmade pastas per night, one of which is a rotating special, all of which are made using different doughs. “The differentiation of doughs is helpful, just because of how things dry and how things cook,” said Reddy. “It’s just as important as sauce pairings, which is a very specific thing in Italy. And equally important is the kind of dough you use for each shape.”
All of the pasta dough at Spuntino is made from some combination of flour (“00”, all-purpose, or semolina), eggs or egg yolks, salt, olive oil, and warm water—barring any infused or flavored doughs. Reddy doesn’t use any electric machines save for the mixer, so she’s doing all of her dough by hand. (She and her staff have very strong shoulders.) “Being that hands-on with it really helps you to know how the dough is supposed to feel when it’s ready. Like in baking, it’s important to know what the dough looks and feels like when it’s correct, even if you follow a recipe down to the gram,” she said.
Some time spent traveling in Italy, countless hours of experimenting and kneading, and years of practice later, Reddy has her doughs down to a science, and has even perfected them in Denver’s thin, dry air—often at higher altitudes, more liquid is required. ("Although we have our recipes down to the gram it’s important, especially with the altitude and dryness of our climate in Denver, to be a little flexible with adding a bit of water (no more than a tablespoon or two) while forming doughs," she said. Read more on high-altitude cooking here.)
“It’s dependent on the dough, but the result should be smooth, without any air pockets or chunks of flour. If it acts properly when you’re actually forming it, it’s right.” Below, five pasta variations and the dough ratios that make Reddy’s pasta sing like Pavarotti in Act IV of La Bohème (may he rest in peace).
“I like to use all 00 flour; I find the end product is much softer and pliable after the dough has rested, and the texture without the semolina really allows the fillings themselves to shine. We also use a good amount of whole eggs and yolk in this dough. We use it for all filled pasta shapes: tortellini, agnolotti, caramelle, mezzaluna, ravioli, etc.”
Flat strand pasta
“For our flat strand pasta of any width (pappardelle, tagliatelle, fettuccine), we use almost 2:1 00 flour to semolina, because while we want that structure semolina lends, a softer end product is ideal for the variety of sauces we pair with our strand pasta. We cut our strand pasta by hand, so some firmness is necessary for a nice, clean product.”
“The simplest dough we make at Spuntino is for our farfalle. It's semolina flour, salt, and water, and works well for that simple structure that makes farfalle delicate and beautiful.”
“With the cavatelli, we use a bit more semolina than all purpose, but we need the structure from those heartier flours because we don't use egg. While it's not always traditional to have an egg-free dough for cavatelli, it's nice for us to have a delicious vegan option. We use an old cavatelli maker from the 50s, but for home use, Fante's has a great one.”
Bigoli is a Venetian strand pasta similar to spaghetti that is extruded through a hand-crank called a bigolaro.
“We use an egg yolk-rich dough, with almost equal parts all purpose flour and semolina flour, and a touch of 00. Because we're using the bigolaro, the dough needs to be just right; not too wet or it won't extrude cleanly, and not too dry or the cranking is too difficult. I like a yolk- and semolina-rich dough because it lends to a toothsome texture, and that’s what makes bigoli so special.”