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Old 06-18-2005, 09:51 AM   #1
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Pasta Dough help

I've been reviewing a number of pasta dough recipes on several sites. I've also made it in cooking school. The question I have is, why do some recipes include oil, while others don't? The one we did in class was without oil, made completely by hand with flour, eggs and a fork right on the countertop.

What is the difference (advantages, disadvantages) in a pasta made with oil?
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Old 06-18-2005, 11:51 AM   #2
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Great question! I'm bumping it up hoping someone can help.
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Old 06-18-2005, 09:35 PM   #3
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I must admit that I've been wondering about that myself, Rick.

I've NEVER seen an Italian cook/chef (on TV) add oil to homemade pasta! Just the basic "well" method you used ... egg for soft (Italian Type 00 - American All-Purpose) flour, or just water for semolina flour to make a dried pasta.

Oil (fat) would make the dough more tender and delicate (reading between the lines of On Food and Cooking - revised edition by Harold McGee - page 574). But, I saw Carlo Middione add an extra egg yolk (fat and protein) to a dough to make ravioli to add strength!

Back about 3 years ago when I was so nieve as to think there had to be a "standard" ratio of egg to flour for true Italian pasta I bought 3 books on making pasta ... some include oil, some don't, the amount of oil varies ... I guess that if I took the time to analize each recipe (flour to fat) I might find a clue - but I haven't. I just wimp out and use the standard recipe ... egg/water in the well method ... combine enough liquid to make a dough.
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Old 06-19-2005, 01:41 AM   #4
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Thanks for the reply Michael. I was leaning that way too, since the noodles we made in class were perfect with no oil. Typically, when I do make my own pasta, it will be for immediate use anyway, so the flour and egg method will likely become my standard.

I think a manual pasta roller will likely be on my Christmas list this year. I have to stop buying stuff myself for a while or my wife will divorce me.
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Old 06-19-2005, 02:58 PM   #5
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I made lotsa bread dough long before I ever made my first pizza dough, and I found, in certain breads, that I really enjoyed the flavor olive oil added to it. So, naturally, when I started making pizza dough, it a appeared to be a no-brainer to add olive oil.

Later, in an episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown explained that, when using oil in a given dough recipe, it is extremely important to let the water & flour mix together thoroughly before adding the oil. Doing so gives the flour molecules time to hydrate. If the oil & water are mixed with the flour at the same time, the oil may seal off the flour's chance at getting water.

I understood what he was saying, and purposely tried making several batches of bread & pizza dough (over time) varying the way I added ingredients to the mix. While I will be the first to admit that my tastebuds are not that finely attuned, in a blind taste test, I would not have been able to point at a loaf of bread and declare that the ingredients had been mixed in a particular order.

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Old 06-20-2005, 11:31 PM   #6
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I broke down and dug my 3 pasta books out, along with books by Biba Caggiano, the Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith), and a couple of recipes I had from Carlo Middione. Somehow I either missed this mention of using oil or dismissed it because I thought it applied to using an extruder.

From "The Pasta Gourmet - Creative Pasta Recipes from Appetizers to Desserts" by Sunny Baker and Michelle Sbraga, page 44.

"Many of the pasta directions in this book*, as well as those in the instruction booklets with the various pasta machines, call for the addition of oil to the dough. This gives the dough a silky feel, and makes cutting or extruding the dough easier. The oil can be increased by a tablespoon or two, or it can be eliminated entirely. If you adjust the amount of oil used, don't forget to also adjust the total amount of liquid used. Note that the instructions for the Cuisinart Deluxe Pasta Maker calls for oil to be added in with the flour, instead of mixing into the liquid. Olive oil is specified when it's flavor would enhance that of the pasta, while canola oil is specified when a blander oil is desired. Any other vegetable oil except olive oil can be substituted for canola."

* The truth is that very few pasta recipes in this book actually call for oil in the basic recipe (mostly limited to vegetable pastas). They give a basic recipe and then a list of Variations of the Recipe - which might include the substitution of eggs for part or all of the liquid, adding oil, etc.

Salt is another "sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't" ingredient in pasta recipes. Taken from the same source and page as above:

"The one thing we do not add to any of our pastas ... is salt. Salt has traditionally been used to both enhance flavor and preserve food. We believe that taste is better enhanced through the use of herbs and spices, and by not overcooking the food. And since you can make fresh pasta whenever you want, there is no reason to use salt as a preservative. If you must add salt, we recomment using sea salt. Keep in mind that pasta made without salt is more tender."

How many times have we seen and heard the cooking demonstrators on TV admonish us to salt the pasta cooking water because it will be the only chance we get to "season" the pasta? Obviously, as far as they are concerned, salt is not an ingredient in the pasta dough.
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Old 06-21-2005, 09:34 AM   #7
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I agree with Michael that oil might make extruding the dough with home equipment a little easier but I don't think it makes any difference if you're using the roll-and-cut method.

Some recipes have their origin in substitutions made generations ago (for a reason, at that time) and then mindlessly repeated down the ages. If I were to guess, I'd bet the use of oil came from frugal housewives who didn't have eggs to spare but wanted to have that touch of fat that egg yolks contain - so they substituted a little oil.

A little fat (from egg yolks or oil) would also have the effect of keeping the pasta dough moist longer b/c it wouldn't evaporate from the dough like water. If you wanted to hold the dough awhile before actually rolling and cutting it a little oil would help.

If you wanted to dry the cut pasta for future use, you wouldn't want to use eggs as the "liquid" b/c egg-pasta would not keep as long.

Personally, I prefer egg pasta. I make a large batch and freeze the extra pasta dough in suitable portions (well wrapped so it doesn't dry out or discolor). It should keep in the freezer for about 3 months (tho we usually go though it faster than that). If you're going to make homemade pasta it's just as easy to make a big batch as a small one.
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