Tyler Rodde and Curtis Di Fede know pasta. At their restaurant Oenotri in downtown Napa, they serve a variety of shapes of fresh pastas that they’ve crafted in their kitchen, from hand-rolled linguine to extruded torchio (torch-shaped).
“Fresh pasta is always better than dried,” says Curtis. “It tastes different; you’re not picking up any staleness. It also cooks in less time.”
To get started, we asked the chefs for their top 10 tips for making restaurant-worthy fresh pasta at home. Here’s how to channel an Italian grandmother (or successful wine country chef!) in your own kitchen.
1. Use recipes only as a starting point. “When you’re making pasta, it’s tactile — you have to be able to feel it,” says Tyler. “A lot of factors go into a recipe for pasta: when the grain was pulled, how long it was stored, the size of the eggs. Recipes are not absolute.”
2. Know when to add an egg. “Our extruded pastas are made with just semolina and water,” says Curtis.Tyler adds, “It’s great for vegans. But for tagliatelle, pappardelle or any strand pastas, we use an egg pasta dough and hand-roll it.”
3. Test your dough. “When hand-rolled pasta starts to get a smooth appearance, what’s when you know you’ve worked it enough,” says Tyler. “It will have a slight sheen because the gluten chains have built. For extruded pastas, you know it’s done when you can squeeze it in your hand and it will stick together, but you can break up what’s in your hand with a finger. It’s significantly drier than people assume.”
5. Don’t add oil to the cooking water. “Oil does nothing; it just floats to the top of the water,” says Curtis.
6. Salt the water, not the pasta. “Never add salt to any of your pastas,” says Tyler. “Wait to season it with your water.” Curtis adds, “For a gallon and a half of water, we use 2 ounces of sea salt. You want it to taste like the ocean. Sea salt really brings out the best flavor.”
7. Use pasta water and fresh water. “We have fresh water and reserved pasta water on hand for cooking,” says Curtis. “We use pasta water in some sauces, but if it’s a highly salted braise, it’s best to use fresh water.”
8. Understand al dente. “It’s important to understand what al dente means — it’s ‘to the tooth’ in Italian,” says Curtis. “You don’t want the pasta sticking to your molars – that means it’s overdone. You want it to be chewy and to be able to taste the flour in the pasta.”
9. Finish the pasta in the sauce. “If you’re pairing a braised dish with pasta, undercook the pasta in the water and finish the cooking in the sauce,” Curtis advises. “We cook the pasta the final 25% of the way in the sauce so it becomes one dish versus two separate ones. You have to make sure it’s one dish, versus just pasta with sauce.”
10. Store pasta smarter. “Semolina pastas are shelf-stable; you can dry and store them,” says Tyler. “Egg pastas are not meant to be dried.