February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Pasta pairings

By |2018-03-21T18:45:01+01:00June 16th, 2011|Food & Wine Archive|
It's a balancing act between eggs and flours, and yolk dosages.

asta and sauce are kissing cousins. Certain pastas go better with specific sauces, usually based on shape and texture. Neapolitan mollusks, speared individually, cling to the dried spaghetti that hosts the city’s famous clam sauce. Sharp pecorino Romano, a key ingredient in Rome cacio e pepe recipes, attaches itself to the uneven surface of fresh tagliolini al bronzo egg pasta. In northern Genoa, fusilli, made with water and flour, have nooks and crannies that soak in pesto alla Genovese.

Decisions, decisions: Should you use dried pasta for its al dente crunch, fresh egg pasta whose smooth richness is friendly to sharp sauce, or just dough with flour and water, which makes for lighter pasta and complements most fresh sauces?

If you’ve already fallen for making fresh pasta and have moved on to pairing your pasta dough to specific sauces, here some thoughts:

Fresh pasta contains three essential pieces: flour, liquid and fat. There are many flour kinds and many classifications. For simplicity’s sake, let’s use grano tenero (all-purpose flour) and grano duro (whole-wheat flour) as our baselines.

All-purpose flour absorbs water more readily than whole-wheat flour and can leave you with sticky dough that’s harder to work with but also gives you a smoother final product. By contrast, whole-wheat flour alone gives you a rough, heavy-end result. The trick is balancing the two.

Start by combining 700 grams all-purpose flour and 300 grams whole-wheat flour. This mixture (with 10 medium eggs) makes a great base for vegetable pasta — a simple zucchini e pomodori pachini, for example.

Eggs lead us to the matter of water and fat. An average egg weighs about 60 grams — 10 percent (6 grams) from the shell, 30 percent (18 grams) from the yolk, and the rest — 60 percent (36 grams) from the white.

About half of the yolk is water (the rest is protein and fat), while the white is 90 percent water. I’m not a big fan of numbers, but they’re helpful when it comes to understanding what makes pasta tick.

If you follow the recipe I mentioned above each person ends up eating about half an egg. But start playing with egg quantity and that changes.

If you wanted to make a rich egg yolk pasta, you could modify the recipe this way:

  • 800 grams all-purpose flour.

  • 200 grams whole-wheat flour.

  • 500 grams egg yolks (about 25 yolks).

  • 100 grams water.

If you’re working the pasta by hand, this will take awhile and really wear on your arms. But the end result, made thinner and thinner with your pasta machine (or rolling pin), sticks together very well.

While the pasta is delicious, it can overwhelm certain dishes. It’s great with butter and sage, or truffles, say, but the pasta’s egg flavor overwhelms lighter condiments.

Another point: This kind of pasta dough has about three egg yolks per portion. If you remember our earlier numbers, all the fat and most of an egg’s protein is in the yolk.

Those who want a lighter pasta that still maintains some of egg pasta’s silkiness can try using just whites. This way:

  • 500 grams all-purpose flour.

  • 500 grams whole-wheat flour.

  • 400 grams egg white (about 11 eggs).

  • 30 grams olive oil.

The olive oil helps add some fat content, and since egg whites are swelled with water you need the whole-wheat flour to get smooth, workable dough.

This pasta dough goes well with tomatoes and basil. The extra grain in the pasta serves as a hearty backdrop to contrasting acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes.

If you want to eliminate eggs altogether you can go with a simple flour and water mix. Just combine two parts flour and one part water (i.e. 1 kg flour for .5 liter of water) in a bowl, stir with a fork until it’s mixed enough to remove from the bowl, and work the dough on a counter until it’s a homogenous mass.

Pasta made just with flour and water dries out quickly you need to work it into the shapes of your choosing immediately, unlike egg pasta which needs to “relax” for half an hour or so before working it.

About the Author:

Sam was born and raised in New York, N.Y., and made his first trip to Rome during his freshman year of high school, and from there his interest for the city only grew. After studying Classics and Art History at Davidson College, he seized the opportunity to return to Rome for a summer internship in 2008. Not finding two months sufficient time to delve into the city's history and culture, Sam remained in Rome. He now leads private tours, is developing the website YounginRome, and works as an apprentice in a well known restaurant.