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This Italian-Inspired Lemon Ricotta Cake Is the Loveliest Breakfast

With bright notes of citrus and richness from ricotta, this subtly sweet cake is what we want to eat for breakfast every day.

Side view of Lemon Ricotta Cake
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

I asked my three-year-old daughter Hazel what she liked most about Italy after her first visit. Her answer was immediate: “Cake for breakfast.” During our trip to Polignano a Mare, a town in Puglia, our Italian hosts offered us a bevy of cakes every morning. Each was decidedly better than soggy cereal and milk: a chocolate torte dusted with cocoa powder, an apricot-studded almond cake, and my favorite, a moist, lemon-kissed ricotta sponge that I continued to think about long after my return home to Massachusetts, so much so that I sought to recreate it myself. 

Breakfast in Italy is typically a simple affair, consisting of a coffee—usually an espresso or cappuccino—with a small sweet treat, be it a cornetto, biscuit, or slice of cake. This is how plenty of Italians start their day each morning, and though some “might confuse it for a deeply rooted, centuries-long tradition,” writes Katie Parla for Eater, it’s a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the 1950’s, breakfast in Italy—at least for the common folk—wasn’t eaten for pleasure; it was merely a way to fill up on calories before a long day of labor. It wasn’t unusual for the meal to consist of leftovers from the night before or ingredients that were about to spoil, like cheese, dairy, or bits of stale bread soaked in milk.

According to Parla, “Italy’s post-war economic boom, coupled with growing urban populations, caused radical shifts in Italy’s food systems and dining customs, including the way Italians procured breakfast.” More Italians began breaking their fast outside the home with a coffee and pastry. Though the biscuit remains an Italian breakfast staple, many also choose to start their day with a slice of cake. 

Rustic cakes made with nut meals are popular throughout Italy, with so many versions from region to region, town to town, and household to household that it'd be a life's work to document them all. Examples include the mandorlaccio, a domed flourless cake made with ground almonds and sweetened with honey; ciambella alla ricotta, a ring-shaped breakfast cake with ricotta; and the torta di nocciole delle Langhe, made from the famed hazelnuts of Piedmont.

This particular recipe goes by the name torta ricotta di mandorle e limone (almond, lemon, and ricotta cake) in Italy, which seems to take many forms based on the recipes I've seen for it online. Mine is heavily inspired by the one I enjoyed in Puglia, but isn't an exact replica since that one didn't include almonds. The cake isn’t flashy; it has no frosting or filling, just powdered sugar lightly sifted over its golden-brown dome to complement the richness and subtle sweetness of ricotta.

Overhead view of lemon ricotta cake being slices
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Perfecting the Lemon Ricotta Cake

Though the hosts brought out the same cake each day (with more and more slices missing each time…), it never seemed to stale. Somehow, it remained moist and tender, and I suspected the ricotta kept it that way. It appeared to be a simple cake. How hard could it be to recreate?

I should have known I was being foolish.

The cake appeared simple, but simple recipes are often the hardest to get right. Unlike an elaborate cake with fondant or buttercream decorations to distract you from its imperfections, a straightforward cake leaves you with nowhere to hide. Needless to say, I ran into some snags. 

I started with an almond-free recipe that included all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, eggs, ricotta, and lemon juice and zest. It tasted pretty good, but its interior was riddled with irregular holes and tunnels. Tunneling can be caused by several things: overmixing the batter and overdeveloping the gluten, an improper ratio of sugar to fat to flour, or ingredients that are at the wrong temperature. (As Stella mentioned in her classic butter cake recipe, eggs that are too cold can curdle a batter, breaking its emulsion and causing tunneling.)

I tweaked and tweaked. I mixed the batter by hand instead of using the stand mixer, I added yolks, used fewer eggs, and even strained the ricotta. Influenced by some of the cakes I’d eaten in Italy, I replaced some of the all-purpose flour with almond flour. Still, the tunnels persisted. 

What ultimately fixed the issue was mixing for longer. I was so concerned about developing gluten that I’d been undermixing the batter. The cake didn’t have too much gluten—it had too little. Gluten is a network of protein molecules that provides many baked goods with their structure and chew; work your dough too much, and you may have an unpleasant, rubbery bite. Beat your cake batter too little, and you won’t have enough structure to hold the cake up. The result is a dense bake with a sunken center that won’t rise properly—even with the use of leavening agents like baking powder. 

Beating for longer seemed to help ensure the cake was properly emulsified and, though we can’t say for sure this method increased the amount of gluten developed, the batter was a much better consistency and baked into a fluffy, tender cake. Unlike my other batters, which had dry clumps as I folded the ricotta and flour in by hand, this one was smooth and satiny.

There was still a part of me that wanted to reduce the risk of developing too much gluten, which can happen in the minute you turn your back. As mentioned in this Serious Eats primer on gluten, higher protein flours tend to “develop stronger and more complex gluten networks.” All-purpose flour can range from 10 to 12% protein (Gold Medal and Pillsbury are 10-11%; King Arthur is 11.7%), while cake flour usually runs from 7 to 9% protein. Using a combination of cake flour and almond flour minimized the possibility of the cake becoming tough and rubbery, and allowed us to beat the batter enough to ensure it emulsified properly.

Side view of Lemon Ricotta Cake
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Picking the Right Ricotta

Just as important was the question of what kind of ricotta to use: Unfortunately, a lot of the ricotta sold in the States is very low quality. Because so much of the cake’s flavor comes from ricotta, I recommend using the best you can find. Traditionally, ricotta is made by carefully heating whey leftover from cheesemaking to a precise temperature, usually between 175 and 185ºF (79 and 85ºC). Most mass-produced ricotta, however, is the result of adding acid to whole or skim milk. While it’s possible to get fluffy curds when acidifying milk, there can be a big difference in quality in mass market ricotta, possibly because of additional gums or stabilizers or the standard of milk used. You’ll want to look for sweet, creamy ricotta with soft curds—as Kenji wrote in his ricotta taste test, chalky ricotta is a sign the milk was “too hot or agitated too much during production, causing the proteins to tighten up into rubbery bundles.” 


While I love having this cake for breakfast alongside a cappuccino, it’s great any time of day. You won’t find anyone eating it for dessert in Italy, but if you decide to have a slice after dinner… your secret’s safe with me. 

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 325°F (160°C). Using nonstick baking spray, lightly grease a 9-inch aluminum cake pan and line with parchment paper.

Overhead view of lining a cake pan with parchment paper
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine; set aside.

Overhead view of mixing dry ingredients together
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine granulated sugar, light brown sugar, butter, and lemon zest. Mix on medium speed until incorporated, about 1 minute, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula halfway through.

Two image collage of ingredients in a stand mixer bowl before and after being mixed
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Reduce speed to medium-low and add eggs one at a time, letting each fully incorporate before adding the next. Add ricotta and increase speed to medium, beating until incorporated, about 1 minute. (The mixture may look broken, this is okay.) Stop the mixer and add the flour all at once. Mix on low speed for 15 seconds to just incorporate, then increase speed to medium and beat until batter is well-combined and smooth, about 30 seconds.

Four image collage of adding ingredients to stand mixer
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Using a flexible spatula, transfer batter to the prepared cake pan and smooth the top.

Overhead view of smoothing cake batter
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Bake until top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, with just a few moist crumbs attached, 65 to 75 minutes.

Overhead view of baked cake
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Cool cake directly in the pan for 1 hour, then run an offset spatula or butter knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a large plate or wire rack, peel off the parchment, and flip cake right side up. Allow cake to cool completely.

Two image collage of running a knife along the edges and flipping cake onto plate
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift powdered sugar over cake. Slice and serve.

Overhead view of dusting cake with sugar
Serious eats / Maureen Celestine

Special Equipment

9-inch aluminum cake pan, parchment paper, whisk, stand mixer, flexible spatula, fine-mesh sieve

Make-Ahead and Storage

Cake can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 3 days. Sift a little extra powdered sugar over top right before serving.

Why You Need a Stack of Quarter Sheet Pans in Your Kitchen

Half the size of half-sheet pans, quarter sheet pans easily fit in a toaster oven and are useful for roasting, baking, mise en place, and more.

Why You Need a Stack of Quarter Sheet Pans in Your Kitchen
Serious Eats / Alli Waataja

The best pans in my kitchen are my quarter sheet pans. I have a stack of them, ready and waiting for both everyday cooking and larger culinary projects. What is a quarter sheet pan? It’s the miniature version of the classic 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet (which is called a half-sheet pan because it’s half the size of the even larger commercial-use full-sheet tray).

Rimmed baking sheets are first and foremost for the oven. The standard half-sheet tray is so popular because it fits perfectly in most home ovens with just the right amount of room on all sides to promote air and heat circulation. While I value my half-sheet pans dearly and use them for all sorts of things—think one-pan dinners and roasting large foods—my quarter sheets get even more play. You can fit two of the smaller pans side-by-side on the same oven rack. This is ideal for roasting more than one thing if you don't want them mingling on the same tray. For instance, maybe you want fish and some roasted potatoes, but don’t care for fishy spuds.

I use this parallel roasting technique when I’m prepping vegetables for the week. While a melange of roasted veggies is an excellent thing to have on hand, I prefer to have the different vegetables cooked and stored separately. This way, I can use them in various applications and ensure each type of vegetable is cooked properly. 

A quarter sheet pan is also great for heating up leftovers. As Daniel points out in his story about eighth pans, you have to pick the right size pan for the job. You don’t want too much extra space around the reheating food, as it just allows for more room for juices and sauces to run and burn. But, when I’m heating up leftovers for my family of three, the quarter sheet works perfectly.

Two balls of dough proofing in a sheet pan with a lid on it
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

I even recommend having at least three quarter sheet pans for making easy layer cakes. The 1-inch depth is perfect for creating even layers of cake to slather with frosting and stack on top of one another. It’s so much easier than making a round layer cake and you don’t have to mess with torting a thicker cake (slicing it horizontally into even layers) or waiting around for your pans to cool to bake subsequent layers. 

Quarter sheet pans are heroes outside of the oven, too. I do the majority of my mise en place on quarter sheets because they easily fit in my home refrigerator. Unlike a half-sheet pan, the quarter sheets also fit in my freezer. This is really helpful when I want to flash-freeze things on a flat surface–like fragile raspberries or balls of cookie dough–before bagging them up in freezer bags for long-term storage. 

My kids also have their own uses for quarter sheets: They make the ultimate movie night snack trays. We load up a tray for each person with little piles of their favorite treats for personalized snacking bliss. Quarter sheets are kind of the perfect TV dinner tray, too.

cooked pieces of chicken on a quarter sheet tray
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Even if I’m not doing the actual cooking on a quarter sheet pan, I take advantage of its heat-handling prowess. Moving pancakes off the griddle as they finish cooking? Removing seared meat from a Dutch oven? No matter the final destination, the quarter sheet pan is the best transitional vessel because of its ideal size–you can comfortably and stably hold it with one hand while maneuvering hot food with the other. Overturned quarter sheets also work well as trivets to protect your table from hot serving dishes and skillets.

two steaks on a quarter sheet pan with salt being sprinkled over them
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

When you’re done with your cooking, that’s when the quarter sheet pan really shines brighter than bigger baking pans. Whether you’ve used it for prep, roasting, baking, serving, or shuttling hot things around, it’s easy to clean. It fits into just about any sink, too. And once the quarter sheet pans are all scrubbed and dried, they stack up into a nice little pile, ready to be of service tomorrow.

FAQs

Can quarter sheet pans go in the dishwasher? 

You should always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before washing your sheet pans in the dishwasher. In general, we recommend hand washing sheet pans to preserve their finish and to prevent warping–over time, exposure to high dishwasher temperatures and harsh chemical detergents can harm some sheet pans.

Do quarter sheet pans fit in a toaster oven? 

A quarter sheet tray will fit in most, but not all toaster ovens. Our favorite toaster oven, the Breville Smart Oven, has room to spare around a quarter sheet tray; however, a quarter sheet would not fit in our favorite small toaster oven, the Panasonic FlashXpress

What’s the best quarter sheet pan? 

In our half-sheet pan testing, we found the Nordic Ware pans to be clear winners. We feel confident recommending their smaller-sized pans, too.

Italian-American Beef Braciole

This Italian-American beef braciole recipe features thin slices of beef topped with a savory breadcrumb filling and prosciutto, that’s rolled up and braised in a tomato sauce.

Overhead view of beef braciole
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

At its core, braciole is a kind of involtini—a stuffed and rolled piece of meat. The details that define braciole can vary by region in Italy, and even by household. The meat type (pork or beef), the rolling size (one larger roll to share or smaller individual bundles), cooking method (braised, pan-fried, or grilled) and seasoning elements (breadcrumbs, chunks of cheese, or fresh herbs) are examples of the different directions this seemingly simple meat bundle recipe can take.

The version I have created here is inspired by the Italian-American versions I enjoyed at friend’s houses and restaurants where I grew up in New Jersey. It has roots in a classic ragù napoletano, where meat is slowly simmered in a tomato sauce until tender, then served separately—the meat on a platter with some sauce, and the rest of the sauce used to dress pasta. Thin slices of beef are sprinkled with a seasoned breadcrumb filling and topped with a delicate slice of cured meat like prosciutto, all rolled together, tied up, and slowly braised in a simple tomato sauce until the meat practically melts in your mouth. It's a truly comforting meal worthy of a Sunday supper. 

One of the biggest divides in the Italian-American braciole world centers around which cut of beef to use. The two main camps are those that favor flank steak and those that prefer top round. If you use flank steak, you place the filling over the large piece of meat—which has been butterflied and pounded thin—and roll it up into one big roulade. The entire rolled-up roast braises in one large piece before being sliced to serve. This is a great option for a larger group of people and for a satisfyingly showy presentation. 

Rolling individual bundles of beef Braciole
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

The other common way to make braciole is to use the top round cut of beef, which is a little less expensive than flank steak. Instead of being prepared as one long, thin roast, top round is sliced and pounded into multiple smaller steaks that are then rolled into individual bundles. They make for a fun and accessible assembly, while yielding enough for a family-sized meal. 

I tested many versions of this recipe with both flank steak and top round beef slices, and found that while flank steak has great flavor, the texture is never “spoon tender,” which is my standard for success. I want the meat to be so freakin’ tender that you can literally eat it with a spoon. Every version of braciole with flank steak I cooked up was stringy and required a knife and fork, even after three hours in the oven. I decided flank steak was not the right cut for my recipe.

The top loin, on the other hand, is a tighter-grained piece of meat that can easily be cut into individual steaks (or purchased as pre-sliced steaks) and then pounded thin. It gets incredibly soft after braising in sauce for two or more hours. But, you need to keep an eye on the texture, since it can dry out and become tough if overcooked. In testing, I left one batch in the oven for three hours to see what would happen, and I found that while the flavor was great, the meat had turned dry.

With my braciole meat selected, I focused on the filling. I found a mixture of breadcrumbs flavored with fresh garlic, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, pine nuts, and a little crushed red pepper was assertive enough in flavor to hold up to the braised beef.

Mis en place of ingredients for beef braciole
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

But, it turns out it doesn’t matter how good the filling tastes if most of it remains on the cutting board. My first attempts met this flawed fate. I at first layered the prosciutto directly on the steak with the breadcrumbs on top. As I rolled the steak up, the breadcrumbs spilled out and ended up all over my cutting board, leaving little inside the actual roll. Reversing the layering solved the problem: By placing the breadcrumbs directly on the steaks, and then the prosciutto, the breadcrumbs were held in place as I rolled the braciole up.

As much as the rolled meat is the centerpiece of the dish, I find the sauce to be the real star. Made from a simple base of onion, garlic, and white wine mixed with whole, peeled tomatoes, the sauce transforms into a meaty, velvety, rich sauce after simmering gently with the meat. It's an essential part of the dish, so make sure to serve the braciole with plenty of extra sauce on top. And if you have any left over, save it to dress your next bowl of pasta. 

Arrange oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

 For the Braciole: In a medium bowl, add breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper flakes and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Two image collage of filling before and after being mixed in a bowl
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

If using a top round roast, slice roast into six 1/2 -inch slices. If using pre-sliced beef, skip to Step 5.

Overhead view of slicing top round into thin slices
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Lay steak slices 3 inches apart on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Using meat pounder, flatten slices into rough rectangles measuring no more than 1/4 inch thick.

Overhead view of pounding steaks
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Spread the reserved breadcrumb mixture evenly over steaks, then place 1 slice of prosciutto over each breadcrumb-topped steak, folding prosciutto to fit and pressing firmly into steak. Being careful to keep filling in place and starting from a short end of each steak, roll each steak to form a small bundle. Tie each bundle with 2 pieces of kitchen twine to secure.

Four image collage of assembling braciole bundles
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

For the Sauce: In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add braciole bundles and brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer browned braciole to a clean plate; set aside.

Two image collage of braciole bundles browning in pan
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Add onion and salt to the now-empty pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until mixture reduces by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and water. Nestle the browned braciole bundles into the sauce and bring the sauce to a simmer.

Four image collage of cooking onions, adding tomatoes, and adding beef braciole to the sauce
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Cover the pan with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Cook, covered, flipping braciole halfway through, for 90 minutes. Carefully remove the lid, flip the braciole again, and continue to cook until the meat is fully tender and sauce thickened to gravy-like consistency, 15 to 45 minutes longer.

Flipping braciole halfway through
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Season sauce with salt to taste. Use scissors to cut off twine around each bundle. Transfer braciole to a large serving platter or individual plates and spoon sauce overtop. Serve.

Overhead view of beef braciole
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Special Equipment

12-inch oven-safe sauté pan with lid, butchers twine, meat pounder (if slicing steaks yourself)


Notes

I strongly encourage you ask your butcher to slice the beef for you, or use thin pre-sliced top round steaks, sometimes sold as “braciole steaks,” can be found in some supermarkets, Italian grocers, or butchers. If cutting steaks from a top round roast yourself, look for a longer, oval shaped roast to create longer thin steaks for wrapping.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Cooked braciole with sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

How to Roast Spaghetti Squash

Perfectly roasted spaghetti squash is crisp-tender with a neutral flavor that is great simply as is or tossed with your favorite sauce. The secret to success is in our unusual cutting method.

Overhead view of spaghetti squash on a blue plate
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

A dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a professional recipe-writer, visited while I was knee-deep in development for this recipe. She looked around my kitchen, stocked with a dozen spaghetti squashes and littered with scribbled-on testing notepads, and assured me she could help with the project. I looked at her with hopeful eyes, as I was in dire need of an aha! moment. This was her professional advice: “Take the spaghetti squash, throw it in the trash, and cook up a box of real spaghetti.” 

While she didn’t get me any closer to closing the case of the perfect roasted spaghetti squash recipe, she did help me arrive at an important realization. Spaghetti squash is not, and will never be, a proper spaghetti substitute. Let’s let go of that unrealistic ambition off the bat. It will never be doughy, silky, or springy. As Daniel reminds us in his spaghetti squash slaw recipe, spaghetti squash is a member of the cucurbita family, and has textures, flavors, and aromas reminiscent of its cousin, the cucumber. The plant is not one bit wheat adjacent, so we shouldn’t fault it for not being pasta-y any more than we would long strands of human hair (which, for the record, also make for a terrible pasta substitute).

Spaghetti squash on a cutting board
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

When roasted, the squash's flesh shreds into strands that have a mild and slightly sweet flavor. The texture should be uniformly crisp-tender with every bit. But I’ve found in my spaghetti squash cooking experience that the texture can vary greatly  depending on how you prepare and cook it. Of all the varieties of squash I’ve cooked in my career, spaghetti squash is the most challenging. You could cook three different squash and have three totally different results: One may roast up soft and tender, the next wet and mushy, and the third turn out downright crunchy. Once during testing I somehow roasted a squash where the roasted strands were both raw and over-cooked at the same time! It made for an unpleasant eating experience.

After cooking my way through these unpleasant trials, I eventually was able to produce consistently good results. I found a method that created long, distinct, fluffy strands of spaghetti squash with an al dente texture in every strand. No, these successful tests didn’t magically produce squash that tasted like spaghetti, but I did produce perfectly roasted al dente spaghetti squash that would absorb and cling well to a range of flavorful sauces or dressings, which, as much as I'm loathe to admit, is at least in that way similar to real spaghetti.

What to Look for When Buying Spaghetti Squash

You can find spaghetti squash year-round in most grocery stores, but its peak season runs from early fall through winter. In general, you want to look for a firm, odorless squash without spots on the flesh. If you’re following this recipe, look for a squash between three and three-and-a-half pounds. If you’re preparing more than one squash at once, make sure they are similar in size so they roast at the same rate.

I learned the hard way that even if it looks, feels, and smells like a healthy, fresh squash, there could still be a bad apple–or in this case, squash–in the bunch. One time I sliced a good-looking squash open to find strands that had already shredded themselves–they were falling off as I de-seeded the raw inner cavity. I went ahead and roasted it anyway. When I tasted it, I was sure I had some sort of cleaning chemical residue on my fork. The flavor was acrid and astringent. After a little research, I learned why this happened. 

It turns out winter squashes aren’t the rough and tumble cold-lovers I thought they were. As Harold McGee points out in On Food and Cooking, they are best stored at a temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit or they can suffer from “cold injury” (On Food and Cooking, 333). If a winter squash experiences extreme cold (or other environmental stressor), it may produce increased levels of cucurbitacin, a chemical found in this family of plants that, you guessed it, has an extremely bitter flavor. I don’t know if that particularly awful squash described above had a problematic past in a chilly field or if it was accidentally refrigerated during transport or storage, but it certainly had signs of “cold injury.” Luckily, the extremely bitter spaghetti squash is the exception and not the rule.

How to Cut Spaghetti Squash for Roasting

In the early stages of my testing, I routinely cut the elongated oval-shaped squash lengthwise. This is how I’d been trained to cut other winter squashes, like butternut squash. However, I noticed that the roasted spaghetti squash strands were very short. After looking into the grain of how the strands run around the squash, I realized that they circled the squash like latitude lines on a globe. This meant I was unintentionally cutting them in half by slicing pole-to-pole (i.e., stem end to flower end). So, I experimented with cutting the squash crosswise, right across its equator. Sure enough, the resulting strands were twice as long as when I cut the squash lengthwise!

Cutting ends off of spaghetti squash
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

This was a nice start, but cutting the squash in half through the equator created a new problem: the narrow, deep bowls of each squash half trapped more moisture as they cooked. This led to uneven cooking. I tried pricking the skin with a fork to let the moisture escape, but it was hard to get the fork prongs all the way through the thick flesh and even once I managed it, the liquid wasn’t fully draining. Ultimately, I decided to cut off the stem and flower ends of the squash, which made two deep, hollow rings of squash. This allowed excess moisture to escape, which promoted even roasting, and avoided uneven steaming (from any trapped water) of the squash.

With this cutting method, I was able to get the longest spaghetti squash strands that were also perfectly cooked. 

Texture, Trials, and Tribulations

When roasting butternut or acorn squashes, you want deep, dark caramelization to accentuate their earthy and sweet flavors. But spaghetti squash has a subtle vegetable flavor with delicate floral flavor notes, which is very different from its fellow winter squash varieties. Less a flavor powerhouse in its own right, spaghetti squash is much better thought of as a neutral base for dressing and sauces. With this in mind, I knew that I was not trying to achieve deep browning like I would with other squash varieties, but instead a consistent al dente texture.

Roasted squash with ends cut off
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Ultimately, the best texture resulted from minimizing steam (by removing the ends of the squash) and the additional trick of seasoning the squash with salt only after it was cooked and shredded. I realized this second technique after seasoning the squash with salt before roasting, as one often does with food: the added salt just encouraged the squash to leach out more water during roasting, which we were trying to avoid. Plus I found that it was challenging to season the squash evenly due to its bowl-like shape. Once the squash was roasted and shredded, it was easier to sprinkle salt all over every strand and toss to combine. I now had well seasoned, crisp-tender roasted spaghetti squash ready to pair with a sauce of my choosing, or or even with a little butter or olive oil simply as-is.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Cut off both ends (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from each end) of the spaghetti squash, so you can just see the opening of the seed cavity. Discard squash ends. Cut squash in half crosswise through its equator, then scrape out and discard seeds and any loose stringy fibers. Drizzle with oil, rubbing all over until both flesh and skin of squash are evenly coated. Arrange squash halves, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet.

Four image collage of cutting squash in half, scooping out seeds, brushing with oil and putting on baking sheet
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Roast squash until its flesh is fork-tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Roasted squash on baking sheet
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Use a fork to separate and loosen the squash flesh from the skins. Discard skins. Using 2 forks, gently separate flesh into long spaghetti-like strands. Transfer strands of spaghetti squash to a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or sauce of your choosing. Serve.

Two image collage of separating skin and shredding into spaghetti strands
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Notes

The roasted spaghetti squash can be tossed with a flavorful sauce in a skillet over high heat to coat and warm through, or tossed with a vinaigrette and cooled down for a refreshing salad.

This recipe can be doubled and all four squash halves cooked on one baking sheet.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Roasted squash can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Pappardelle With Tuscan Pork Ragù

This shredded pork sauce is rich and herbaceous, and pairs perfectly with thick, fresh pappardelle noodles.

Overhead view of pappardelle with pork ragu
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Pappardelle, Tuscany, and ragù di cinghiale (wild boar sauce) are all linked together in my memory of my time living and cooking in Italy. Just thinking about wide, satiny, egg-rich pasta ribbons tossed in meaty, herby, Chianti-kissed sauce transports me back to Siena. I wish I could recreate this iconic dish exactly as I remember it, back home in the U.S., but I just don’t cross paths with any wild boar on my little island off of Cape Cod.

Making the pappardelle is manageable, even here in America. Use good eggs, plenty of yolks, knead the dough lovingly, roll it paper-thin, and use a sharp knife to cut the noodles. Check. But, making ragù di cinghiale without the cinghiale is a much more intimidating task. Could good ‘ol American pork work in a traditional Tuscan wild boar sauce? I set out to at least give it a whirl. 

An Unexpected Substitute for Wild Boar

While my experiences in Tuscany with ragù di cinghiale revolve around the named star ingredient of wild boar, I knew that for this recipe I would need to substitute with a more widely available cut of pork. My instinct when I started my recipe testing was to use pork shoulder in place of wild boar. Since I knew I would be marinating the pork and slow-cooking it, I thought pork shoulder would perform well. When cooked slowly, the large amounts of connective tissue in the shoulder break down while the fat slowly renders, to create soft, shreds of pork fit for a spoonable sauce. I got a picnic shoulder and cooked the heck out of it, low and slow. The results were mixed. Some parts were really tender and delicious but others were dry and almost stringy. Also, using a larger sized shoulder cut was just too much meat for the final amount of sauce I wanted to make. The amount of pork in the sauce needed to perfectly cling to the pappardelle noodles without overwhelming the pasta. 

Close up view of pappardelle with pork
Serious Eats /Lorena Masso

In a funny turn of events, there was an epic sale on St. Louis–cut ribs at my local grocery store that caught my eye. Although I hadn’t envisioned using ribs for this project, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. One rack of ribs was convenient from a purchasing perspective, plus I knew that a rib rack simmered and braised in an aromatic sauce for a long period of time would render shreddable meat, and a sauce well flavored from all of the rib bones, collagen, and connective tissue. I cut the rack into three equally sized sections so they would easily fit into a pot, then marinated and cooked them on the bone. The results were great! The pork was consistently tender and rich, and infused with the flavorful wine marinade. Most importantly, the rib meat broke down into perfectly-sized shreds that clung to the pappardelle when twirled on a fork.

When a Marinade Is More Than Just a Marinade

Almost all the Tuscan recipes I came across for ragù di cinghiale started off by marinating the wild boar overnight. This serves two purposes; it tenderizes the meat and tempers the gamey flavor of the boar. Applying this treatment to our supermarket rack of ribs might not be necessary, but it couldn’t hurt to try. I mixed garlic, juniper berries, black peppercorns, and bay leaves into the better part of a bottle of Tuscan red wine and let the pork soak in it overnight before I prepared my ragù. 

I also experimented with adding different amounts of red wine in the marinade; while I wanted the final sauce to have an undeniably wine-forward flavor, I did not want it to taste astringent or sour. And, I certainly didn’t want to ask home cooks to open more than one bottle of wine for cooking. A little more than two cups cups of red wine relative to the quantity of pork was enough to coat the meat and develop robust flavor in the marinade without letting any go to waste.  

Even with a moderate amount of wine in the marinade, it still seemed a shame to discard it the next day and use fresh wine for the braise (something many recipes do), especially once it is infused with all those great aromatic notes from the garlic and spices. Rather than pouring it down the drain, I strained the marinade and added that to the sauce to simmer the pork in. This developed great flavor and was a smart and efficient way to build flavor into my sauce.

Finding the Right Balance In the Final Sauce 

The Tuscan boar ragù this recipe is based on often incorporates a few key herbs and spices, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and juniper among them. Bay leaves and black peppercorns are easy enough, and add a welcome complexity to the sauce. But why the juniper berries? They are a staple in Tuscan stews and meaty sauces. And as Max Falkowitz informs us in his Spice Hunting story, “It [juniper] tastes something like rosemary crossed with a berry. Its resinous-but-not-too-piney flavor is the perfect thing to cut through fat or otherwise overwhelmingly strong flavors. It's most at home with game, be it avian or mammal, as it subdues excessive gaminess and practically transports tasters to 4 a.m. hunting grounds.” Yeah, so maybe we do need these berries to do their magic and give this grocery store pork a pseudo-cinghiale vibe. 

The final element of the sauce that I had to figure out was the tomato. The sauce should be both assertively meaty and wine-y, and when I first cooked a version of this ragù with a big 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, the flavors I had developed with the overnight wine marinade were overshadowed by the tinned tomatoes. After a long simmer, the tomatoes became thick and jammy–not what we want here. Swapping out half of the tomatoes for chicken broth resulted in a much more balanced sauce where the savory flavors of the pork, wine, and aromatics could shine.

For the Marinade: In a large bowl, mix together the wine, garlic, salt, juniper berries, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Add the rib pieces to the marinade, making sure they are fully submerged. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.

Overhead view of pork in marinade
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

For the Ragù: Remove ribs from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade and discard solids. Set strained marinade aside.

Straining marinade
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In a large Dutch oven or deep sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, brown the rib pieces, meaty side down, and cook until well browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer browned ribs to a clean plate and set aside.

Two image collage of pork browning in dutch oven
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In now-empty Dutch oven, add remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrots, celery, and onion, and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, garlic, sage, and rosemary and cook until the mixture is fragrant and the paste begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved strained marinade, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until mixture is reduced slightly and thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth and return to a boil.

Four image collage of overhead view of carrots, onions, celery and marinade cooking
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Nestle ribs and their juices, meaty side down, into the sauce, cover Dutch oven, reduce heat to low and cook until pork is fully tender and falls off the bones, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Overhead view of adding ribs to dutch oven
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Remove and discard rosemary sprig. Transfer ribs to a clean plate and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred meat, discard the bones, and return shredded meat to sauce. Simmer ragù over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until ragù is reduced to a saucy consistency, about 10 minutes.

Four image collage of ribs removed, shredded, and returned to pot
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

For the Pappardelle: In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta. If using fresh pasta, cook until noodles are barely cooked through. If using dry pasta, cook until just shy of al dente (1 to 2 minutes less than the package directs). Using tongs or a spider skimmer, transfer pasta to ragù in Dutch oven along with 1/2 cup (120ml) pasta cooking water. Alternatively, drain pasta using a colander or fine-mesh strainer, making sure to reserve at least 2 cups (500ml) pasta cooking water.

Adding pappardelle pasta to ragu
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat and cook, stirring and tossing pasta until it is al dente and ragù clings to the noodles, about 1 minute. Add pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup (60ml) increments to thin sauce, if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide pasta between individual serving bowls. Serve.

Mixing pasta into ragu
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Special Equipment

Large Dutch oven or deep sauté pan, large pot

Notes

Passata di pomodoro is a cooked tomato puree that can be made at home, or jarred versions can be found at most supermarkets.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The ragù can be cooked (through step 6), cooled, and refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. When reheating ragù, thin with water as needed to reach desired consistency.

Creamy Corn Dip With Feta, Mint, and Tomatoes

This joyously vibrant corn dip is loaded with sweet, fresh, briny, and herbal flavors, and unlike many others, it doesn’t seize up and turn to rubber as it cools.

Overhead view of corn dip
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

When it’s good, summer corn doesn’t need much in terms of culinary meddling. A quick steam, a swipe of butter, and a sprinkling of salt are all it takes to enjoy corn at its sweetest and freshest. But for parties and picnics, a composed dish of corn is sometimes preferable to everyone gnawing on cobs, and corn dip is one great way to go. Rich and satisfying, this hot corn dip is nothing like the sour cream-and-mayonnaise–drenched renditions you may be familiar with. Instead, it relies on cream cheese, feta, and half-and-half for its luxuriously creamy texture and balanced salty-sweet flavor, and a topping of mint, olives, and cherry tomatoes for freshness. 

Taking a dip of corn dip
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Reconsidering Your Go-To Corn Dip Dairy

I have some experience with the cheeses typically used in hot dips, which are often made from cream cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, and Monterey Jack. These dips are often good right out of the oven—they're melty and offer up delightful cheese pulls, but within minutes they become stiff and congealed, making it difficult and messy to scoop with a cracker. After several rounds of my own testing in search of a solution to this, I decided to skip the “cheese pull” moment and prioritize creamy and dip-able longevity instead.

I knew I wanted a cheese that didn’t become so elastic once heated, since that usually means it'll suffer a rubbery fate once it begins cooling back down to room temperature. Here’s where feta comes in: The meltability and stretchiness of cheese depends on many factors, including age, acidity, and chemical composition. In feta's case, its relatively high water content and high acidity (it has a pH around 4.5) means it doesn't truly melt and flow into a gooey pool when heated. Instead, feta softens and becomes incredibly creamy, making it an ideal cheese to use in a hot dip. Feta also packs a briny punch that perfectly complements the sweetness of fresh corn.

Mise en place of ingredients for corn dip
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

A corn dip with just feta, though, would be too salty and not quite creamy enough. It needs a partner to help balance its salinity. By using equal parts feta and cream cheese along with half a cup of half-and-half, I was able to strike a balance of flavors and textures: briny but not overwhelmingly so, and creamy and flowing, neither too watery nor threatening to turn into rubber as the heat fades. 

The process of combining the feta, cream cheese, and half-and-half can be an annoying one, as cream cheese resists thinning with more liquid ingredients. To make this recipe as painless as possible, I came up with a method in which you scatter cold chunks of cream cheese around the bottom of the baking dish, then add everything else, and give it a good mix partway through baking; by waiting until heated, you're able to blend the three types of dairy effortlessly.  A thorough mixing halfway through baking, when the cream cheese was sufficiently melted by the oven heat, made easy work of combining everything together.

Oregano and red onion baked into the creamy base further enhance the overall flavor of the dip.

Preparing the Corn

I played around with pre-cooking the corn under the broiler and in a hot pan on the stovetop, with the hope that I could develop a roasted flavor for the dip. While the broiler in particular gave the corn some nice char, both pre-cooking methods ultimately produced a dip in which the corn was overcooked and too soft. My preference in the end was to just add raw kernels to the dip and bake it all together at a moderate 350ºF (180ºC) for 30 minutes, which yields kernels with a sweet corn flavor while retaining just enough freshness for them to pop in every bite.

The Topping

As-is, the corn dip I'd developed was wonderfully creamy and bursting with a complex flavor of sweet, fresh corn balanced by a subtle briny edge. But it still needed something to make it truly sing. I settled on an unconventional (at least as far as corn dips go) topping of vibrant fresh mint, olives (to pick up on the feta's underlying brininess), and juicy cherry tomatoes. It's a Mediterranean twist on an American classic, and wow does it work.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Using your fingers, break up the cream cheese into dollops and evenly distribute around the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish.

Overhead view of cream cheese broken up into clumps
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In a large bowl, combine the corn, feta, half-and-half, and red onion with 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, and a generous grinding of black pepper. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the mixture into the baking dish over the cream cheese.

Four image collage of ingredients for corn dip in a bowl being mixed and then spread over cream cheese in baking dish
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Transfer baking dish to oven and bake until the cream cheese has softened, 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and use the silicone spatula to stir the cream cheese into the corn mixture until fully incorporated, making sure to scrape up all the cream cheese from the bottom and corners of the dish. Return baking dish to the oven and continue to bake until the dip begins bubbling around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Corn dip in oven
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Remove the dish from the oven and, using the spatula, stir the dip together again. Season to taste with salt to taste, if needed, and top with olives, tomatoes, mint, and the remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil. Serve with crackers or pita chips.

Two image collage of stirring corn dip and finished dip topped with tomatoes and olives
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Special Equipment

8-inch square baking dish or other 2-quart capacity oven-safe dish, silicone spatula

Notes

Because different varieties of feta have different salinities, there’s no measured additional salt in this recipe. Taste the baked dip and season as needed before adding the fresh toppings. 

Pit-in olives are often better-quality than pre-pitted ones; we recommend buying pit-in olives and removing the pits yourself.

Make-Ahead and Storage

You can assemble the dip, cover the dish, and refrigerate it for up to 2 days before baking. When ready to cook, increase baking time to 45 minutes. Once baked and cooled, dip can be reheated in either the oven or microwave until hot in the center.

11 Pasta Tools That’ll Help You Go Beyond Homemade Fettucine or Lasagne

A pasta expert shares their tried-and-true tools for making pasta of all different shapes, including tortellini, gnocchi, and farfalle.

A hand rolling gnocchi on a gnocchi paddle.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Pasta is sublime in its simplicity: you truly need nothing more than flour, water, and your own hands. But just because it can be that minimalistic doesn’t mean it needs to be. There is a deep, exquisite rabbit hole you can go down exploring pasta-making tools. Some tools are ancient and soaked in Italian tradition, others are modern and made around the globe. Some tools are dedicated to one—and only one—type of pasta, while others are multifunctional. There are tools to speed up the process and those purely to add artistic flourish. And there are ones made from wood, metal, plastic, and even strings and twine. 

But which pasta-making tools should you have in your kitchen? That is completely dependent on what kind of shape you want to make…and your pasta dogma. I’ve talked to women in Southern Italy who literally scoff at the mention of new-age (meaning created in the last century or so) tools like electric pasta extruders and even manual cavatelli cranks. One pastaia I met on the streets of Bari showed me her great great grandmother's knife that she uses to scrape semolina and water dough nuggets into orecchiette. The handle had broken off and the exposed shaft digs into her hand, but it was the only tool for her.

Like just about everything in Italy, pasta tools are incredibly regionally-specific and historically rooted. If you are still exploring and developing your own pasta exegesis, here’s a collection of pasta-making tools, some traditional and some quite modern (apologies to my Pugliese mentors) to check out.

What’s it for? Rolling out egg-rich pasta dough to make shapes such as tagliatelle, tortellini, ravioli, and cappellacci (to name just a very few shapes that start with a thin sheet of pasta dough). 

How is it used? Do Italians really have a rolling pin specifically for pasta? Yes, yes they do. In fact, many pasta-makers have a whole set of mattarelli, increasing in length for rolling dough thinner and larger. Pasta rolling pins are longer than your average French or American-style pastry pin, smaller in diameter, and generally do not have handles. Some believe that rolling dough out by hand gives it a better finely textured surface that more effectively grabs and holds onto sauce. (Of course, If you don’t have enough elbow grease or the desire to roll pasta out by hand, check out our pasta makers roundup.)

Nests of fresh pasta ribbons on a wooden surface
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What’s it for? Trimming sheets of dough and/or cutting shapes like maltagliati, sagne ‘ncannulate, and tria (again, a very small selection of the countless shapes out there).  

How is it used? A wheel cutter makes quick work of trimming large sheets of pasta dough so you have clean edges on your noodles. You can choose either a fluted or straight cutting wheel (or get a double-headed cutter with both!). Or, if you want to quickly cut pasta sheets into strands like reginette or pappardelle, or make perfect parallelograms for shapes such as cappellacci or farfalle, consider a bicicletta (like this Marcato Atlas Pasta Cutter Bike) with multiple wheel blades that roll in unison.

a hand using a pastry wheel to trim ravioli
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What’s it for? Spaghetti alla chitarra. 

How is it used? This guitar-like pasta tool, originally from Abruzzo, consists of a rectangular wooden base with wires tautly strung from top to bottom. You place a piece of pasta dough on the strings and roll over it with a rolling pin (usually included with the chitarra). Once the strands are mostly cut through, strum the strings (like you would a guitar) to release them. The resulting noodles are slightly thicker than spaghetti and square in shape.

What’s it for? Gnocchi, cavatelli, gnocchetti sardi (malloreddus), and garganelli.

How is it used? This simple and affordable grooved wooden board is my number one tool suggestion for pasta-making enthusiasts. It’s so satisfying to watch a plain chunk of dough transform into a legit noodle by just rolling it with pressure along the board. Use it to make gnocchi (per the name), cavatelli, or malloreddus. Getting a board with a dowel allows you to make ridged tubular pasta shapes like garganelli and rigatoni.

Gnocchi rolled on a cutting board
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

What’s it for? Garganelli and maccheroni pettinati.

How is it used? I know I just said you could make garganelli on a gnocchi board, and it’s true. But if you want to get really authentic with your garganelli-making, you need this special pasta comb from Modena made of bamboo, twine, and wood (or, super-traditional, a restored weaving loom!). The groove imprints are more delicate and close together than those imparted by the wooden gnocchi board. You use the tool in a similar fashion, rolling dough with pressure down the comb.

What’s it for? Cavatelli, orecchiette, and gnocchetti.

How is it used? You can absolutely make cavatelli by hand on the counter (for smooth cavatelli lisci) or with a gnocchi board (for grooved cavatelli rigati). But, if you want to make a lot of cavatelli quickly, like you really want to crank them out, you might want to invest in a cavatelli machine. After rolling the semolina and water dough into a rope, you feed it through the machine while rotating the crank. This specific model has three inputs that allow you to make orecchiette and gnocchetti in addition to cavatelli.

What’s it for? Fusilli calabrese, busiate, bucatini, and maccheroni al ferro.

How is it used? This thin metal rod is traditionally used in Southern Italy to make long, tubular noodles by hand. You place a small length of dough on a wooden pasta board, then position the ferretto on top of the pasta. Using the flat palm of your hand and a swift rolling motion, you roll the rod and the dough together until it forms a noodle you can slide off of the ferretto.

A white bowl full of bucatini all'amatriciana
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What’s it for? Anolini.

How is it used? This tiny, sun-shaped stamp is used to cut anolini, little pasta packets filled with stewed meat originally from Emilia-Romagna. You can use cookie cutters or biscuit cutters to cut practically any shape of pasta ripiena (filled pasta). But brass stamps, made specifically for pasta, are ideal because of their fluted, sharp teeth that can cut through two layers of dough while simultaneously sealing the dough packet together.

a person using a cutter to stamp circles out of pasta dough
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What’s it for? Ravioletti (small ravioli).

How is it used? A mold aids in the ravioli-making process by creating little cavities in a sheet of dough for you to stuff with filling. After placing another sheet of dough over the tray, you use a rolling pin to fuse the two pieces of dough together around the filling; the grooves on the mold cut through the dough to make distinct ravioli. Tray molds are readily available in both square and circle shapes. However, if you want to keep descending down the ravioli rabbit hole, you can find tons of artisanal designs. Some molds imprint a pattern on the pasta border around the filling, some have multiple wells for different fillings in one raviolo, and some have novel shapes far beyond standard circles and squares.

Making ravioli with a ravioli mold.
Serious Eats / Niki Achitoff-Gray

What’s it for? Imprinting texture and patterns on pasta dough for many shapes.

How is it used? These carved, wooden boards are made specifically for pasta-making. You can place a sheet of dough on the board and roll over it with a rolling pin to imprint a design before cutting it into strands or other shapes. You can also roll nuggets of semolina and water dough on the cavarola board to create decorative forms of Southern Italian shapes like cavatelli and gnocchetti.

What’s it for? Corzetti.

How is it used? Corzetti are flat, round, medallion-like pasta coins that are made from flour, water, and white wine and are traditionally served with a walnut and marjoram pesto. They date back to the 14th century in Liguria and were originally embossed with a family’s coat of arms. These days, you can find corzetti stamps with just about any design or even commission your own custom stamp. The corzetti stamp is a two-piece tool. The bottom of one side of the stamp cuts a circle from the dough, then you sandwich the dough round between the two parts of the stamp, press down, and give it a small, forceful twist to imprint the pattern from each stamp onto both sides of the pasta coin.

FAQs

What are the best pasta cutting tools? 

The best pasta cutting tools are sharp, precise, durable, and able to make distinct cuts through at least two sheets of pasta dough at once (for filled pasta shapes). Well-made brass tools are often the best on the market due to the malleability of brass (which allows the tools to be precisely shaped and molded) and the heavy weight of the metal which aids in easy cutting. 

What are the essential tools you need for making pasta? 

You can make many pasta shapes (like capunti, pici, lorighittas, and anelli, just to name a few) with just your hands, flour, and water. Add a butter knife into that equation and you can make a bunch more (like orecchiette, cavatelli, and strascinate). So, “essential” is really specific to exactly the type of shapes you want to make. If you are making just about anything out of egg dough, you need a good rolling pin (or a special pasta mattarello) and/or a pasta maker so you can get a properly thin, even sfoglia (a sheet of rolled out pasta dough). To make the “rigati” shapes, or noodles with grooves to catch sauce, a gnocchi board is affordable and pretty simple to use. If you want to play around with tubular shapes, like garganelli and rigatoni, add a dowel (or preferably a few dowels so you can create different noodle diameters and dimensions) into your collection. For decorative pattern imprints on your pasta, invest in a cavarola board or corzetti stamp–and have fun with it! There are so many options out there both imported from Italy and domestically-crafted.

Biscuits and Gravy

A handful of ingredients and a well-seasoned cast iron skillet are all you need to make this Southern breakfast staple.

Overhead view of biscuits and gravy
Serious Eats / Amanda. Suarez

There was a time in my life when a plate of biscuits and gravy was my answer to a raging hangover, although, if I'm honest, it was often my southern friends who were battling through their own headaches to whip it up and I was the lucky recipient. I don’t find myself needing a hangover cure much these days, but I do still crave velvety, luscious sausage gravy spooned over warm biscuits. The challenge was recreating my memory of those pitch-perfect versions in my own kitchen. 

Made in a skillet with drippings, sausage gravy is creamy and savory and often served with tender, flaky biscuits for breakfast in the southern United States. According to Washington Post writer Aaron Hutcherson, the dish became popular sometime in the late 1800s in Southern Appalachia. The sauce—also known as sawmill gravy—was “the ideal cheap and calorie-dense fuel for sawmill workers lifting heavy logs all day long, and the perfect tool for making the era’s biscuits more palatable,” which were tougher and firmer than the biscuits of today. 

Once a dish reserved for poor, working class communities, sausage gravy and biscuits can now be found within the pages of cookbooks and on restaurant menus across the country. (Though the Southern writer John T. Edge once commented to the New York Times that you’d be unlikely to find recipes for the dish “because the Midwestern and Southern cooks who are most expert at those dishes rely upon muscle memory for guidance not cookbooks.”)

It's All in the Roux

At its most basic, sausage gravy is a white sauce (or béchamel) made with drippings and other fats. Most traditional Southern gravy recipes call for browning the sausage in butter, removing the meat with a slotted spoon, then leaving the fat behind in the pan to create a roux, a mixture of fat and flour used to thicken soups, stews, and sauces. Why use a roux and not just dump plain flour into a liquid as it simmers? As Daniel wrote previously in his guide to roux, not only does cooking the raw flavor out of the starch lead to a better-tasting final dish, but it also coats each individual starch granule in fat, which “helps them disperse more evenly when combined with a liquid, like stock or milk,” reducing the risk of lumps.

There are numerous factors that help determine the flavor and consistency of the final gravy. It starts with the roux—how much starch you’re using, the kind of fat you use, how long you cook the flour in the fat, and how dark you want the roux to get—and continues on to the choice of liquid (milk? broth?) and seasonings.

A traditional sawmill gravy uses milk as the liquid and involves making a white roux, which means we’re not allowing the fat and flour mixture to color at all. This maximizes the flour's liquid-thickening ability, as the longer it's toasted, the less effective of a thickener it becomes. We also need sausage that's fatty enough to render sufficient grease to make the roux's signature paste. Since it can be hard to know how much fat your sausage will yield when shopping at the market, I've added butter as an optional ingredient in this recipe, just in case your sausage is too lean and stingy on the fat.

The fat isn't just essential for the roux, it's also necessary for the taste of the gravy. Many aroma molecules are fat-soluble, meaning much of the sausage’s flavor will render out into the pan with the liquefying fat, perfect for infusing the final gravy with rich, savory notes. That said, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and too much fat in the pan will produce a gravy that's greasy and broken—if your sausage releases ample fat, there's no need to top it up with butter.

The Right Sausage to Use

In the South, there is a much wider selection of sausages made with different herbs and seasonings available at grocery stores. In other parts of the country, though, pork sausage options tend to sway Italian or are labeled “breakfast sausage” without much explanation. I tried several brands of breakfast links—casings removed—including ones packed in-house by grocery store deli departments, as well as the bulk Jimmy Dean brand breakfast sausage. 

Almost all of the breakfast sausage products included sugar, brown sugar, and/or corn syrup, and while the warm spices and sweetness definitely came through with each meat product, I needed an extra something to improve the overall flavor of the sausage. I took a note from Southern cookbook author Virginia Willis and cooked a finely diced onion with the sausage to add a savory depth to the sauce. This isn't something you'll see in many sausage and gravy recipes, but the onion is a welcome addition, its sweet flavor and silky softness a perfect complement to the breakfast sausage and gravy.

When we cook the sausage, we want to brown it well for roasted depth, courtesy of the Maillard reaction, a series of chemical reactions that occurs when proteins and sugars are transformed by heat, creating new aromas and flavors.

The Ideal Flour to Milk Ratio

How much flour you use per cup of milk will determine the thickness of your sauce. Using too much (or too little) starch can mean the difference between an unpleasantly viscous sauce and one that’s just a touch too runny. For sausage gravy, we’re looking for a silky, pourable consistency that’s still thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Using a tablespoon per cup of milk proved to be just the right amount; any more flour, and the mixture would have been too stiff to enjoy over biscuits, especially as it cools on the plate. 

To get to the ideal ratio, I started with 1/3 cup of flour and kept reducing the amount of flour in the recipe until I got to a sweet spot: 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour per 1 cup of milk. This ratio resulted in a comforting, spoon-coating gravy that didn’t congeal once poured over the biscuits. If you get the ratio wrong, there’s no need to worry—the sauce is incredibly forgiving and you can loosen it with a little more liquid or thicken the sauce by allowing it to reduce.

The Biscuits

This recipe leans on the the recipes already published to Serious Eats by Kenji and Stella for a variety of excellent biscuit options, any of which could work with this recipe. Kenji’s buttermilk biscuits get a little help from a food processor and some extra folding steps for extra flaky layers, but if you don’t have any buttermilk, consider making Stella’s light, fluffy biscuits with yogurt a try. And if you have 10 hours to spare? Well, Stella also has yeast-raised biscuits that get great flavor and structure from a long, slow rise in the fridge.

The last (and perhaps most important) component to making this dish is the timing. Why settle for eating cold biscuits with hot gravy—or vice versa—when you could have warm biscuits straight from the oven? Start warming your biscuits in a preheated oven set at about 300ºF (150ºC) when you start making the gravy, and they’ll be nice and toasty by the time your gravy is ready.

This recipe makes enough gravy for a full batch of buttermilk biscuits, which can serve four extremely hungry people, or six to eight less-hungry folks.

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over medium heat, sauté the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until at least 1 1/2 tablespoons fat has rendered, about 6 minutes; if your sausage is lean and yields less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of fat, melt in butter, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until you have about 1 1/2 tablespoons in the skillet. Add the onion, season with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and golden and the sausage is well browned, about 7 minutes longer.

Four image collage of overhead view of cooking sausage and onions
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Stir in the flour until no dry bits remain, about 30 seconds.

Overhead view of stirring flour
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Stir in 2 tablespoons of milk until completely absorbed. Gradually pour in remaining milk while stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Bring the gravy to a simmer and cook, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the skillet, until a silky and thick, spoon-coating sauce forms, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and a generous amount of black pepper.

Two image collage of mixing milk into gravy
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Serve warm biscuits with hot gravy spooned over top.

Spooning gravy over biscuits
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

10-inch cast iron skillet

Notes

This recipe is also delicious with these yogurt-based light and fluffy biscuits.

To warm up pre-baked biscuits, preheat your oven to 300ºF (150ºC) 30 minutes before you plan to make the sausage gravy. When you start making the gravy, place the biscuits on a rimmed baking sheet. Reheat in the oven while you prepare the gravy.

Make-Ahead and Storage

This is best eaten right away while the biscuits are warm and the gravy is hot off the stovetop. The gravy will thicken as it cools.

Chocolate Pecan Galette

Filled with dark chocolate and crunchy pecans, this riff on the classic Thanksgiving pie is perfect not just during the autumn, but all year long.

Side angle view of Chocolate Pecan Galette
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

A lot can go wrong with pecan pie. If you do it right, it can be the crown of your Thanksgiving table: a crackly sugar top hovering over meaty pecans suspended in a soft, gooey brown sugar filling. But when done poorly, it can be a sticky, cloying mess of corn syrup and nuts, barely set atop a soggy bottom. To avoid disappointment, I’ve taken to making a pecan chocolate galette—not just during the autumn, but all year long.

The galette is the easy-going, freeform, European cousin of American pie. With a galette, you don’t have to cajole your dough into a dish or force it to keep its edges primly poised on the lip of a pie plate. Once you’ve rolled out your dough, you just have to fill, fold, and go. If the shape is a little wonky, you can just chalk it up to its rustic charm. 

Overhead view of a chocolate pecan galette

Since the depth of a galette will always be significantly shorter than that of a pie, the required baking time is shorter as well. While a pecan pie can take an hour or more to bake in the oven, a pecan galette needs only half that time to cook, and means the cooling time is drastically reduced as well. Quicker, easier, and less painstaking all around? I can get behind that. 

The Best Chocolate to Use

I’m a true dark chocolate lover, but for due diligence, I tested this galette with several different chocolates: semisweet chocolate chips, 72% cacao chocolate chips, unsweetened chocolate chips, unsweetened baker’s chocolate bars, milk chocolate bars, and dark chocolate bars. 

Combined with the corn syrup and brown sugar filling, the milk and semisweet chocolates proved far too sweet, and the caramel notes from low cacao percentage chocolates fought with brown sugar’s molasses notes, producing a bitter clash of flavors. On the other extreme, unsweetened chocolate provided great depth of flavor without adding sweetness, but was astringent and unpleasant to eat. In one test, I made the filling by melting unsweetened chocolate with the butter and sweeteners. It was by far the worst galette I made: It smothered the flavor of the pecans and lacked the soft, slightly chewy texture I wanted.

Mise en place of ingredients
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The 72% chocolate was delightfully dark without being too bitter, but didn’t incorporate well into the filling and left it studded with chips instead of the chocolate-scented pecan pie filling I was looking for. Luckily, finely chopping  high-quality chocolate and mixing it with the chopped nuts before adding the liquid filling solved the chocolate riddle. (I tried and liked chocolate ranging from 55 to 72% cacao; above that, the chocolate produced a filling that was too bitter.)

Getting the Filling Right

I’d already pulled a fast one on the form of the pie, and wasn’t about to mess with the guts as well. I fiddled with the ratios of the core ingredients of pecan pie (butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt) until I got a mixture with a balanced sweetness that baked up soft on the inside with a slightly crackly top. The versions I made with whole eggs were puffing up irregularly and forcefully toward the beginning of baking, making the filling jump up and over the edge of the tart. Using just yolks solved this problem: while there was still some puff, it happened later in the baking process and didn’t cause the filling to spill over the edges. I also added some flour to stiffen up the filling enough to enable it to mound in the center. This way, you can easily fold the dough border up and over the filling without it running off. 

The crust is the real make-or-break behind a great pie, and this, too, holds true with galettes. Much has already been said on how to make a great pie crust; there’s not much more I can add to that conversation. I’m in a deeply committed relationship with Stella Park’s Old-Fashioned All-Butter Pie Crust recipe, and once you give it a try, I’m sure you’ll be, too.

For the Dough: Prepare Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough according to the recipe. After rolling, folding, and dividing dough in half, roll one portion into a roughly 14-inch round. Transfer this round to a parchment-lined aluminum rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic, and refrigerate to relax and chill dough, at least 2 hours or up to 24.

Overhead view of rolled pie crust
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Filling: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F (205ºC). In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, flour, egg yolks,vanilla extract, and salt until smooth, then stir in the pecans and chopped chocolate. Arrange mixture in a single layer on prepared dough, leaving a 3-inch border all around.

Two image collage of mixing the filling and placing it on the pie dough
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Shape the Galette: Fold one edge of the dough border up and over 3 inches of the filling. Repeat around the edge of the galette, overlapping the dough about every 3 to 4 inches to create a wide pleat around the perimeter. Place galette in freezer to chill for 15 minutes.

Folding the dough to shape the galette
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Egg Wash: Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining egg with the cream in a small bowl. Brush egg wash over the border of the dough. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (175ºC). Continue baking until the crust is light golden brown and the filling is just starting to puff and crack, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire cooling rack and let cool until puffing deflates, and the filling is gently set, at least 15 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Two image collage of eggwashed dough and finished galette
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rolling pin, rimmed baking sheet, pastry brush

Notes

Chocolate chips do not work well in this recipe. Because of the added stabilizers in chips used to keep their shape intact, they don’t melt quite as well as other chocolate forms.  Insead, use dark chocolate bars (from 55% to 72% cacao, depending on your preference) or high-quality chocolate such as Valrhona. For tips on shopping, and some of our favorite brands, read more here.

Though this recipe will work with light brown sugar, we recommend using dark brown sugar for a more robust, flavorful filling.

Make-Ahead and Storage

This galette is great served warm, but the texture of the filling is best when it is slightly chewy and has cooled to room temperature.

Do not refrigerate or store the galette in an airtight container as it may cause the galette to become soggy.

We Tested 7 Pasta Makers to Find the Best Ones for Rolling and Cutting Dough

We tested seven pasta makers to find the best manual models, as well as stand mixer attachments. They had to roll and cut dough well, and be easy to use.

A group of pasta rollers and cutters on marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Fresh, homemade pasta and dried noodles from a box are completely different beasts both texturally and flavor-wise. While store-bought pasta can be a fantastic blank slate for your sauce, fresh pasta’s potential is much deeper. When you make your own dough, it can be delicate and yolky or rustic and chewy depending on your whim and recipe selection. Homemade pasta dough can be speckled with herbs, vegetable-infused, or any color of the rainbow. It can be cut and scraped and twisted and folded into a myriad of traditional and original shapes. So, if you want to step up your pasta game, you should try making it yourself. And I’m here, a fresh pasta ambassador, to help you find the best tools to do just that.  

Let’s start off by dispelling the myth that making fresh pasta at home has to be a messy, complicated project. It does not. Pasta can be as simple as flour and water or flour and a few eggs. You can (and we advocate should) mix your dough by hand (check out our homemade fresh pasta recipe here)—all you need is a clean surface and your fingertips, and/or a fork. Sure, once you’ve rested your dough, you could just whip out your rolling pin and tone up your biceps to roll it out by hand. But, this requires more know-how and muscle memory—things I can’t provide for you on the written page. What I can offer you is a detailed review on what pasta maker to use to get hassle-free, evenly thin sheets of pasta dough and sharp, crisp cuts of noodles every time. 

To find the best pasta makers, I tested five manual, hand-crank models and two electric machines compatible with KitchenAid stand mixers, all under $200. I evaluated their performance and ease of use while rolling and cutting three different types of pasta dough.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Best Manual Pasta Maker: Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Machine

The Atlas was the easiest and smoothest manual machine to operate. It made clean cuts and had the ability to get dough incredibly thin.

The Best Pasta Maker Attachment for a Stand Mixer: Antree Pasta Maker Attachment

This affordable and convenient attachment includes the roller and two cutters in one compact unit, which we found handy for storage purposes. While it didn't get dough as thin as other machines, it still did exceptionally well in our tests. 

Also Great: KitchenAid 3-Piece Pasta Roller and Cutter

The KitchenAid attachments made quick work of pasta dough (and have been a longtime Serious Eats test kitchen favorite). The cutters cut cleanly and the all-metal construction feels high-quality. The set above includes two cutters for fettuccine and spaghetti, but KitchenAid also sells a 5-piece set with two additional cutter shapes (capellini and lasagnette) for $100 more.

The Tests

  • Fettuccine Test: With each machine, we rolled dough (made from our homemade fresh pasta recipe) to one to two millimeters in thickness and cut it into fettuccine to evaluate each machine’s performance and ease of use. We timed how long it took to do this from start to finish.
  • Angel Hair Pasta Test: With each machine, we rolled and cut angel hair pasta (sometimes called spaghetti, depending on the model) to see how each pasta maker performed with a thinner and narrower noodle strand. We timed how long it took to do this from start to finish.
  • Thickness Tests: With each model, we used digital calipers to measure the dough thickness at each setting to see how thin each machine could take an intact pasta dough sheet.
  • Gluten-Free Pasta Test (Winners-Only): With our favorite models, we made gluten-free pasta to see how they did with a delicate dough made from alternative flour. 
  • Durum Wheat and Water Pasta Test (Winners-Only): We wanted to see how our favorite pasta machines handled, rolled out, and cut an eggless dough
  • Cleanup Tests: After each test, we cleaned the pasta makers by hand per the manufacturers' specifications, identify any challenges in doing so.

What We Learned

Some Pasta Makers Were Efficient, While Others…Weren’t

Two hands adjusting the clamp of a manual pasta maker on the side of a countertop
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I timed how long it took to roll out a batch of pasta, taking it from a ball of dough to the desired thickness for fettuccine and angel hair pasta. The overall finding here is not surprising in the least: the electric pasta makers that fit into the hub of and were powered by the KitchenAid stand mixer shaved off a bunch of time. It took me exactly half as long to go through the process with one batch of dough on the quickest machines (the Antree and KitchenAid, tied at 6.5 minutes) as it did on the slowest machine (13 minutes for the OxGord). Though we know why the electrified attachments were so fast—thank you, running motor!—what factors held up the crank machines? The answer was threefold:

  • The clamp: The hand-crank machines needed to be clamped onto the counter. And the manual models that rocked while rolling (the ones with less stable clamps) took significantly longer to get through a batch of dough. The winning machine, the Atlas, had a super stable, tight clamp.
  • Thickness settings dial: Each machine has a dial to change the distance between the two metal rollers as you roll the dough progressively thinner. The winning machine’s dial was smooth to turn and easy to read. One particularly problematic machine had the numbers imprinted on the side of the dial instead of on top of it, so you couldn’t read the numbers without craning your neck up and over the machine. This significantly slowed down the rolling flow. Another subpar dial had the numbers placed so close together, it was hard to decipher which setting the machine was on at any given time.
  • Transitions: Once rolled thin, you move the pasta dough from the rollers to the cutter portion of the machine. On the manual machines, you also have to move the hand crank from one insert to another. On some machines, this transition was smooth and effortless. On the losing models, the crank slipped out of the insert or got jammed, thus slowing things down. The slower models also had more friction when cranking, and some of them made pretty awful grinding sounds.

Which Pasta Makers Were Able to Produce Intact, Thin Sheets of Pasta Dough?

Two hands putting a pasta cutter attachment onto a KitchenAid stand mixer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Speed aside, the quality of the output varied from machine to machine. Some machines ripped, wrinkled, or frayed the edges of the dough as they got down to the thinnest settings. The best machines delivered even, intact sheets of dough at their thinnest settings.

The number of settings available ranged from six (Imperia) to 10 (Atlas). The ultimate thinness of the dough (when taken to the final setting) ranged from 0.5 millimeters (Atlas) to 0.9 millimeters (Imperia and Antree). The winning manual machine was the one with the most thickness setting options (10) and the one that was able to take the dough to the thinnest spec (0.5 millimeters): the Atlas. 

If you’re only looking to make pasta like fettuccine, you don’t need to worry about getting the pasta dough thinner than 1 millimeter. Technically, all of the machines I tested could get you there. However, if you’re interested in making filled pasta (like ravioli, cappellacci, etc.), you want dough so thin you can read a newspaper through it (at least that’s what my Italian chef instructor at culinary school used to say), and you should make sure to get a machine that can produce high quality 0.5 millimeter-thick sheets of dough. 

Which Pasta Makers Cut Cleanly?

A hand feeding a sheet of pasta dough through the cutting attachment of a KitchenAid pasta maker
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Rolling is only half the battle. Once the pasta dough is rolled out to your desired thickness, you get to cut it into whatever shape you like. For the sake of this testing, we stuck to angel hair or spaghetti and fettuccine. When the teeth were sharp and most effective, the pasta machines produced clean, completely separate strands of pasta. The lower-performing models turned out partially or fully fused strands of pasta that had to be peeled apart by hand. 

Care and Cleaning Differences

A cleaning brush sitting beside a pasta roller/cutter on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When the pasta makers cut dough cleanly, all you need to do after making pasta is brush the extra flour off of the machine and wipe it down with a soft, dry cloth. (Some models, like the Antree, include cleaning brushes for this.) However, if and when the dough sticks in the roller or cutting teeth, cleaning becomes a bit more involved. Though all it takes is a bamboo skewer or toothpick to dislodge lingering dough, the best machines are the ones that avoid this step as much as possible. Our winning machine, the Atlas, didn’t have any stuck dough at all during testing. 

Should You Get an Electric or Manual Pasta Machine? 

A sheet of fresh pasta being rolled out.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Electric machines make pasta faster than manual crank machines, there’s no getting around that. They also have the benefit of freeing up both of your hands so you can guide the dough in with one and easily catch it with the other, while manual machines require a one-handed nimbleness. However, there are pros and cons to both types of pasta makers: 

  • Electric pasta machines: Unless you are going to invest in a stand-alone electric pasta roller (which is generally very heavy and expensive and more commonly outfitted for restaurants or other commercial production contexts, and, thus, not included in this review), a pasta maker attachment that fits into the power hub of a stand mixer is your best electric option. Obviously, in order to use the attachment, you have to first own a KitchenAid mixer (or another stand mixer with the same universal power hub built into the head), which is a significant investment. The attachments are generally more expensive than manual pasta makers, as well. But, if you already have the stand mixer, electric pasta maker attachments can cut your pasta production time in half (or more!). You can control the speed to fit your comfort level. The attachments are generally pretty compact and easier to store than manual machines.
  • Manual pasta machines: Manual machines have their own charm. They are affordable, don’t need to be plugged in, and can be used in peace without the drone of a motor churning while you work. And, you don’t need to own another appliance (like a stand mixer) to operate them. You can assemble a manual pasta maker just about anywhere in your kitchen where you can clamp it down on a counter. The simplicity of the hand crank makes it accessible to even the novice pasta maker; since it will only go as fast as you crank it, home cooks rarely get flustered or intimidated by the process. However, since you need one hand to keep things moving, you only have one hand to manage the pasta dough (that is, unless you have a pasta-making buddy working with you).    

Food for Thought: What Kind of Pasta Do You Want to Make?

I’ll leave you with one last thought: think about the cutters that come with your machine. Are you looking to make basic spaghetti and fettuccine? If so, you’re in luck because these cutters generally come with all pasta makers. However, if you’re wanting to branch out and try a bunch of different shapes, or if there is a specific strand style you love, you might want to invest in a machine that has a wide array of cutting attachments available to purchase a la carte. In this case, Atlas has the most options.

Are you going to be making mostly hand-formed shapes, like garganelli or farfalle? If so, you can disregard the cutter selection availability and hone in on the machine that fits in best with your budget and storage parameters. As I mentioned before, if you’re thinking about making super-delicate filled pasta shapes, you want to get a machine that performs exceptionally well at rolling dough super thin. Are you making pasta art with intricate designs and colors? You might want a manual machine so you can control each turn of the crank. If you’re into frequent, high-volume pasta production, consider an electric machine with high-speed potential. What I’m getting at is, the best machine for you ultimately depends on what you’re trying to make.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Pasta Maker 

a stainless steel pasta maker on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

While all the machines had a similar design—adjustable metal rollers and evenly spaced cutter teeth—testing showed that they weren't all the same. The best machines were stable while cranking and had ergonomic handles (if manual). They also had setting dials that were effortless to change and were capable of making clean cuts without getting dough stuck under their teeth. They worked well with traditional fresh egg dough, as well as gluten-free and eggless pasta doughs. Conversely, the worst models rocked when rolling, required excessive force to operate, and roughed up (or even ripped!) pasta dough.

The Best Manual Pasta Maker: Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Machine

What we liked: The Atlas took dough down to the thinnest spec with ease. It was smooth and stable to crank, had an easy-to-read setting dial, and made clean cuts. It transitioned well from rolling to cutting and presented no cleaning challenges. Plus, there are many compatible cutter attachments available if you want to grow your collection.

What we didn’t like: This manual machine takes longer to produce finished pasta than its electric counterparts. You can only manage the dough with one hand because you need the other one to crank the machine. However, neither of these points are really negatives, just things to note.

Price at time of publish: $76.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Nickel-plated steel, chrome-plated steel, plastic
  • Number of rolling settings: 10
  • Dough thickness at thinnest setting: 0.5 millimeters
  • Included cutters: Spaghetti, fettuccine (others available to purchase separately)
  • Care instructions: For regular cleaning, use a dry cloth and/or brush to wipe away excess flour after using
A stainless steel pasta maker with its handle attached on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Best Pasta Maker Attachment for a Stand Mixer: Antree Pasta Maker Attachment

What we liked: This attachment helps you make pasta—fast! It is compact, easy to store, and ultra-convenient. Since the rollers and cutters are all housed in the same unit, you don't have to stop the motor to switch out any parts as you transition from one step in the pasta-making process to the next. Since the stand mixer motor takes care of moving the machine along, you can use two hands to guide and catch the pasta as you work. 

What we didn’t like: My only minor complaint about this pasta maker was that it didn’t get the dough as thin as other models. While the 0.9-millimeter thickness of the dough at the final setting was totally acceptable for the tests in this review, I could imagine wanting it thinner for other applications, like delicate, filled pasta shapes. And, remember, you need to have a stand mixer with a power hub to operate it. Plus, there isn't the option to purchase additional cutter shapes.

Price at time of publish: $90.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Stainless steel and plastic
  • Number of rolling settings: 8
  • Dough thickness at thinnest setting: 0.9 millimeters
  • Included cutters: Spaghetti, fettuccine
  • Care instructions: Open the lid and let attachment air dry for one hour, then remove any dried dough using the provided cleaning brush; wipe attachment with a soft, dry cloth
A white pasta roller and cutter stand mixer attachment on a marble surface with its cleaning brush beside it
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Also Great: KitchenAid 3-Piece Pasta Roller and Cutter

What we liked: The KitchenAid pasta attachment rolls dough nice and thin quickly and with ease. Its all-metal construction speaks to its quality. Both its roller and cutters were stable when working, and its thickness dial was easy to adjust.

What we didn’t like: You need to have a KitchenAid stand mixer to use this machine. That investment combined with the relatively pricey tag on this 3-piece set makes it an expensive option. With three individual pieces, there's also more to store. Unlike the Antree, you have to switch out the roller and cutter, which could slow down the pasta-making process.

Price at time of publish: $200.

Key Specs

  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Number of rolling settings: 8
  • Dough thickness at thinnest setting: 0.75 millimeters
  • Included cutters: Spaghetti, fettuccine (others are available for purchase)
  • Care instructions: KitchenAid recommends lubricating the gears annually (or after 50 uses) with a light mineral oil; for regular cleaning, let pasta roller and cutters air dry for one hour, then remove any dried dough using a cleaning brush or toothpick and wipe the attachments with a soft, dry cloth
three stainless steel pasta roller and cutter kitchenaid attachments on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Competition

  • Imperia Pasta Maker Machine: Cranking was slow-going with this machine because of some mechanical friction and the counterintuitive design of the settings dial—the numbers are imprinted on the outward-facing side of the dial, rather than on the top edge, so you cannot read them without folding your body up and over the machine. The dial also jammed during testing.
  • OxGord Pasta Maker: Pasta dough sheets started buckling and wrinkling by the time I got to the last few rolling settings and the cutter on the machine was clunky and produced subpar strands. The dial was hard to read and adjust as well.
  • CucinaPro Pasta Maker Deluxe Set: This machine felt rickety when trying to change out the attachments and like it required excessive force to crank. The fettuccine cutter left some pasta strands fused together, and the numbers on the settings dial were placed too close together, impeding navigation while rolling.
  • ISILER Pasta Machine: Due to a defective metal washer, I wasn't able to use this product or run it through the tests.

FAQs

How do you use a pasta machine?

The basic process is twofold: first, you roll the pasta dough thin by flattening it between two metal rollers. On a manual machine, you crank it by hand to move the dough through the rollers; on an electric machine, a motor moves the dough for you. With both types of machines, you take the same piece of dough through a series of rolls, very gradually decreasing the distance between the rollers by adjusting the machine’s setting's dial, until you reach your desired pasta sheet thickness. Then, you feed the flattened dough through the machine’s cutter attachment to cut the strands of pasta. 

How do you clean a hand-crank pasta machine?

The most important thing to remember when cleaning a pasta machine is not to submerge it in water, as this will cause rust to form. You can brush away any excess flour on the machine using a dry dishcloth or a dry brush (which is sometimes included with the pasta maker). If there is dried pasta dough in the roller or cutting teeth, let it dry out for about an hour, then use a bamboo skewer or toothpick to dislodge the dried dough. You can also invert the machine and gently tap it with your hand to remove dried debris. Do not use metal utensils to dislodge dried dough, as they could damage the machine. Some machines require occasional gear lubrication with light mineral oil, but be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations beforehand.

Can you make pasta without a machine?

You absolutely can make pasta without a machine. In fact, most southern Italian pasta shapes, like orecchiette and cavatelli, are strictly made by hand. Even if you want to make traditional egg dough pasta, you always have the option to roll it out with a rolling pin. However, it takes quite a bit of practice to get the dough evenly thin every time. And you must properly rest your dough to ensure the gluten is sufficiently relaxed to stretch out.