Culinate

Drying homemade pasta

Or storing it in the freezer

By
November 1, 2010

Is there any flavor difference between egg pasta and eggless pasta? Also, how do you (Hank) dry your pasta? How long can you store fresh pasta that you have dried, and should it be stored in the fridge?
— Asiyah A.

There most definitely is a flavor difference between eggy pasta and eggless pasta. The most common homemade fresh pastas — all-purpose flour mixed with eggs — have a subtle eggy flavor and a delicate texture. Eggless pastas, on the other hand, are usually made with semolina (milled from durum, a harder variety of wheat) and have a firmer texture and more neutral flavor.

The semolina noodles should stand up better to heavier sauces and ragus, while fresh egg noodles are a better showcase for lighter sauces.

When I dry pasta (not very often), I break out the Excalibur food dehydrator — one of several appliances I have stashed throughout the house in places that don’t make my wife too mad. (This one lives in the garage, on top of the supplemental-Belgian-beer dorm fridge and under the back-up sous-vide rig.) A couple of hours on a low-temperature setting dries fresh egg pasta very well.

Drying homemade pasta on a wooden spoon.

Commercial durum pasta is put through a more rigorous process of rapid, high-temperature pre-drying, followed by extended drying and resting steps. As Harold McGee explains in On Food and Cooking, the high-temperature method prevents discoloration and “cross-links some of the gluten protein and produces a firmer, less sticky cooked noodle.” When I find room for a commercial pasta dryer in my garage, I’ll let you know.

Assuming you’re a normal humanoid without a fiscally reckless kitchen-equipment fetish, you don’t need fancy machines to dry pasta. You can lay cut noodles out on a floured counter or sheet pan until dry, although they will dry faster if hung to allow better air circulation. Any number of vendors would be happy to sell you a pasta-drying rack for up to $40, but you can improvise one with a wooden spoon placed across the top of a wide pot or other container.

For high-volume drying, clean clothing hangers work well, too. Some home pasta driers advocate twirling small bunches of noodles into little nest shapes, but I can testify that these take much longer to dry completely.

A homemade pasta nest.

Incomplete drying is a problem, because damp pasta will quickly become moldy. There probably isn’t enough moisture to support the growth of nastier pathogens, however.

Completely dried pasta can be transferred to zip-top bags or other airtight containers and stored for several months. The refrigerator is unnecessary overkill. Drying is intended as a preservative step — what’s the point of drying it if you need to refrigerate it anyway?

However, if you’ve got some freezer space to spare, I have a superior idea for you. The standard homemade egg pasta is a relatively delicate noodle, and it can be downright flimsy when dried. The brittle dried noodles have a tendency to break apart, either during the storage/packing process or during cooking. They also lose some of the fresh, eggy flavor and charm of freshly made noodles.

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They actually freeze very well, however. Swirled into single-portion nests, you can freeze them separately and then bag them for long-term (at least a couple of months) freezing. (If you push it, they will eventually suffer from freezer burn.) When you want to cook your frozen pasta, it can go straight from the freezer into the boiling water, and you probably won’t notice a difference in cooking time.

Frozen pasta maintains its form, and its fresh flavor, better than the dried version. In fact, it’s so much better, I’m pretty sure I need to get a blast chiller ASAP.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Hank Sawtelle has engineering, legal, and culinary degrees.