Review: The Ultimate Pasta Machine Cookbook

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The Ultimate Pasta Machine CookbookThe Ultimate Pasta Machine Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Every Kind of Amazing Pasta Your Pasta Maker Can Make, by Lucy Vaserfirer, Paperback, 208 pages, Published in 2020 by Harvard Common Press, Beverly, MA, USA.

I am disappointed. At almost $40, I don’t believe the book delivers what the title promises. I expected a book with “ultimate” in its title to have a LOT more information on actually using the machinery, and about the various types and styles, with plenty of photos and explanations, but there is very little of that. It’s mostly recipes.

Nothing at all on the differences between types of manual machines or their manufacturers, different attachments (or how to use them), nothing on deep cleaning or maintenance. I wanted technical information, and details, but got general guidance. 

Vasefirer is the author of several other cookbooks and has a good rating on Goodreads, but since I have not read them, I can only comment on this, her latest book. Before I bought this book, I read many reviews on Goodreads and other sites, but now think the writers didn’t actually read the book before heaping praises on it, or at least not with the critical eye of someone using a pasta machine or looking for technical and other details.

As readers here know, I use an Atlas Wellness 150 manual pasta machine manufactured by Marcato, as well as the company’s Regina pasta extruder. I have written about my pasta experiences of late (you can read the recent posts here and some older posts here and others, including my book reviews, here). I have been searching of late for more technical information and descriptions about the machinery, looking through my books on pasta and bread making, as well as online. The best information about the equipment I’ve found so far has been on sites for crafters and modellers using the machines for rolling clay dough!

But I am also looking for technical and even scientific information about flour, gluten, hydration, the chemistry of mixed ingredients, dough formation, and the processes and techniques of rolling and cutting (and what equipment is best for different pastas). 

I didn’t get much if anything of that from Vaserfirer’s book. Let me explain why…

The Kitchenaid attachment gets more coverage than the manual machines, but even that is skimpy. Since I use a manual machine with different widths for the roller settings, it was useless to me. She mentions the thickness settings on the Kitchenaid by their number, but nowhere gives us actual thicknesses in millimeters so we can match the KA settings with those on our Atlas or other manual machines.

Nothing is mentioned about using an electric motor for an Atlas roller or even the speed in rolling on any machine. In the recipes, she almost never gives a thickness measurement for pasta or noodles. I think that’s crucial information.

Several noodles have wavy edges, like reginette and lasagne ricce. Nowhere is the reason for these edges explained, or whether an attachment or hand cutter is best to produce these noodles. Or even what sort of attachment you need.

She doesn’t say which doughs work best at which thicknesses or noodle styles (gluten formation and elasticity may affect preferred thickness). Noodles get very brief mentions with some dough recipes, but nothing about what sort of cutter or attachment is best to make them or if there are differences between making them and pasta. There’s very little on the gluten content of different flours and how to compensate when using non-glutinous flours in your dough.

She uses unbleached, all-purpose flour for her basic recipes, but doesn’t explain that the protein content in the USA can vary dramatically depending on region/ The King Arthur flour she recommends is high protein at about 12%, and equivalent to our standard Canadian AP flour (protein content in flour is standardized for specific types here in Canada). Without explaining why, she passes over lower-protein “tipo 00” Italian pasta flours (8-9% protein) that are typically used in other recipe books (for making authentic Italian pasta). Nor does she get into the differences between the glutens in wheat and durum (semolina) flours and why they matter in making pasta.

The only extruder she mentions in passing is the Kitchenaid attachment, but with nothing on equivalent dies on manual machines. The manual ones (and their dies) get ignored. Nor is there any information on how to best extrude and cut various pasta shapes using a manual extruder. What lengths are recommended for each shape? A few partial photos of drying racks are shown but none of the “flour sack” bags or towels she mentions in the text (or where to get them).

She often mentions dusting fresh pasta to keep it from sticking but doesn’t explain how much to use of have photos that visually show too little, or too much flour. She mentions dough hydration in a few places but doesn’t explain what it is, how it affects the process on different machines or pastas, or how to calculate it (figuring hydration is elementary in bread baking books).

She mentions resting your dough, but nothing about covering it so it doesn’t dry out, and is unclear in her scant explanation of why resting is necessary. Or where to do it (on the counter? in the refrigerator? I’ve seen both recommended, but always keep mine on the counter).

She mentions a chitarra cutter but not how to use it or where to get one, or even why it is used (or preferred). Nor are any of the other accessories like adjustable cutters, ravioli pressing forms or attachments, or specific handheld pasta rollers covered. She doesn’t go into detail about the best lengths for different types of pasta or how their size and shape affect drying times.

Her suggested cooking times don’t take into account the thickness of the pasta, either. I could not find anything about what oil or other additives do in the dough or to the gluten formation.

Her recipes are reasonably good, and her doughs are worth knowing, so that’s a positive. Her serving sizes are shown (which is also good), using the standard 100g flour/1egg/plus other ingredients per person. We find this rather generous and usually cut back to 75g or less each, but that’s a personal matter.

She also includes a basic recipe for homemade ricotta cheese, which is very welcome (I have been planning to start my own cheese-making this year), as is her recipe for sage brown butter. But as good as they are, the recipes can’t compensate for the lack of more detailled, technical information about the machinery itself in a book titled “ultimate.”

Her list of sources for equipment is welcome but doesn’t even mention Marcato, the manufacturer of the most popular manual pasta roller and cutter equipment. While Amazon may be a source for equipment, there are better, more knowledgeable sources.  I read the reviews and comments about Amazon products, but treat them with a skeptical eye, many being as credible in reviewing as political comments on Facebook.

I am fortunate that this is only one of a few dozen books on pasta making in my library, and that others explain some of the missing information, but not all, especially about pasta machines themselves. If you already have some experience making your own pasta, then her dough and other recipes will be a pleasant addition to your library. But despite its title, this is not the “ultimate” book on using and maintaining pasta machines.

~~~~~

PS: There are several good YouTube videos on making pasta using these manual machines, and some sites that cover the basics, others with details, but I have yet to find all the information collated in a book form.

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