When you imagine the texture of pasta, you should think of something that’s very soft, with a slight bite to it. This is what al dente means after all. However, since you’re here, I’m assuming that your pasta had more than just a slight bite to it, which obviously isn’t quite right.
If your pasta has ended up chewy, something has definitely gone wrong somewhere and you’ll have to figure out what.
Chewy pasta is due to the pasta being too thick. Most pasta should be rolled out to 2-4mm thick, which is thin enough to see your fingers through. Rolling pasta out by hand is tough and you likely won’t get thin enough, so it would be better to use a pasta roller for thinner and more even pasta sheets.
If you’re struggling to get the pasta dough to this thickness, you’re most likely just going to stop trying and boil the pasta as is. This is a huge mistake though. Like any good Italian grandma, you’ve got to put your blood, sweat, and tears into the pasta (not literally, please) until it gets thin enough.
Give in to the pasta dough too early and you’ll end up regretting it.
Reasons Why Your Fresh Pasta Is Chewy
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of things that cause pasta to be chewy. You should be able to easily identify what you’ve done wrong so you can avoid making the same mistake next time.
Take a look at these three problems and you should be able to identify what went wrong pretty quickly.
It Was Too Thick
When it’s too thick, the exterior of the pasta will cook relatively quickly whilst the interior will remain uncooked for longer. This leaves you with a soft exterior with a tough and chewy interior.
Eating thick pasta really isn’t fun, trust me.
Many people make the mistake of not rolling their pasta dough out thin enough, especially if they don’t use a pasta roller. If you’re just using a rolling pin for your dough, you’re probably not going to roll it out thin enough, which results in pasta that’s too thick and doesn’t cook fast enough.
Unless you’re an Italian grandma who has spent plenty of time hand-rolling pasta, your pasta rolling skills probably aren’t as good as they should be to get it to the right thickness. You’re likely to either not roll it out thin enough or roll it out unevenly, whilst results in thick and thin areas.
For most pasta, you want to be able to just see your fingers through it. Fresh pasta should be around 2-4mm thick for the majority of applications. Some may be slightly thicker whilst some will be thinner. If you’ve rolled it out and you can’t see your fingers through it, it’s not thin enough. It’s generally thinner than you expect, so just keep rolling.
After you see how thin fresh pasta should be, you’ll most likely realise just how much thicker your pasta is.
If you’re not particularly good with a rolling pin, then it’d be wise to invest in a good pasta roller. This is really worth it if you plan on making pasta often. You’ll be able to roll it out without the struggle and it’ll be significantly faster. You can even get attachments that cut the pasta for you. If you get one, make sure to get a good one, like the very popular Marcato Atlas 150. This is the best on the market and it’s very satisfying to use.
Even though pasta rollers are extremely useful, they’re absolutely not essential. You can make pasta with a rolling pin that’s just as good, it just takes more time and practice to get it right.
You Didn’t Rest It For Long Enough
The thing about pasta dough is that it contains a lot of gluten, which is great because it gives pasta its elasticity and satisfying texture, but it’s not so great if you don’t treat it properly.
You see, gluten tightens up very easily, and when it’s tight, it doesn’t stretch very well and will be difficult to roll out. When the gluten is tight, the dough isn’t very elastic. It stretches, but quickly springs back to its original form, making your life a lot more difficult.
Try to roll out the tight dough and you won’t get very far. It will roll but will pull back, so you can’t ever get it as thin as it needs to be. Keep rolling and you’ll continue to tighten the gluten. Since it springs back, the pasta will be thicker than it should be, meaning that it won’t cook evenly and will likely be tough or chewy.
The most important thing to do is rest the dough. Going straight from kneading to rolling will never work, so you should knead, rest, then roll. This resting period is vital for the gluten to relax and become elastic again. After kneading, you need to form the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and leave it to sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
After this period, you’ll notice that the dough feels much softer and easier to work with. You shouldn’t have much of a problem rolling it out after a rest, but if it does become tighter, just give it a light dusting of flour (so it doesn’t stick) and let it rest, covered, for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax again, so you’ll be able to finish rolling it out.
It’s important to know that cold temperatures will tighten gluten too. This means that if you put your pasta dough in the fridge, you’ll have to let it rest for longer so it can warm up and relax properly.
You Didn’t Use The Most Appropriate Flour
If you’ve done research into real Italian pizza or pasta, you should have heard about 00 flour (double-zero). This is the stuff that produces the best of the best pizza and pasta due to it being milled to the finest grade. It’s a seriously fine mill and makes seriously delicious pizza and pasta.
Ignore anyone that tells you that ’00’ flour is about gluten or protein because it’s not. The ’00’ refers specifically to the mill. You’ll find this flour around the world with different gluten content, but the best ones contain around 12% protein (the proteins in the flour convert into gluten). This fine mill gives both the dough and the finished product a much softer and more satisfying texture.
The issue with this is that this flour isn’t widely available all over the world, so it can be very difficult to find without ordering it online. Whilst this does give you the best results, you’re not restricted by not having it.
The truth is, you can make pasta with any medium-high protein flour and it can still taste good. Generally speaking, the higher the protein content, the firmer the pasta, so you might actually be using very high protein flour and causing your pasta to become tougher than pasta made with 00 flour.
The highest protein flour you’ll find will be a type of bread flour, so you might just be using too much of this, which results in a firmer and chewier pasta.
So, 00 flour is the most appropriate, followed by other med-high protein flour, like bread flour and all-purpose (plain flour). Any other type of flour with a low protein content will result in bad pasta.