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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.