Only a very few of the hundreds of charming pasta shapes that are turned out so effortlessly in the factory can be formed by hand.
Farfalle, which to some resemble little butterflies and to others bow ties, may be the easiest to do. They begin as small rectangles of dough cut from a freshly rolled sheet. If you prefer them with a decoratively pinked edge, use a fluted pastry wheel to cut them. Otherwise, any sharp knife or a straight-edge pizza cutter will work well.
Tripolini are also described as bow ties, but rather than having crisp, straight edges and sharp, angular corners, they are rounded like the bow ties worn by circus clowns. They are formed in the same way as farfalle, but begin as circles rather than rectangles.
Orecchiette are thin cups said to have originated in Apulia, an Italian region that makes up the heel of Italy’s boot. This is a wonderful pasta for sauces because it not only absorbs the sauce, but traps it inside the cup.
For any of these shapes, prepare Homemade Pasta dough (see our recipe for Homemade Pasta) as directed, then follow the steps. Let the shaped pasta dry partially on a flour-dusted towel or baking sheet before cooking, or dry it completely if storing in the refrigerator. Turn occasionally to expose both sides to the air.
Homemade farfalle and tripolini will cook in 2 to 3 minutes. Orecchiette are thicker and take a little more time, 6 to 7 minutes. All three are available as packaged dried pastas, too. These pastas are delicious served hot with meat and vegetable sauces. Florentine-inspired Chicken Livers over Pasta (see our recipe) features chicken livers and farfalle or tripolini in a creamy sauce dotted with colorful bits of red and green sweet peppers. Orecchiette with Fennel in Parmesan Cream (see recipe) is an anise-flavored combination of fresh fennel and Sambuca plus mushrooms and Italian prosciutto ham. These shapes are attractive additions to cold salads as well. Warm Tomato-Feta Cheese Salad (see recipe) is a refreshing summer dish that shows off farfalle -- either fresh or dried.
Making Farfalle (Bow Ties)
Roll the dough 1/16 inch thick and trim the sides so that they are straight and even. Using a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 1-inch-wide strips. Then cut crosswise every 2 inches to form 2x1-inch rectangles.
To form the bow tie, pinch the center of the rectangle. To create a nice fold, first lay your index finger or little finger sideways in the center of the dough and pinch against it. Remove your finger and finish making the pinch.
Using a 1- or 1/4-inch round cutter, cut the dough into circles. Shape as for farfalle (step 2): Pinch the center of each circle to form a rounded bow tie.
Shape 4 to 6 ounces of pasta dough into a log 1/2 inch in diameter. Roll with even pressure to avoid denting the dough and to keep it uniformly thick.