For a long time my webpage “causes” has featured a link to Dave Byer’s page devoted to the Pavoni Europiccolo espresso machine and related obsessive coffee matters. I was once a devotee myself of this machine, but I confess that at some point my attempt to accumulate – as Byer puts it – ``karma: the sum of a person’s actions in previous states of espresso, viewed as deciding his or her fate in future espressos.’’ faltered and I’ve lapsed into the naraka of Saeco darkness.

There is, however, another machine – also Italian – to which I owe a semi-religious attachment, and that is the Bialetti Elettrodomestici Macchina Per Pasta. This is a work of true engineering genius, perhaps not as physically beautiful as the iconic Bialetti Moko,
but functionally far superior.

You don’t need to take my word for it, instead consider the advice of the redoubtable Marcella Hazan. Quoting from the sacred text below:

There are two reasons [the Bialetti makes better pasta]. The first is speed.
It is dazzingly fast, and the speed at which dough is flattened is closely related to quality in the consistency of pasta. The second reason is the material of which the rollers are made. The hand cranked machine has smooth polished steel rollers that produce the slithery surface characteristic of machine-made pasta. The electric [Bialetti] model has textured nylon rollers that turn out pasta with a surface not quite so slick, almost resembling hand rolled pasta.

Hazan’s Endorsement of the Bialetti in More Classic Italian Cooking

Hazan’s Endorsement of the Bialetti in More Classic Italian Cooking

I bought one of these machines shortly after reading this passage when it first appeared in 1978. Since then, by my conservative estimate, my Bialetti has produced about 5km of the pasta sheets shown below.

Two weeks ago, having rolled out a batch of pasta, the motor stopped. I had dreaded this moment for years, the motor was always loud, Hazan writes that “the machine has a maddeningly noisy motor that must have been designed by a motorcycle enthusiast,” but it ran, and ran, and ran.
Now what? Was this the end of my pasta making career? I had always hoped to learn to make tortellini! I cut the pasta sheets by hand and wondered what to do next.

Fortunately, a neighbor recommended someone who had fixed their Cuisineart mixer, I called, he came to pick it up, and a week later the motor has new brushes, and seems to be as good as new. Meanwhile, in a panic I’ve acquired two other old Bialetti’s via Ebay, one with metal rollers one with the much preferable nylon rollers.

I don’t know when or why Bialetti stopped making these machines, but it is a tragedy of cosmic or at least capitalistically comic proportions. I wrote a plaintive letter to Bialetti CustomerCare in September of 2020, but received no response.

Below you will find a quick illustrated guide to the process of pasta making Bialetti style. I use slightly modified version of Keller’s standard recipe: 4 large egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, a splash of milk, a splash of olive oil, and 2 cups of semolina flour from the North Dakota State Mill and Elevator All the egg yolks make it look yellow, but the flour makes it ideologically red. You make a well, pour the eggs in, mix in the flour and work into a ball. Knead a bit, wrap in plastic, wait for an hour or so, knead for another 5-10 minutes, cut into 6 pieces and roll. I use Bialetti setting 3 for tonnarelli, and 2 for fettucchini.

Fanatics may wonder how the index numbers of the machine correspond to the thickness of the pasta prior to cooking. Not having access to a manual for the machine, I eventually resorted to a homemade recipe for calibration.

Using 10 short strips of modeling clay, and a cheap micrometer:

For each setting{ run each of the strips through the rollers, and measure the aggregate thickness of the 10 strips }

My experimental data looked like this: x <- 6:2; y <- c(31.7, 26.3, 17.5, 12.8, 8.6), which, when plotted looks remarkably linear with slope 6 and intercept -4.5. This gave me courage to extrapolate to the setting x = 1 which the clay strips couldn't handle. As a practical matter only the settings from 1 to 3 are really interesting. I use setting 3 for tonnareli (the square version of spaghetti that I normally make with the machine's cutting attachment). According to the semi-authoritative reference: "The Geometry of Pasta" by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kennedy, the thickness in mm of some standard noodles should be:

Noodle Thickness Setting
Tagliatelle 0.75 2.0
Fettuccine 1.00 2.5
Pappardelle 0.50 1.5

I have added the corresponding settings in the last column. Thinner settings require a bit more delicacy in terms of the texture of the dough, not too dry, not too wet, but I've made Pappardelle (hand cut) recently at 1.5 and it was quite fine.