Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ronco Pasta Maker

I've been wanted a stand-alone pasta machine for some time, so when the folks at Ronco offered me a product to review, I checked out their website and said, hey, how about that pasta maker instead?

Yup, Ronco makes a pasta maker.

I mean, what the heck. Might as well play with something I'm curious about, right?

Here's the thing. I've got a pasta attachment for my stand mixer, so in theory I could use that. And I do, sometimes. But I've always thought it would be interesting to have one machine that would do the kneading and then just extrude the pasta. One thing to clean.

So, the pasta machine arrived and I took it apart, washed it, and put it together again. The first time I assembled it, I had a little trouble figuring out which part went where, but now that I've done it a number of times, it's really pretty simple.

I took it for a test run at home, then brought it to a friend's house where we made pasta from some freshly-milled flour along with all purpose flour.

My first impression of the machine was that there was a lot of plastic. Would it hold up? Pasta dough has to be pretty dense, particularly for extruded doughs. For some reason, the extruding process always makes the dough a lot softer (not just this machine, but my other extruder as well), and the dough tends to stick together. So ... the starting dough needs to be pretty tough to start off.

The mixing chamber did seem to flex a bit, or maybe it's just that I was mesmerized at watching it knead. But it held up. Flexing is better than cracking. The motor didn't seem to strain at all, so that's pretty impressive.

I have no idea how durable this machine will be over the long run. For now, it's working fine, but I've only made about a half-dozen batches of pasta in it. The motor is a tad noisy - not as loud as a blender, but not as quiet as a stand mixer, but this isn't a machine that's going to be running all the time, so the noise isn't a deal-breaker.

The controls are simple. Flip a button one way and the dough gets kneaded. Flip the other way, and the screw-like kneader spins in the opposite direction, to feed the dough through the extruder. It's ingenious, really.

The machine comes with a variety of extruding dies (spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni, linguini, and lasagna) for different shapes of pasta.  I haven't tried them all yet, but the ones I tried worked just fine. There's also a tube that's used when you want to fill sausage casings with sausage, so this isn't a one-trick pony. Two tricks, basically.

Speaking of tricks, making fresh pasta can be a little tricky. To start with, you have to get the dough the right consistency, and you have to let it knead long enough. That's something that comes with practice.

But then there's the cooking. Fresh pasta cooks really really really fast. Like, it sees the hot water and it's done. The last batch of pasta I made was beautiful coming out of the machine, but I made the mistake of turning my back on it when it was cooking, and I overcooked it. To death.

Not at all the pasta machine's fault. Just poor attention span here. Oopsie.

Who's it for: Pasta people.

Pros: It's one machine for kneading and extruding pasta. Flour and water are really cheap ingredients, so you can afford to make some test batches and if they don't work, you haven't wasted a lot of money. Then when you get good at it, you can add a more expensive item. Like an egg. Splurge!

Cons: It takes a little practice to get the recipe right. Not the machine's fault, but it might take a few batches to achieve perfection. It will take even more practice if you decide you want to add extra ingredients to the pasta, like tomato, basil, squid ink, saffron, or anything else. But, hey, it's fun.

Wishes: An integrated cutter for slicing the pasta into desired lengths as it exits the machine would be great. I use a knife, swiping from bottom to top, and it works fine. But a cutter would be awesome.

Source: I received this from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.

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