A pasta maker is a kitchen tool which is designed to facilitate the manufacturing of pasta; you may also know it as a pasta machine. Pasta makers allow people to make a variety of types of fresh pasta at home, ranging from linguine to ravioli. Many kitchen supply stores carry pasta machines, especially if they have a focus on Italian cuisine, and they can also be ordered from various manufacturers; many models are relatively inexpensive and very easy to learn to use.
A basic pasta maker is designed to bolt to a counter top. It has a number of fittings including rollers for rolling out pasta and cutters for cutting sheets of rolled out dough. Typically a crank or handle is designed to be attached to one side of the pasta maker for the purpose of turning rollers or cutting blades. Many pasta makers also come with an attachment for making stuffed pasta.
To use a pasta maker, the cook prepares the desired pasta dough and then breaks it into chunks. The chunks are passed through the pasta maker on the rollers, which can be moved progressively closer together to adjust the thickness of the sheet of pasta. For something like lasagna, the dough would be left relatively thick, while fine pastas might be rolled through on the smallest setting.
Once the dough has been rolled out to the desired thickness, it takes the form of a long slab of dough which can be run through the cutting attachment on the pasta maker. Many pasta makers come with several default cutting attachments which produce a range of pasta sizes. The finished strips of pasta can be cooked immediately, refrigerated for a few days, or left to dry.
There are several other ways to use a pasta machine. The strips can be left whole, for example, to make something like lasagna, or they can be cut into chunks to make hand-made filled pasta. Some people pinch the strips to make farfalle, or curl them to make various shell shaped pastas. It is also possible to fit a ravioli making attachment to the pasta machine. To use this attachment, a sheet of dough is laid over the attachment, filling is smeared on the dough, and another sheet is laid on top before the layers are forced through the pasta machine, which compresses them into sealed squares and cuts them.
With the use of a related machine called a pasta extruder, it is possible to make pasta shapes, using dies which fit at one end of a hollow cylinder. The dough is forced through the cylinder, and the dies mold it into various shapes such as rotelle and penne. Many companies manufacture pasta extruders and dies to go with them, for cooks who feel like experimenting with the wide range of pasta shapes.