What does oil do in pasta dough?
Hi Matt - what is the purpose of oil in pasta dough?
Is it to make it softer?
Or to keep it from sticking?
Hi there! Well it's certainly not an essential ingredient. None of the fresh pasta recipe versions I've been taught by my mamma-in-law use any oil at all.
That said, there are some Italian chefs, like Ursula Ferrigno, who like to pop in a tablespoon of (very light) oil with their egg and plain flour mixture, their reasoning being that this makes the dough silkier and a little easier to work with. (See this fantastic recent article on different approaches to dough making.)
Otherwise, the key to keeping the dough elastic, in my experience, is not over-flouring it (i.e. really thinning the bowl's walls before mixing the flour and eggs or water together with your hands. This keeps the mixture moist enough).
The issue of whether to pop oil in your pan when cooking your pasta is a different one. A drop of oil can be useful for stopping very thin long pasta shapes (linguine say) from sticking, however for most pasta it's not required as long as you're using enough water and stirring plenty (and don't forget the salt!).
Hope that helps, buon appetito!
PS: If you haven't tried making fresh pasta yet, start with these guides and/or check out my Pastastic cookbook (this comes with printable fresh pasta guides and exclusive downloadable videos of the same).