A pasta cutter is a kitchen tool which is used to cut pasta dough in various desired shapes. There are a number of different styles of pasta cutter, ranging from attachments for pasta machines to hand-held kitchen utensils, and all of them are designed to produce very specific pasta shapes. A kitchen supply store often carries pasta cutters, and it is also possible to order them from specialty purveyors; in the case of pasta cutters which attach to pasta machines, the machine's manufacturer is often a good source of information about compatible pasta cutters.
While pasta dough can be cut by hand, there are some distinct advantages to using a pasta cutter. In the first place, a pasta cutter ensures that each piece of pasta will be the same width, which promotes even cooking time. It also creates a neater looking end product, as pasta pieces of varying widths tend not to look very attractive. Using a pasta cutter is also much faster than cutting the dough by hand, which can be a distinct advantage when a lot of pasta is being made.
In the case of a pasta cutter which is meant to attach to a pasta machine, the cutting mechanism is located on rollers which are housed inside an attachment which snaps on to the pasta machine. To use the pasta cutter, a crank is inserted and turned, causing the rollers to move. Then, pasta dough can be fed through the rollers, where it will be cut as it is pulled through, yielding identical strands of pasta which may be cooked immediately or dried, depending on the needs of the cook.
A hand-held pasta cutter is usually designed in the form of a roller with a handle attached. To use the pasta cutter, cooks lay the dough out on the counter and press the pasta cutter into it while pushing it across the dough, leaving behind neat ribbons of pasta. It is also possible to find extra-wide pasta cutters, used to cut the dough for tortellini and ravioli, along with lasagna noodles.
Roller pasta cutters can also be used to crimp and cut ravioli. In this case, the ravioli dough is laid out, the filling is applied, and the top layer of dough is carefully deposited on top. Then, the pasta cutter is rapidly rolled across the dough in straight lines, crimping the dough down around the filling and cutting the individual raviolis out as it goes. It is also possible to find ravioli attachments for pasta machines, in which the two layers of dough and filling are fed through the rollers together.
In some parts of Italy, it is also possible to find a pasta cutter known as a chitarra, or guitar, in a reference to the design, which consists of taut wires strung across a frame. To use this style of pasta cutter, cooks lay a sheet of dough across the strings and then press down with a roller, forcing the dough through and cutting it in the process.