Some folks just love the idea of getting equipped. These are the folks that manufacturers and retailers live for, the good citizens whose idea of beauty is at least one of everything commerce has to offer.
And some people like to lead plain, unadorned lives; like to get along with just enough stuff to get them through the day -- or the night. People who sell things don't have much use for these shirkers, naturally.
What, if anything, does this have to do with making pasta?
Pasta-making is one of those culinary areas in which there is room for an array of attitudes. You can make pasta with no equipment but a broom handle and a pot of boiling water. (The broom handle you use for rolling out the dough and hanging out the pasta to dry. The pot of boiling water, well . . . )
Or you can make pasta with whirring machines, marble or wooden boards, special long rolling pins (that look a lot like cut-off broom handles), elegant pasta rollers that look a lot like espresso machines. You can buy special things to dry the pasta on, measure it in, cook it in, drain it in, toss it with, serve it in. You could spend a fortune making pasta.
We won't go into the machines (although it should be said that you can't go far wrong with the mechanical Atlas, which is widely available), but there's plenty to talk about with accoutrements.
If you are the type of dedicated cook who likes to make and roll pasta by hand, you probably already know about the wide wooden boards and long rolling pins available for this job. The boards usually have a raised edge to keep flour from spilling over, and the rolling pins are essentially handleless, the better for applying the kind of pressure needed to flatten stiff doughs.
And you probably also know that, while these things are conveniences, they are the kind of "dedicated," one-use items that cost money and take up space. Unless you have lots of both, it doesn't make sense to invest in these essentially fringe items when you're just starting out. If it turns out that pasta becomes your life then go for it. Otherwise, a plain countertop and a big, businesslike rolling pin are all you need for kneading and rolling out pasta by hand. (If you get a machine, you don't even need the rolling pin, since the machine will do the rolling for you.)
You'll be faced with the drying rack decision, too, when you get into pasta-making. The idea of drying racks is that you need somewhere to put the pasta after it's been rolled and cut and before it gets put into boiling water. Pasta can be sticky, and some recipes call for it to dry a bit before it's cooked. But it's easy to get the strands or sheets all glommed together, and glommed pasta is not a pretty sight. In fact, it's useless as pasta.
The racks are of two types. One is essentially a piece of screening in a wooden frame. It lies on the countertop and provides enough air circulation so the pasta can dry without sticking.
The other type looks exactly like a miniature laundry drying rack. The idea here is that you hang the long strands (this doesn't work with ravioli, obviously) over the rack, where they dry straight and true.
But you'll probably find that there are ways of drying pasta that don't require these gadgets. You might find that even if you have them you won't use them.
If you want to hang your pasta out to dry, a broom handle over two chairs will do just fine. If you have kitchen chairs with flat-topped backs you can protect them (and the pasta) with dish towels and hang the pasta there. (A little tip: undisciplined dogs, in my experience, love to nibble on the ends of pasta hung like this. So put the dog outside.)
There are other ways to do this, too. You can toss the strands with a little semolina or corn meal, then scatter them on a cookie sheet, dish towels, or, if you have it, a large cake-cooking rack. The cake-cooling rack, if its wires are close together, is simply a less elaborate version of the screened drying rack. When the pasta seems especially sticky, one professional cook I know puts it, cornmealed, on a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.
If you decide to let your pasta dry on a flat surface it's important to toss it around a bit every now and then, possibly adding a little more semolina or corn meal if it seems very sticky.
Now you've got to cook it. Try using an aluminum steaming kettle -- the plain kind with one or two steamer inserts usually used for vegetables. When the pasta is done you simply lift out the insert and let it drain.
Or you can get the biggest colander your sink will hold. (This is one of the most useful pieces of equipment I've got, for everything from washing lettuce to draining vegetables to tossing the excess flour off of pieces of meat or chicken.) If you buy one that's as big as your sink will hold, you may have trouble storing it but you won't have the problem of hot pasta going down the drain. I like the wire-screen kind in a metal frame. They come in all sizes.
When you're looking in the stores for something with which to toss and serve your pasta after it's cooked, you'll notice that all these implements look a lot like the human hand. The reason for this is that the human hand is the perfect implement for tossing pasta. Hands can scoop up the sauce lurking in the bottom of the dish and distribute it without crushing the pasta, and they are perfect for grabbing and serving the perfect portion of long pasta.
The trick is to not let anybody see you do it this way, since outsiders -- even loved ones -- tend to rant about how you're tossing the pasta with your hands. Your hands -- which of course you've just washed in very hot water and soap -- can be as sanitary as any wooden tosser, but there's no point alarming people.
Absent a pair of hands or the willingness to use them, try a simple, large wooden spoon and fork -- maybe the set you use for salads. I also saw recently, at Williams-Sonoma, some very wide wooden hybrid fork-spatulas (that looked very much like the human hand) that work just fine. Get two of them. Other kinds of pasta tossers -- the wooden paddles with pegs sticking out -- work okay with spaghetti, but it's hard to get them into the pasta without mashing it, and the sauce, if it's got pieces of things in it, doesn't get distributed very well. Some also break easily, since the pegs are quite vulnerable.
So there you have your choices -- to buy or to make do.