Monday, November 29, 2010
Fig.1. Old wooden tools once used to cut pasta. I picked these up in Italy. You can buy them here at Quincaillerie Dante.
I’ve been experimenting a lot lately with locally grown flour. I’m making pasta with just about any Quebec flour I can get my hands on: local whole wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, all purpose, and even Italy’s favorite, local durum wheat semolina, all grown and milled within a 100 kilometer radius of Montreal.
These experimentations have stressed me out. My head hurts constantly, I can’t sleep, and, if that wasn’t enough, my dandruff’s back. (Stress is a major contributor to dry scalp) Imagine Woody Allen coated in flour. It’s not the actual procedure that’s stressing me, (I’m getting adequate pasta from all of the above flour varieties) my internal conflict stems from whether it’s necessary to change something I know to be good in order to do something that is right. Using local flour helps local farmers as well as the environment, but for the moment at least, appears to be detrimental to my taste buds.
There are hundreds of variants at play here, the combination of flour, water and eggs being the least of them. The climate in Italy; from the sun’s heat to the gentle winds that cause the wheat stalks to sway back and forth; the altitude of the grains, are the fields caressed in a valley or standing erect at the top of a heat-soaked hill, to the time of year the wheat is harvested.
Italian durum wheat makes strong, flavorful pasta; tough enough for tossing with rapini and humble enough to take a backseat to the forceful, flavors of a carbonara. Italian 00 flour, is very, finely ground, combined with eggs it makes the most delicate of noodles, a pasta that embraces any and all rich tomato or meat sauce it comes in contact with. Pasta di farro (not to be confused with spelt pasta) is made from emmer wheat and is believed to be the second oldest pasta by Italian food historians, Italian’s were making farro pasta long before whole wheat flour came into the picture. Pasta made from farro has a wonderful cereal taste, it's a bold pasta that should never be drowned in sauce.
Italian flour producers have pasta on the brain. Italian flour, whether by destiny, design or both, has evolved to fashion magnificent pasta, but evolution is time, and while flour is in abundance in Canada, the attitude toward it is more business oriented than it is culinary. But that seems to be changing too: local, organic flour producers deserve a chance—if given a choice between two, equally, flavorful pastas, I would have to choose local, so why do I feel like I’m trying to sever an umbilical cord connecting me to the old country? What I need is pasta advise from a wise old man (or woman) perched at the top of a mountain, not so sure the archetype exists in Italy.
Serves 10 to 12 as a main course
The package of 00 flour reads “better suited for baking”. Many also say that 00 flour is too fine to yield a good pasta, but I know countless chefs, grandmothers, and foodies in Italy (as well as Montreal) who use it every time they make pasta. When you first start using 00 flour, don’t make the pasta too thin, with time and practice, you’ll be able to knead it to a point where you’ll start to notice a difference in the pasta’s strength and elasticity (this is the gluten at work, the more you knead the dough, the more gluten produced.) Once you get used to working with 00 flour, feel free to roll it as thin as you want. Pasta freezes well, just make sure you toss it in flour and corn meal before you do.
1 kilo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
Make a mountain with your flour and make a well in the center. Start by adding 8 eggs in the center, with your finger or a fork, begin incorporating the flour and eggs together. Once everything is mixed together (your mixture will not hold in a cohesive mass at this point) add another egg and begin kneading. Your dough should start taking shape at this point, scrape up any loose pieces of dough, add the last egg and knead until it all comes together. Continue kneading for 10 solid minutes while dusting with flour. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let your dough rest for 30 minutes.
This recipe can be halved: ½ kilo flour to 5 eggs. Generally, the rule of pasta is 100g of flour for every egg. Also keep in mind, altitude, dryness and humidity can change the dry to wet ratio, this is why it’s better not to add all of your eggs at once.
Fig.1. I roll the pasta out using my pasta machine and then pass over it with the pappardelle rolling pin.
Fig.3. The pappardelle need to be pulled one by one, the wood is not as sharp as a knife. If you wish to speed things up, roll the pasta sheet (make sure you sprinkle with flour before you do) and cut the roll with a sharp knife.
Fig.4. Coat the pasta with some flour and cornmeal, sprinkle some on the cookie sheet, and place your pasta in neat bundles. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge if you"re cooking the same day, otherwise place the whole cookie sheet in the freezer. Once pasta is frozen, transfer to a large freezer bag.