Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fresh Pasta Is Good, 00 Flour Makes it Better

Waiting for the pot
Lately, I’ve been making a lot of pasta. Pasta has been a major part of our diet (this should not seem surprising for the household of an Italian-American who grew up in the region that got the “Wednesday is Prince spaghetti day” commercials). Given a choice between water-based pasta that has been par cooked and dried and fresh egg pasta, there really is no choice. Go for the fresh.

I’ll admit right here that most people have the sort of busy lives in which rolling out fresh pasta is is going to be a rare occurrence. Just not going to happen for a typical person on a Tuesday night. For those people, I would encourage them to make it when they can. When you do make it, I also encourage you to make it the best you can.

When I started making pasta (about seven years ago; I came late to it), I bought a bag of Italian 00 flour. It was expensive, probably about $8 for a 1 kilogram sack (about two pounds). Worse, because it was expensive, I wanted to save it for special occasions. Eventually, the flour went stale or got bugs, or whatever else happens to flour that you’re not actually using, which made it even more expensive.

During the time when I was only occasionally making pasta, I took the advice found on the Internet and just used all-purpose flour. Lately, because I’ve been making so much pasta, I concluded that it would be worth it to add one more type of flour to our pantry. That brings us to five varieties wheat flour: all-purpose, bread, white whole wheat, red whole wheat, and now Italian 00 flour. I found a good source for the flour.

All those other flours cost about a dollar a pound. 00 flour requires more to produce, but I’m unwilling to make a habit of spending four times as much. Amazon sells this stuff in ten packs, at a cost of about $1.50 per pound. At a price like that, the “special occasion” is “I want pasta.”

But of course, it’s a needless expense if there’s no difference in the result. I did the test. I quickly remembered just how nicer working with 00 flour really is. I measured out 400 grams of flour (flour in our house gets weighed; it’s the consistent way to work), dumped it in the food processor, and added four eggs. (The base recipe for pasta is 100 grams of flour per egg. I could measure it out in ounces, but the math is harder.)

The dough was stickier and more cohesive than what I get with all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour gives you a dough that is initially like damp sand; this was more like clay. I wrapped it up, let it hydrate, and went on to do other things. (Other things were specifically the various tasks involved in a bolognese.) When I was free again, I kneaded the dough. It kneaded beautifully: stretchy and pliant. When that was done, I let it rest.

Then came the time to roll it out. It rolled out better than a dough made with all purpose flour. The resulting sheets were smoother and more elastic. It cooked more quickly too. It was even better on the tongue. I’m happy it worked out that way, although if it had been no better, at the least the flour wasn’t incredibly expensive.

Onward to the bolognese!

I’ve been playing the the recipe lately. As I noted before, you can the sauce is a concept, not a recipe. Though you can go too far. When I was recently in Tel Aviv, I had lunch on my own one day and out of curiosity ordered a tagliatelle with bolognese. The tagliatelle were pretty good. It wasn’t really a bolognese. Chunks of tomatoes. No milk, of course, nor any pork. They should have a Neapolitan sauce: some lamb slow cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs. And kosher if you don’t put cheese on it.

Lamb neck. Seriously.
I was slow cooking my lamb in a different style. My initial intention was to make the bolognese with lamb shanks, but looking at the shanks, I decided to add some neck meat. The next time I make this, I’m going to just buy several packs of lamb neck. It was much easier getting the meat off the neck bones, and what was there was better suited for chopping up for a bolognese. That said, there is a pile of lamb bones in my freezer. There will be lamb stock.

I cut the noodles two ways. I used the fettuccine cutter for half, and the other half I used a reginette cutter (it’s the wrong shape for a bolognese, so sue me). There will also be more pasta to come. Now I have to try it with some spinach or other coloring.
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