This is the second post in a series on making fresh pasta. Using Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta  as our guide, we began our survey of shapes and dough by making pappardelle with an all-purpose flour and whole-egg dough. We now turn to toppe, a Northern Italian pasta made with whole-eggs and two different types of wheat flour: durum and tipo 00. Making toppe allows us to expand our understanding of the different wheat flours available to make fresh pasta.
Toppe is a thick noodle that is 1½- to 2-inches wide and about 6-inches long. It is found in Tuscany, especially in the Casentino. Toppe literally means “patches”; its shape resembles the cloth patches the poor used to mend their clothes. What distinguishes toppe from pappardelle (in addition to the former’s added width) is that traditionally toppe is made with a blend of two wheat flours: durum and tipo 00.
Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta chronicles an incredibly diverse range of pastas. Just as remarkable as the spectrum of shapes are the different types of flour used to make pasta in Italy. The culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique defines flour as a finely ground cereal. Zanini De Vita documents pastas made with barley, buckwheat, carob, chestnut, chickpea, corn, farro, fava bean, rye and a range of wheat flours. (One of these wheat flours is made of burnt wheat or grano arso. The very poor collected bits of burnt wheat after a farmer had threshed, gleaned and, finally, burned a field to fertilize the land. The poor milled this burnt wheat and added it to extend flour used to make pasta.)
There are thousands of different wheat varieties. In the United States, wheat is divided into six classes: hard red winter; hard red spring; hard white; soft red winter; soft white; and durum. Hard wheat contains more gluten-producing proteins than soft wheat. This makes hard wheat well suited to breads and pasta where the additional protein allows greater elasticity. Soft wheat is used in cakes, biscuits and pastries where the lack of protein results in tender baked goods. Durum is the hardest wheat. Durum’s high protein allows an elasticity that aids the production of extruded, shaped pastas. Fine dried pastas are made with durum wheat.
The words durum and semolina are often used interchangeably. Semolina is made from durum wheat. Semolina flour often is fairly course, but finer grinds of semolina are available. Course semolina creates a gritty texture in pasta that I do not enjoy. I use a finely ground durum (designated as Extra Fancy) produced by Giusto's.
One of the lovely qualities of durum flour is its amber color. Sometimes this color is vibrant, other times it is subtle. When durum is combined with high-quality eggs, the resulting pasta can be a vivid yellow.
Tipo means “type” in Italian and 00 signifies the level of refinement. The more refined the flour (i.e., the more of the bran and germ removed during production) the lower the rating. Tipo 00 is the most highly refined Italian grade of flour. Tipo 00 flour is snow white in color. As the grades increase from tipo 00 to tipo 0, 1, 2 and, finally, farina integrate, the flour becomes darker and courser. (Farina integrate is made from the entire wheat grain.) Because Italy’s flours are graded by their refinement, the protein levels of tipo 00 flour can vary. (Some mills sell different tipo 00 flours with varying protein levels.) In general, if flour is designated as grano tenero it will be softer than flour designated as grano duro, which will be harder.
The Encyclopedia of Pasta is full of examples where different flours are blended together to make dough. These traditional pastas (as well as their sauces) are born of local products, created by what was on-hand in the larder, the garden, the local field and trees. In her preface, Zanini De Vita writes that the Encyclopedia of Pasta is a record of “what ordinary people did and do and have always done with available recourses.” With repetition the seeds of a tradition sprout, are nurtured and, frequently, further refined as dishes are handed down from one generation to the next. Zanini De Vita observes: “In reality, dishes are almost always the fruit of slow transformations over time and space, dictated by the need to perfect drying techniques or cooking systems, or even simply to obtain a tastier or more visually appealing result.”
- 150 grams Extra Fancy durum flour
- 150 grams tipo 00 flour
- 3 large eggs
The steps to make toppe are similar to those set out in our examination of pappardelle. The only differences are: (1) mix the durum and tipo 00 flour together before sifting the flour; and (2) after rolling the dough through setting No. 6 (or your pasta machine’s penultimate setting), cut the sheet with a knife into pieces that are 1½- to 2-inches wide and about 6-inches long.
Traditionally toppe is served with Tuscan olive oil, pepper and local pecorino cheese. Zanini De Vita reports that it is also accompanied with various tomato sauces. If you make toppe, you see that combining durum with a soft flour prevents an extra wide noodle from tearing when it is cooked and eaten. Even though the pasta is tender, it still retains a nice bite. Durum flour also adds a beautiful color to this unique, regional pasta.