Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Spelt & Kamut Pasta



I take and keep notes when making pasta with a new flour blend. I often shoot a reference picture of the recipe with the finished pasta. If the dish turns out, I store the photo on my computer and the recipe in my pasta journal. (Sometimes it takes me a while to move my notes into my journal.)

 



About week ago, I came across a photograph of an emmer and Kamut pasta that I made back in 2016. I wanted to try out the recipe again, but couldn’t find any emmer grains in my pantry. I did, however, find a bag of spelt. I decided to improvise.

 


If you root around on The Internet, you will find a lot of conflicting information on…well, a lot of things, but, for purposes of this post, on emmer, spelt and einkorn grains. Each is different, but these grains often get lumped together as farro. Although mixing-up emmer, spelt and einkorn is easy, it’s hard to confuse these grains with Kamut, which is a trade name for Khorasan wheat. I love cooking and baking with Kamut. I often blend this ancient durum wheat with other flours to make pretty much everything taste better. When I received my first bag of Kamut from Montana Flour & Grain, I understood why some call it “Camel’s Tooth”. If you have not worked this grain, I suggest you give it a try. Finding Khorasan wheat gets easier with each passing year.

 


Per my 2016 notes, I used 75% emmer and 25% Kamut flour. I wanted to keep close to these percentages with my spelt and Kamut pasta. With a goal of making 2 serving portions, I started with 250 grams of spelt that I milled and sifted through a No. 40 and No. 50 sieve. (More on bolting flour here.) This produced 75 grams of spelt flour. I then milled 150 grams of Kamut grain and similarly sifted the flour achieving 32 grams of Kamut flour. I wanted 115 grams of total flour, so I added 8 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal to my flour mixture.

 


I usually add an egg and a yolk to 115 grams of flour when making pasta. In this case the egg/yolk mixture weighed 78 grams. After mixing the flour and egg together by hand in a shallow bowl, I kneaded the dough for 8 minutes, wrapped it in plastic, and set the dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

 



After resting, the dough felt soft so I decided to make a laminated noodle using my Imperia R220 manual pasta machine. After multiple passes through the rollers, I stopped at the machine’s number 3 setting. The pasta still felt a tad soft. I cut the pasta into 4 sheets, dusted it with semolina and let the sheets air dry on my kitchen counter for about 15 minutes per side. Because I planned a sauce of fresh borlotti beans and razor clams, I cut the pasta into tagliatelle. I wrapped the cut noodles in a kitchen towel and let them sit for about 45 minutes as I made my sauce.

 



I taste my fresh pasta while it cooks. Although the pasta felt soft after rolling, the cooked spelt and Kamut pasta had a firm bite to it. After about 2 minutes in salty, boiling water, the pasta achieved the right texture to finish cooking for another minute or so in my sauce.

 

Spelt pasta has a lovely mild wheat flavor. Bolted Kamut flour helps the noodle’s strength. Conclusion: Switching out the emmer for spelt worked out great. For the last couple of years I have experimented with making an extruded Kamut pasta using my torchio pasta press. After a lot of fine tuning, I’m getting closer to a recipe that I can share with you.



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Focaccia

 

The 2010 English-language edition of The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking lists fifteen different types of focaccia. It defines focaccetta di Aulla as a flatbread; focaccia al miele as a sweet pastry; focaccia di Lerici as a cake; and focaccia di Pasqua salata di Pitigliano as a loaf. Focaccia farcita contains boiled vegetables—field greens, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes—sandwiched between two disks of dough and then baked. To make focaccia di Voltri, a specialty of Genoa, mix a “relatively liquid dough,” coat it with corn flour, and bake it on a hot plate.

Here in the United States, only one type of focaccia—focaccia genovese—has achieved anything close to a stronghold, and then only, in the eyes of many, as pizza’s poor relation. As Colman Andrews writes in The Country Cooking of Italy (2011) “…it would not be entirely incorrect to describe the most common varieties of focaccia as pizza crust without the toppings (or with the simplest of them, like just salt, olive oil, and/or rosemary or other herbs).”

 

Focaccia deserves more respect. This ancient bread boasts a primal lineage and the best examples rank among the world’s most delicious breads. In The Food of Italy (1971), the great Waverly Root—second from the left on this site’s banner—writes that focaccia’s “…origin reaches so far back that no one knows when it was first invented….” We do know that the word focaccia derives from focus, the Latin word for “hearth.” When describing a particular region’s version, Root often calls focaccia a hearth cake “as its name indicates” because these early flat breads cooked on a hearth’s hot stones or among ashes.

 

Fortunately, home bakers can make excellent focaccia without stones, ash or even a fancy bread oven. In my opinion, the best focaccia comes via a Nancy Silverton recipe that appeared in a 2011 Los Angeles Times article entitled Master Class: Chef Nancy Silverton. In this article, Silverton describes her quest to find the secrets to baking great focaccia and shares her “basic” focaccia dough recipe.

 

If you know anything about Silverton, you know that there is nothing “basic” about her bread. After sharing Silverton’s base dough recipe, the LA Times article presents different ways to embellish the dough: Roasted Pepper and Chile, and Onion and Sage. Each taste fine, but, for my money, the paragon of Silverton’s focaccia is a version made with green olives and fennel pollen. The published recipe in the LA Times makes 2 rounds. I modified the recipe to make a single round and to add metric measurements.

 

 

Total time: 3½ hours, plus 12 to 24 hours resting time for the sponge

 

Servings: Makes 1 (10-inch) focaccia dough round

 

Note: This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer, 1 10- by 2-inch round cake pan and a digital kitchen scale. 

 

Focaccia sponge

 

.25 grams active dry yeast

105 grams water

86 grams bread flour

 

1. In a small mixing bowl (preferably plastic or ceramic), sprinkle the yeast over the water. Set the bowl aside for a few minutes to give the water time to absorb the yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the bread flour until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

 

2. Cover the bowl tightly with a sheet of plastic wrap, then tightly wrap another piece of plastic wrap or twine around the perimeter of the bowl to further seal the bowl.

 

3.  Set the bowl aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until the sponge becomes bubbly and thick, like the consistency of wallpaper paste (thicker than a pancake batter but thinner than dough), 12 to 24 hours.

 

Focaccia dough

 

156.5 grams water

5.5 grams olive oil

93.5 grams focaccia sponge

2.25 grams active dry yeast

220 grams bread flour

5.5 grams kosher salt

110 grams olive oil for baking pan

 

1. About 3½ hours before you are ready to bake the focaccia, place the water, 5.5 grams olive oil and 93.5 grams of the focaccia sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Toss out the unused focaccia sponge or use it to make another round.) Fit the mixer with a dough hook and, over low speed, add the yeast and 220 grams bread flour. Mix the ingredients over low speed for 2 minutes to thoroughly combine and form the dough.

 

2. With the mixer running, slowly add the salt, then increase the speed to medium. Continue mixing the dough until it is smooth and well-formed, and starts to pull away from the bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. Note that the dough will not pull so much that it “cleans” the bowl, but if the dough is too sticky and is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl at all, add a little more bread flour (a spoonful as needed at a time) to achieve the right consistency.

 

3. While the dough is mixing, lightly grease a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with olive oil. When the dough is ready, turn it out of the mixer into the oiled bowl. Wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and tightly wrap the perimeter of the bowl with kitchen twine or another piece of plastic wrap to further seal the bowl. Set the dough aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until doubled, about 1½ hours.

 

4. Dust the work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Acting as if the round has four side. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Turn the dough over and return it, folded side down, to the bowl. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature until it has doubled in volume, 50 minutes to 1 hour. (The dough will be puffy and feel alive, springy and resistant. It will not collapse under the touch of your fingertips.) 

 

5. Pour 110 grams olive oil into the 10-inch cake pan and tilt the pan so the oil coats the bottom evenly. Place the dough in the prepared cake pan and very gently pull the edges just to obtain a roughly round shape. Cover the pan with a clean dishcloth and set aside at room temperature until the dough relaxes and spreads to cover about half the surface of the pan, about 30 minutes.

 

Castelvetrano Olives and Fennel Pollen topping

 

olive oil for brushing

approximately 18 Castelvetrano olives, pitted

2 grams Maldon sea salt, or another large flake sea salt

.20 grams [1/8 teaspoon] fennel pollen

 

6. Heat the oven to 450F. Remove the dishcloth from the top of the cake pan and, using your fingers, gently tap down on the focaccia with about 5 light strokes to nudge it toward the edge of the pan; it might not reach the edges, but don’t worry.

 

7. One at a time, starting from the center and working out, push the olives into the focaccia dough while simultaneously pushing outward to encourage the dough toward the edge of the pan, arranging the olives evenly over the surface of the dough and pressing them so deep that they are almost flush with its surface. At this point the dough should be touching the edge of the pan.

 



8. Brush the surface of the dough generously with olive oil, then sprinkle over the sea salt and fennel pollen. Set the focaccia aside until it has risen and puffed around the olives, about 30 to 45 minutes.

 

9. Place the focaccia on the center rack of the 450F oven and bake until crisp and golden-brown, approximately 24 minutes.

 

10. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the focaccia from the pan to a wire rack (use a fork to gently lift and slide the focaccia out of the pan). Brush the surface of the focaccia once more with olive oil. Set aside to cool slightly—or as long as you can resist it.

 

After making this bread a few times, I started to play around a bit with the ingredients. I tried a mild Ligurian extra virgin olive oil from Azienda Agricola Vittorio Cassini. This EVOO makes the bread even more delicious.

 



Next, I experimented with a different flour blend. Instead of using 220 grams of bread flour in the dough, I blended 170 grams Central Milling Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour with 42 grams whole grain Kamut flour and 8 grams Central Milling Organic Medium White Rye flour. I mill the Kamut the morning of the bake. I don’t know what it is about this particular flour blend, but the results taste amazing.

 

In terms of process, I deviate from the first instruction in Step 4, above. Instead of turning the dough out onto a floured surface, I do what I call a “Tartine turn” which is a technique that I learned from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book.  Here’s how I do it: Imagine the bowl’s rim as the round face of a clock. I wet my hand and grab the “edge” of the dough at 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck the dough in. I then turn give the bowl a ¼ counter-clockwise turn and grab the “edge” at the new 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck it in. I do these turns one more time. Finally, with wet hands, I lift the dough up and turn it over and return it to the bowl, seam side down. I like this bowl-turning approach because it’s tidy and I don’t have to flour and then clean up my work surface counter.

 

Finally, I want to share a recommendation for a nice, dedicated focaccia pan. I bought a 26cm Ottinetti blue steel deep round baking pan that measures across just a tad over 10 inches. It’s the perfect pan for Silverton’s focaccia recipe. If you buy this pan, you may wish to line the pan’s bottom with a round of parchment paper to insure against sticking the first couple times you bake. After a couple of rounds, my pan was seasoned and I now forgo the baking paper.

 


Silverton’s focaccia lends itself to different toppings. In place of olives I once tried cubes of grilled artichoke heart. I’ve inserted different roasted peppers that turned out a round resembling a delicious stained-glass window. I topped my latest version with Japanese eggplant, anchovies and garlic that I added after an initial 8-minute prebake. Pulled from the oven 16 minutes later, I sprinkled over a heavy handful of Pecorino Romano cheese.



Monday, August 24, 2020

Red Russian Wheat Pasta

 

In Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015), Marc Vetri writes about making pasta with freshly milled wheat flour at Washington State University’s Bread Lab. The results, he reports, were “staggering.” Pasta made with commodity flour “made the familiar mild-tasting earthy pasta that most people are used to.” But pasta made with freshly milled wheat varieties, such as Soissons, Tevelde, McGuire and Dayn, produced outstanding flavors and fragrances. However, Vetri continues, one grain stood out:

 

“One variety in particular, Red Russian, smelled complex in the bag but failed in the bakery. It was high in protein, 14.1 percent, but the protein wasn’t strong enough to make bread. So I asked [the WSU Bread Lab] to grind the Red Russian wheat berries very finely, like tipo 00 flour, the grind I normally use for fresh pasta….With this freshly ground whole wheat flour we made a basic egg dough, rolled by hand, and cut it into pappardelle. Just boiled and put on a plate, it was like no pasta I had ever tasted. The texture was soft but chewy and the flavor was pronounced: earthy, nutty, and fruity all at once. It was light years ahead of any other whole wheat flour I’ve ever used to make pasta. And none of these flavors was detectable in the pastas made with commodity flours. The textures were similar, but texture is something you can manipulate by mixing flours together to change the protein content. Flavor, on the other hand, cannot be replicated.”


After reading this paragraph in Mastering Pasta, I—probably like many other curious pasta makers with grain mills—searched for Red Russian wheat berries. I couldn’t find any. I kept looking, on-again/off-again, over the years, but with no success.

 


About a month ago, I had a lucky break: I came across a scan of a 1922 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin (No. 1305) on the Bread Lab’s website. This bulletin examines soft red winter wheat varieties found in the US and contains a section on Red Russian. Upon learning that Red Russian was a soft winter wheat, I augmented my search parameters and found Palouse Heritage, a grain supplier in Eastern Washington State. Palouse Heritage sells Red Russian under the tradename English Redhead. According to Palouse Heritage, high protein soft red wheats, like Red Russian, “…have been used for centuries for scones, biscuits, flatbreads, and pastas. It is also prized by craft brewers for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers.”

 

I placed my Red Russian order with Palouse Heritage and, upon receiving my wheat, made my first batch of Red Russian pasta. I finely milled 57 grams of Red Russian and blended it with 57 grams of Central Milling’s Organic Artisan Bakers Craft bread flour. I brought the dough together with 1 medium egg and 1 small egg yolk and kneaded the stiff dough for 5 minutes. After a 30-minute rest at room temperature, I rolled the dough out with my mattarello and cut the pasta into fettuccini. The pasta’s texture, soft but chewy, mirrored Vetri’s description, but I didn’t taste a pronounced nutty or fruity flavor. Maybe blending the Red Russian with refined flour mitigated the whole wheat flavors?

 






I made a second batch of pasta, this time using 100% freshly milled Red Russian. I followed Vetri’s Whole Egg and Whole Wheat Dough recipe on page 29 of Mastering Pasta. This pasta also had a mild wheat flavor—one might say earthy—but, at least to my taste, not a pronounced nutty or fruit quality.

 

A myriad of factors (e.g., soil, geography, weather, farming practice and seed variety) can impact the flavors of fruits, vegetables and, yes, grains. My experience with Red Russian wheat reminds me of a similar episode I had making pasta with Warthog, a hard red winter wheat. I bought a bag of Warthog from a Texas mill and these remarkable berries smelled and tasted of baking spice. The Texas mill sold out before I could place another order, but I found an East Coast mill that sold Warthog grain grown in New York State. Although harvested in the same year, the Texas and New York grain smelled and tasted materially different. The New York Warthog did not express any spice notes while the Texas grain smelled redolent of baking spice.

 

Next year’s Red Russian crop might better express the flavors that impressed Vetri. Although not quite as expected, the grain made great tasting pasta. I like that the soft Red Russian did not produce a gritty-textured noodle that often occurs in a home-milled, 100% hard wheat pasta. I look forward to making further experiments with this Washington State heritage wheat.