Friday, March 30, 2012


I purchased a torchio pasta press principally to make bigoli, a long, thick spaghettoni most closely associated with the Veneto region. The press (here) came with two bronze dies: one to make bigoli and another to make gargati, a short tubular pasta. As I worked with the torchio and acquired a range of bronze dies I began to experiment with different dough recipes. I wondered if an egg yolk rich dough would work in a torchio. (Most of the dough recipes that I came across for the torchio only used an egg or two; all called for a hard, firm dough.)

Happily, the experiment worked. Although a yolk-rich dough starts out sticky, it becomes quite firm and dry after a long kneading. If you are interested in trying a different dough in your torchio, here’s one recipe:
  • 9 medium egg yolks
  • 150 grams Caputo tipo 00 flour

1) Weigh out the flour and sift it into a heavy mixing bowl.

2) Make a well in the flour and add the eggs yolks. Beat the yolks with a fork and incorporate them into the flour with the fork until a crumbly mixture forms. Clean the dough off your fork and add it to the bowl.

3) Holding the bowl with one hand, reach into the bowl with your other hand and continue to mix the dough by hand. The goal is to incorporate all of the flour in the bowl into a rough dough that holds together. (If this mixture is too dry and will not come together, add a quick spritz or two of water from a spray bottle.)

4) Turn your dough onto a clean work surface. Wash your hands to remove any dough before kneading.

5) Begin to knead the dough ball by forcefully pushing it down and away from you with your palm’s heel. Fold the dough back over itself toward you. Slightly turn the dough counterclockwise, and knead again. Knead until the dough becomes quite firm (generally between 20 to 25 minutes). The dough should weigh approximately 290 grams.

6) Wrap the dough in plastic. Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

7) Attach your torchio to a work surface and insert your die of choice. Unwrap the dough and lightly dust it with flour. Roll the dough into a thick cylinder and slide this into the torchio’s chamber. Insert the torchio’s piston into the machine’s chamber and turn the torchio’s handle until the pasta extrudes from the die. Cut to your desired length and place the pasta into a bowl containing flour. Lightly coat the pasta to prevent sticking. Continue turning and cutting until the dough runs out.

To date I’ve tried this dough with a gargati die. Although it’s not a traditional dough for the torchio, your pasta will have a wonderful, firm bite.

If 9 egg yolks seem too much for your taste, you can reduce the number of yolks to 6 (while still using 150 grams of flour). If you use 6 yolks, knead your dough for 15 to 20 minutes. (With fewer yolks the dough starts out fairly dry and needs less time to firm up.)

I enjoy this pasta with an artichoke sauce. It would also work with a rich offal sauce. The recipe serves 4 as a starter or 3 as a main course.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quaresimali Toscani

After making fresh corzetti stampati (here) or tajarin (here) you will have leftover whites from 12 eggs. You can portion out the whites into small containers for future use. (Egg whites keep for a couple of days refrigerated in an airtight container or for a couple of weeks frozen.) An excellent way to use leftover whites: make biscotti. Although enjoyed year round, biscotti made with egg whites play a special role during this season of Lent when observants often shun rich ingredients such as butter and egg yolks.  Carol Field explores Italian feasts and festivals, including food-based Lenten traditions in her 1990 book entitled Celebrating Italy. In her chapter on Quaresima, or Lent, Field shares an excellent recipe for a chewy, chocolate biscotti made with egg whites called Quaresimali Toscani.

Field divides Celebrating Italy into four calendar-related parts: Abundance; Harvest; Darkness; and Rebirth. Each part features a range of Italian festivals that generally fall into four categories: (1) county festivals celebrating nature’s fecundity; (2) civic festivals; (3) religious festivals; and (4) political festivals. Field writes: “[a]ll have ritual foods that reflect agriculture and religion and consecrate the event.”

In Rebirth, Field writes about Italian Lenten traditions. She includes recipes for Croccante Quaresimale (Crunchy Hazelnut Cookies for Lent); Corolli (Anise-Scented Sweet Bread); Quaresimali Romani (Orange and Almond Biscotti); and Quaresimali Toscani (Orange-Flavored Chocolate Cookies for Lent).

If your goals are to use up leftover egg whites and observe Lent, look no further than Quaresimali Toscani. Perhaps these biscotti pass for Lenten fare because they contain virtually no fat (save for a very small amount in the cocoa). Even without fat, Quaresimali Toscani taste rich. Field writes that “[c]hildren in Florence look forward to these chewy chocolate cookies, which are shaped like alphabet letters during Lent.” Her recipe makes 21 to 24 alphabet cookies about 3 inches tall.
  • 2½ cups (250 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup (30 grams) cocoa
  • 1½ cups (200 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites

Shift together the sugar, cocoa, and flour. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Add the egg whites, beating slowly, either by hand or at the lowest speed on the electric mixer, until the batter is thick and smooth.

Assembly. Butter and flour baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into pastry bags fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe out the batter in the shape of alphabet letters, about 1½ inches apart although they spread only very slightly.

Baking. Heat the oven to 300ºF. Bake the cookies until the tops have set and are slightly cracked but they still feel slightly soft, 10 to 12 minutes.

Easy to make (especially with a mixer), these biscotti straddle the line between cookie and candy. Imagine a delicious orange-flavored chocolate chew and you pretty much have Quaresimali Toscani. No wonder children look forward to them during Lent.