Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flour + Water Pasta

In the summer of 2011, I attended a series of pasta making classes taught by Thomas McNaughton at his San Francisco restaurant, Flour + Water. The first class covered how to make flat noodles and a simple shape (garganelli). The second and third classes introduced stuffed pasta (cappelletti and agnolotti dal plin) and more complex shapes (cappellacci dei briganti and scarpinocc). McNaughton taught the sessions in his Dough Room, a pasta workshop adjacent to the restaurant. After each class, we cleared the large butcher-block worktables and McNaughton cooked a delicious dinner for the group. It was a pretty sweet deal, and I picked up a number of great pasta making tips. I also learned that McNaughton had a cookbook in the works. And now, three years later, the book has arrived: Flour + Water Pasta by Thomas McNaughton with Paolo Lucchesi and photographs by Eric Wolfinger. If you want to hone and expand your pasta making skills, buy this book.

McNaughton and Lucchesi divide Flour + Water Pasta into two parts. Part One, entitled The Dough, covers how to make different types of pasta dough, how to cook pasta, and how to use the recipes in the book. The authors divide Part Two, entitled The Recipes, by season: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. These recipes reflect McNaughton and his restaurant’s mission: “to explore the complexity of pasta and use it to showcase the bounty of Northern California ingredients.” McNaughton masterfully combines traditional shapes and techniques with a regional and modern approach to ingredients. Under Summer, you’ll find recipes for Corn and Crescenza Cappelletti with Bitter Honey and for Bigoli with Fresh Shelling Beans, Tomato, and Pancetta. Under Autumn, McNaughton shares his recipe for Spaghetti with Black Trumpet, Poached Egg, and Cured Yolk. Scattered among contemporary dishes such as Cocoa Tajarin with Brown Butter-Braised Giblets, Butternut Squash, and Sage, you find classic, traditional dishes like Tortellini in Brodo, Agnolotti dal Plin, and Tagliatelle Bolognese.

As much as I enjoy and appreciate how McNaughton pairs the old and new, to my mind Flour + Water Pasta shines when it shares what McNaughton knows about making fresh pasta. McNaughton has impressive credentials, including working under Chef Michael Tusk at San Francisco’s Quince and making pasta at a laboratorio in Bologna. Flour + Water Pasta works as a primer for those who want to learn the basics of how to make fresh pasta, but in my opinion, the book better suits the more experienced pasta maker interested in different pasta dough recipes and complex shaping techniques. McNaughton’s standard egg dough, which makes 644 grams of dough, calls for 360 grams 00 flour, 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, 18 to 20 egg yolks—he wants 300 grams of yolks—and 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil: a tricky dough to cut one’s teeth on as a beginner.

But for the cook interested in expanding his or her pasta making repertoire, Flour + Water Pasta is the book for you. McNaughton teaches you how to make pasta shapes both common and obscure: spaghetti and caramelle; farfalle and casonsei; pappardelle and stradette. McNaughton and Lucchesi also cover topics like making pasta by hand with a rolling pin, and the importance of pork in Emillia-Romagna cuisine.  I particularly enjoyed McNaughton’s and Lucchesi’s shout out to Emilio Mitidieri. If you want to explore the world of making fresh pasta here in the states, you need to know about Emilio and his company (here).

When I enrolled in McNaughton’s pasta classes, I wanted to learn the finer points of making fresh pasta from a working chef and, with luck, score a dough recipe for my relatively new torchio pasta press. (I accomplished the former, but, sadly, not the latter.) Now with the debut of Flour + Water Pasta, readers have the benefit of McNaughton’s vast pasta-making knowledge without having to travel to Flour + Water’s Dough Room in San Francisco.