Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Orecchiette Revisited

This post explores an intriguing method to create the semolina dough used to make handmade orecchiette, one of my favorite pasta shapes to form and to eat. With autumn here and winter fast approaching, the shorter days affect the availability of local farm eggs that I use to make fresh egg pasta. So when hens lay fewer eggs, I make more pasta with semolina and water.

A year or so after writing about making orecchiette (here), I came across a 2013 article in Sunset magazine that described Samin Nosrat’s technique for making orecchiette. Nosrat teaches cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and is working on a new cookbook entitled Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: The Four Elements of Good Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Her method for making semolina pasta dough intrigued me. Here’s her approach, paraphrased.

Add 4 cups of fine semolina flour to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to its lowest setting and slowly drizzle ½ cup of warm water (105º-115ºF) into the flour. Mix for 2 minutes then turn off the mixer and let the flour and water rest in the mixing bowl for 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on to low and slowly drizzles in another ½ cup of warm water and mix for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the mixer and allow the flour and water to rest for another 15 minutes. Turn the mixer back on low and now add ¼ cup of warm water to the dough and mix for another 5 minutes followed by another 15-minute rest. Finally, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil and slowly mix the dough until it “starts coming together in little balls, climbing sides of bowl, and is moist and firm like Play-Doh.” The reason for this process? Rosrat writes: “You want the flour to absorb the water for as long as possible before adding the oil, since fat inhibits gluten development.” Press the dough into an 1-inch thick disc, wrap it in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This process makes enough dough for 6 to 8 servings of orecchiette.

I made Nosrat’s dough using Central Milling organic semolina and it turned out great. If you have a problem making a semolina and water dough, which can be tricky, try Nosrat’s recipe. Her approach takes time, but it’s practically foolproof.

After following Nosrat’s recipe a few times, I began to play around with it. I scaled it down to serve 2 and eliminated the olive oil—a rarity in semolina and water pasta dough—thus reducing the need for 3 fifteen-minute hydration periods. I found that using the same set-up (i.e., a standing mixer set on low fitted with a paddle), you can make an excellent small batch of orecchiette dough in much less time. As Nosrat points out, the key is to very slowly drizzle the warm water into the fine semolina flour. To make enough dough to serve 2, I use 150 grams of Central Milling organic semolina and 68 grams of 115ºF water. The process, from the first slow drizzle to mixed dough takes me about 6 minutes or so. Then I wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The orecchiette from this pasta dough tastes wonderfully chewy and delicious.