Monday, December 24, 2018

Japanese Whisky Highball

Let’s usher out 2018 and welcome 2019 with a libation. How about a Japanese Whisky Highball? On a recent trip to Japan, I made it a point to sample as many Whisky Highballs as reasonably possible. I bought these refreshing drinks at 7-Elevens (in cans), in ramen shops and even at a ritzy bar atop the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. All tasted a little different, but all delightful.

Here’s the recipe that I use to make a Japanese Whisky Highball at home. 

50 ml Japanese whisky
Approximately 120 ml soda water

1. Pour chilled whisky into a chilled highball or collins glass.
2. Add ice to glass.
3. Pour chilled soda water into glass and gently stir.

I use different Japanese whiskies depending on my mood. On occasion I reach for Baller Single Malt, a Japanese-style whisky made by St. George Spirits in Alameda, California. St. George’s website says that “[w]e created this spirit with Japanese-style whiskey highballs in mind….” Finding a bottle might be a little tough, but worth the effort. 

Kanpai! Cheers! Wishing all A Merry Christmas and A Very Happy and Healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Best Cookbooks of 2018

For seven years now, I have shared my picks for the year’s best cookbooks. 2018’s crop contains a number of books that expertly explore single subjects. The following standout cookbooks, in alphabetical order, deserve the highest praise for their quality.

The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber. Phaidon Press.

The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson. Phaidon Press.

Rich Table by Sarah & Evan Rich with Carolyn Alburger. Chronicle Books.

So why did I pick these books as the best cookbooks of 2018?

Redzepi and Zilber carefully guide the reader on a fascinating fermentation journey. By the time you arrive at the book’s chapter on Garum, you have the confidence to take a kilogram of raw beef, mix it with homemade koji, water and salt, and let the concoction ferment at 140F° for 10 weeks. No sweat! How about swapping out that raw beef with grasshoppers? Redzepi and Zilber share a recipe to do just that. The authors make what seems plain crazy appear supremely doable and, more importantly, worth doing. Anyone with an interest in making fermented foods such as koji, miso and fish sauce needs to check out this new, outstanding cookbook.

The Nordic Baking Book is Magnus Nilsson’s food ark for Nordic baking recipes. The book contains hundreds (and hundreds) of recipes that tempt one to find some fresh yeast and bake up a storm. The recipes range from breads to rusks, from flat breads to pancakes, from porridge to sweet soup, and from sweet pastries to cakes (both soft and layered). What an amazing effort! I found the section on Shrove Tuesday buns particularly informative. The Nordic Baking Book gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year. 

Rich Table makes my Best of List based solely on its chapter on pasta. The married Richs run a restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Before opening Rich Table, Evan Rich worked as Chef de Cuisine at Quince under Michael Tusk, perhaps The Pasta Guru here on the West Coast. Evan writes that the pasta in Rich Table “basically evolved from what I learned [at Quince].” The sauces in Rich Table are crazy creative! I bought this book just for Rich’s recipe for Bucatini with Aged Beef, Rémoulade, Lettuce, and Burrata. Think pasta dressed with the guts of an In-N-Out Burger.

Not to anyway detract from the merit of the above books, but normally I struggle to whittle down my annual cookbook purchases to a Best of Five list. This year I failed—and believe me: I tried—to find five outstanding cookbooks that I can enthusiastically recommend to friends and family. So I decided to go with a Three Best List.

But Good News! 2019 looks promising! Katie Parla has a Southern Italian cookbook coming out next year. Evan Funke (with Parla’s help) has penned a pasta book that arrives next fall. And I understand a new Armenian cookbook entitled Lavash should hit your local bookstore’s shelf.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Soft Semolina Dough for a Torchio

Back in June of 2016 I shared a short video (here) by Vicky Bennison for her excellent Pasta Grannies project ( The video shows a Sardinian family using its torchio pasta press to make sos cannisones, a long tubular pasta. A family member mixes semolina and warm water to make a dough so soft that one can cut the pasta from a torchio with a smart karate chop. To keep the sos cannisones from sticking to each other while drying, the Sardinians separately lay each piece of pasta on a linen sheet draped over a large wicker basket.

Since purchasing my torchio from EmilioMiti in 2010, I have developed many different pasta dough recipes for the torchio. During this time, I never intentionally made a soft dough like the one featured in the Pasta Grannies’ sos cannisones video. Based upon my experience, using a soft dough in a torchio risks creating a sticky pasta mess, especially when extruding a long, thin noodle. Most of the torchio dough recipes on my blog make a pasta that extrudes with minimal sticking.

I recently rewatched the sos cannisones video and curiosity got the best of me: Why might these Sardinians opt for a super soft dough? I retired to my Pasta Lab to try to answer this question by making a soft semolina and water dough for my torchio. I used the following recipe, which serves 2 to 3 depending upon appetites.

1. Put 150 grams of Central Milling Organic semolina into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle. Fill a spouted cup with 68 grams of warm water (115°F).

2. Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Very—and this is key—slowly dribble the warm water into the fine semolina. Add just a few grams of water at a time and patiently wait between each small pour of water to allow the mixer to incorporate the water into the semolina. From start to finish, this step takes me about 9 minutes, give or take. Slowly adding water helps the semolina to completely hydrate.

3. When the dough comes together in the mixer’s bowl, turn off the mixer and form the dough, which should feel quite soft, into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Wrap the shaped dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

I cannot say with certainty what bronze die the Sardinians employ to make their sos cannisones, but I think they use a gargati die. I decided to make 8-inch long tubes, so I placed an inverted bowl 8-inches from the bottom of the press to act as a cutting guide.

4. Unwrap the dough, place it in the torchio’s chamber, set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at the desired length and carefully place each piece of pasta on a linen towel, making sure that each one does not touch its neighbor. The pasta should feel tacky, but not unworkably sticky. Let the pasta dry, turning occasionally, at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours.

These thick, hollow pasta tubes take time to cook. Add them into a pot of boiling saltwater and start tasting after about 7 minutes. I boiled my last batch for almost 9 minutes. As is my custom, I add my cooked pasta to its sauce and cook the two together until the sauce almost disappears.

And speaking of sauce, by watching the Pasta Grannie video, one learns that these Sardinians top their sos cannisones with a simple tomato sauce. I went for a completely different sauce: lamb, artichoke and pecorino cheese.

I came away from my experiment with the following conclusion: A torchio-extruded pasta made with a soft semolina and warm water dough has an excellent chewy texture. In my opinion, this texture alone warrants the extra efforts needed when extruding and drying pasta made with this soft dough. Further, as expected, it takes much less force to turn the torchio when using a soft as opposed to a dry dough.

I tried a soft dough multiple times with a number of different bronze dies. Personally, I prefer the pasta from a fiorentini die (here) to that from the gargati. I like the fiorentini’s thinner wall thickness and the pasta only takes about 4 minutes to cook.

Unless you commit to heavily dusting your pasta with flour while extruding, I do not recommend a very soft dough to make a long, thin, string-like shape. I tried this soft semolina and water dough using a bigoli die—without dusting—and I had A Huge Mess on my hands. The bigoli strands glommed on to each other, reminding me why I worked so hard to develop relatively non-sticky dough for my torchio. Because Bottene’s Model B Torchio allows one to change dies mid-extrusion, I simply balled up the bigoli mess, added the pasta back to the press, swapped out my bigoli die with a fiorentini die, and proceeded to make a fresh batch of fiorentini. Pretty neat.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Bolting Flour for Pasta Making

I wrote (here) about the benefits of using freshly-milled flour to make pasta. In Cooking by Hand (2003), Paul Bertolli writes, “[f]lour used very soon after milling produces the best, most fragrant pasta.” To realize this potential, the pasta maker needs to consider the interplay of bran and gluten when making pasta. Bertolli recommends blending whole-grain flour with refined flour to mitigate the effect of whole-grain flour’s bran on the gluten fabric of pasta dough.  

Another way to reduce the impact of bran when making pasta with whole-grain flour is by bolting the milled flour. Bolting means passing whole-grain flour through a sieve to remove bran. This post generally explores bolting, introduces a bolting process that I use when making fresh pasta, and shares a pasta dough recipe that uses 100% freshly bolted flour.

Bolting Flour

Milling wheat berries produces whole-grain flour comprised of bran, germ and endosperm. A number of interrelated factors will determine the amount of material that bolting removes from whole-grain flour, including (1) mill-type and its setting, and (2) sieve-type and its specifications. Commercial millers employ sophisticated equipment to remove (or add) exact amounts of bran and/or germ from flour during the milling process. Home millers cannot match the level of precision of commercial millers. Instead, expect home bolting to catch material (i.e., bran, germ and/or endosperm) too large to pass through a sieve. Fortunately, this lack of exactitude poses few problems for a pasta maker if she takes a few precautions.

Successfully making pasta with home-milled, bolted flour depends upon an appreciation of the interplay among grain selection, mill settings and bolting equipment. Failing to consider these factors increases the likelihood of making a weak dough and pasta that breaks when cut and/or cooked. Although one can mask the impact of a weak dough by choosing a more forgiving pasta shape (e.g., creating cavatelli instead of making tagliolini or tagliatelle), knowing the interaction of grain, mill and sieve will help you to create the pasta you envision.

Grain Selection Because home-bolted flour will likely contain some amount of bran, knowing a grain’s protein content helps to understand how the dough will respond to different levels of bran and the likely elasticity and plasticity of the pasta dough. This information informs what type of pasta shape to make and how the pasta will taste.  For example, if I want to mill a soft wheat variety, such as White Sonora wheat berries (available from Hayden Flour Mills), I will bolt the flour with a series of fine sieves to remove more bran. Because soft wheat varieties contain less protein, removing additional bran helps to keep the pasta’s gluten fabric intact thereby mitigating the possibility that the pasta will fracture. 

I might also decide to blend soft wheat flour with a hard spring wheat or durum wheat variety with a higher protein content to increase the pasta dough’s strength. This decision allows me to make a pasta shape that might not be as successful if I only used a bolted soft wheat flour.

Mill Settings Understanding the exchange between a mill’s setting and bolting sieves also informs what you can expect from your flour and, ultimately, your pasta. 

I own a KoMo Fidibus Classic grain mill (here). By turning the mill’s grain hopper, I can adjust the mill’s grind from Fein (fine) to Grob (course). When bolting flour for pasta making, I keep the mill’s grind indicator set on the mill’s left miter joint. Grain milled at this setting and then bolted with the test sieves (described below) produces a fragrant, finely-textured flour.

Although it might seem counterintuitive at first, too fine a mill setting will produce a gritty flour because small particles of bran can pass through fine sieves. In my experience, a very finely milled flour, even when bolted through a No. 40 and No. 50 sieve, feels gritty when compared to a slightly coarser flour bolted through the same sieves. Because each mill is different, experiment with various mill settings and sieves keeping in mind that bolting a slightly course flour may result in a more refined (i.e., bran-free) finished flour.

Bolting Equipment I began bolting flour using a household OXO mesh strainer. Over time I invested in a No. 40 and No. 50 stainless steel test sieve made by Gilson Company. Both sieves measure 8-inches in diameter and are 2-inches deep (i.e., full height). The No. 40 sieve has an opening size of 425 micrometers and the No. 50 sieve has smaller openings of 300 micrometers. I decided to invest in a No. 40 and No. 50 after reading an aside in Marc Vetri’s Mastering Pasta (2015). He writes that farro flour bolted through a No. 35 sieve is “a little finer than semolina”. Armed with this knowledge I concluded that I could produce workable pasta flour using a No. 40 and/or No. 50 sieve. 

Through experience I know that 100 grams of wheat berries milled with my KoMo’s grind indicator set on the mill’s left miter joint and then bolted with my No. 40 test sieve will yield ±60 grams of flour. If I re-bolt this ±60 grams of flour through my finer No. 50 test sieve, I will catch approximately 20 grams of additional material resulting in ±40 grams of flour.

Knowing these extraction rates allows me to calculate the amount of wheat berries that I need to produce the desired amount of bolted flour with almost no waste of grain or excess bolted flour. But more importantly, I know through experience that flour bolted through a No. 40 sieve performs differently when compared to a more refined flour bolted through both a No. 40 and a No. 50 sieve. Because flour bolted through a No. 40 sieve will, based upon the flour’s grind, contain more bran compared to flour further bolted through a No. 50 sieve, the home pasta maker needs to carefully consider her grain selection, dough hydration and final pasta shape when using a 100% No. 40 bolted flour.

Armed with some basic bolting knowledge and through experimentation you can decide, by adjusting grain, grind and sieve, how you want your pasta to smell and taste. The universe of possibilities increases further if you blend home-bolted flour with a commercially refined flour to zero in on the characteristics that you want to achieve in your pasta. More on this in future posts.

Technique through a Recipe

Experimenting with your choice of grain(s), mill and sieve(s) provides the best instruction on how to mill and bolt flour at home to make fresh pasta. Here’s my process. I share weights, but keep in mind that the variables of grain and grind might yield very different results in your kitchen.

1) Place a medium-sized pouring bowl on a scale, tare the scale and put 330 grams of grain into the bowl. I recommend starting out with a high protein content grain. In this recipe I am using Bluebird Grain Farm’s Organic Methow Hard Red wheat berries.

2) Adjust your grain mill to a fine—but not its finest—setting. On my KoMo Fidibus Classic mill, I set the grind indicator near the top left mitre joint of the face of the mill’s housing.

3) Place a clean sheet of parchment paper (approximately 13” x 15”) on your work surface under the mill’s spout. The paper needs to be large enough to catch the flour that falls from the bolting sieve(s).

4) Put a full height No. 40 sieve on top of the parchment paper under the mill’s spout. Turn on the mill and add 330 grams of wheat berries. While the mill processes the flour into the sieve, replace the pouring bowl onto the scale, which should read zero.

5) After the mill finishes grinding the flour, lift the sieve with one hand and lightly tap the sieve against the heel of your other hand so that the flour moves back and forth across the screen’s face and flour gently falls onto the parchment paper.

As you bolt the flour, notice that the flour in the sieve will slowly change color and texture. The flour in the sieve will look darker as the screen retains more bran.

Also note the color of the collected flour collecting on the parchment paper. Stop bolting when the flour begins to slightly darken and the remaining material in the sieve is coarse compared to the bolted flour.

6) Pick up the parchment sheet on either side and carefully pour the sifted flour into the bowl on the scale. In my experience, 330 grams of wheat berries milled and sifted as described above produces ±170 grams of flour.

7) Replace the parchment sheet onto the work surface and put the full height No. 50 sieve on top of the sheet. Pour the ±170 grams of flour in the bowl into the sieve and replace the bowl onto the scale. Bolt the flour through the No. 50 sieve onto the parchment paper. Again, the material in the sieve will slowly darken as the flour makes its way through the screen, leaving bran and other material behind.

8) Carefully lift the sheet and pour the sifted flour into the bowl on the scale. You should have approximately 115 grams of flour. Adjust the flour to 115 grams by adding refined flour or removing sifted flour.

9) Add 1 whole large egg and 1 egg yolk (together weighing approximately 76 to 77 grams) to the 115 grams of freshly sifted flour. Knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes until the pasta dough is smooth. The dough will feel quite firm during kneading, but will soften as it hydrates, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature.

It may take a while to get the feel of working with freshly milled and bolted flour. The payoff from using freshly milled flour is a delicious pasta with a firm bite and heavenly aroma. To appreciate these qualities, simply dress the cooked pasta with a good butter and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

A quick note on cleaning the Gilson sieves. After pouring out the bran, I use a stiff brush to whisk the face and sides of the screens. After brushing you might still find small pieces of material lodged in the screens. Fastidious millers can use fine needles to clear away this detritus.

Home-milling opens up a world of flour possibilities to pasta makers. Take a look the grain offerings from Bluebird Grain Farm, Hayden Flour Mills and Montana Flour & Grain. I buy Kamut from Montana Flour and White Sonora from Hayden. Bluebird sells exquisite organic hard white and red wheat as well as einkorn. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Egg Yolk Pasta Dough for a Torchio

With spring’s arrival, I become less miserly with my local farm eggs. Here’s a recipe for an egg yolk dough suitable for a torchio pasta press. I previously shared a dough recipe (here) that calls for 9 medium egg yolks. The following recipe uses 4 egg yolks and makes approximately 200 grams of bright yellow pasta dough.

115 grams Central Milling Organic Type 00 flour
4 egg yolks
Water, as needed

1. Sift the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Weigh the eggs yolks. When making this recipe, I start with approximately 80 grams of egg yolks. In a glass, beat the egg yolk mixture.
2. With the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and running on low speed, slowly pour the egg yolks into the mixer’s bowl in small batches. Mix the dough for about 2 to 3 minutes. At this point I typically need to add a small amount of water—approximately 6 to 7 grams—to achieve the dough consistency I want. The dough should almost come together into a ball. It should hold together if squeezed, but the dough should not feel tacky or sticky.
3. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using your hand, bring the dough together into a ball in the mixing bowl. Knead the dough in the bowl or on a work surface for approximately 30 seconds. Form the dough into a log that can slide into the torchio’s chamber. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic and leave it to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.
I tested the above recipe, which serves 2, using a number of different pasta corta bronze dies from Emiliomiti, including a No. 98 rigatoni and a No. 173 elbow pasta die. Once extruded, I let the pasta air-dry for an hour or two.

To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh pasta, stir, and when the water returns to a boil, cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Taste to determine if the pasta is ready. If so, drain and add the pasta to your ready sauce, mix the two together over heat and cook for about 2 minutes or more until the pasta and sauce marry.

This final mixing/cooking over heat takes pasta and sauce to their intended union. For 200 grams of cooked pasta, I typically have a modest amount of sauce in my pan. I aim for an amount of sauce that will disappear into the pasta as the sauce reduces and thickens with the pasta’s starch. Depending upon my sauce, I might add a handful of grated cheese during this stage and sometimes a splash or two of the pasta’s cooking water to make sure the sauce doesn’t get too thick. When adding cheese and/or pasta water to your pan, consider the amount salt in your sauce lest the finished dish become too salty.

I love the texture of pasta made with egg yolks. But what to do with your 4 leftover egg whites? Try using them to make cookies (here).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Polpette in bianco

For my first post of 2018, I want to share an Italian meatball recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks of 2017, Two Kitchens: Family recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy.  Two Kitchens is Roddy’s second cookbook and, in my opinion, it equals her award-winning Five Quarters: Recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome, which garnered the Guild of Food Writers’ First Book award and the André Simon Food Book award of 2015.

Roddy originally posted the following recipe for Polpette in bianco (Meatballs in white sauce) on her food blog, Rachel Eats. In this recipe in bianco means a white wine sauce.  After coating the polpette in fine breadcrumbs, you brown the meatballs in olive oil and then finish them in a bath of vino bianco. The wine reduces into a bright, delicious sauce that pairs with the richness of the polpette. Here’s the complete recipe from Two Kitchens (which, with a tweak or two, mirrors the recipe in Roddy’s blog). The dish serves 6.

250g minced beef
350g minced pork
75g soft fresh breadcrumbs
75g Parmesan, grated
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 eggs
fine breadcrumbs, for rolling
6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
200ml white wine (you may need a little more)
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Knead together the meat, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley (reserving a little for later), eggs, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Work the mixture, kneading and then squeezing the ingredients together into a soft, consistent mass.
Pour [the fine] breadcrumbs on a plate. Take walnut-sized balls of the meat mixture and then roll them firmly between your palms into small, neat balls. Roll the balls in breadcrumbs and sit them on a clean board or plate.
Warm the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife so that they split but remain whole and add then to the pan. Fry gently until golden and fragrant, which should take a minute or so. Remove the garlic and add the meatballs. Fry the meatballs, increasing the heat a little and moving them around until they are brown on all sides. This will take about 6 minutes.
Add the wine, which will sizzle vigorously, and a good pinch of salt. Continue to cook the meatballs, nudging them around. As the wine reduces into a thickish gravy, scape it down from the sides of the pan and keep the meatballs moving so they cook evenly. You may need to add more wine. After about 5 minutes, taste a meatball to see how it is cooking. You may need to cook them a little longer; you may not. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and stir again.
Once cooked, turn the meatballs on to a warm platter, pour over the pan gravy and sprinkle over a little parsley to serve.
People can be funny about their family recipes. They fervently believe that their mother’s or father’s or aunt’s recipe for, say, meatballs, surpass all other versions. (Roddy uses the phrase the “blessed curse of mamma’s meatballs” to illustrate this point.) You might be tempted to pass on Polpette in bianco because how can it possibly compare to mamma’s meatballs? Here’s what you do: Mix up a batch of polpette using your preferred ingredients and then use Roddy’s technique of breading, frying and braising. You’ll be happy you did. Since the recipe appeared in Roddy’s blog in 2014, I’ve made the dish a dozen times or more each year and I always use my polpette mixture, which, in all modesty, surpasses mamma’s version.

One last point before we leave polpette: The flavor of meatballs improves when they rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before being cooked. Plan ahead and your meatballs will repay your industry with better taste.

I wish more food writers turned out family cookbooks like Two Kitchens and Five Quarters. Roddy compiles recipes that I look forward to making every day of the week. I hope she’s hard at work on a third cookbook.