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.