Sunday, May 5, 2019

Giuliano Bugialli, food writer and teacher: 1931-2019

I just learned that Giuliano Bugialli died on 26 April 2019. You can read his obituary (here) at the New York Times.

After purchasing The Fine Art of Italian Cooking in the late 1980’s, I wanted to amass all of Mr. Bugialli’s cookbooks. His works serve as an expert guide to anyone who wants to understand traditional Italian cuisine. I learned about nocino (here) from his Foods of Naples and Campania (and for this I shall always be grateful). I constantly reference his Bugialli on Pasta. Case-in-point: my 18 April 2019 post (here) on Nettle Powder Pasta. I believe Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking rivals Jacques Pepin’s The Art of Cooking.

To honor Mr. Bugialli, I want to share one of my favorite recipes from all of his cookbooks. Pasta con I carciofi comes from Bugialli on Pasta. In his chapter on Pasta and Vegetables, he includes five artichoke recipes. The following Sicilian recipe is a delicious take on Pasta alla carbonara but with artichokes. It serves 4 to 6.

1 large lemon, cut in half
3 large artichokes
½ cup olive oil
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lukewarm water
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Siciliano or romano cheese
1 pound dried rigatoni, preferably imported Italian

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of cold water and drop in the lemon halves. Add the artichokes to soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion on a board. Clean the artichokes following the instructions on page 67, and cut them in quarters. Then cut each quarter into thin slices and return to the lemon water.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized flameproof casserole over medium heat; when the oil is warm, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Drain the artichokes and add to the casserole, mix very well, and sauté for 4 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the water. Cover the casserole and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. When finished, the liquid should be completely absorbed and the artichokes very soft.

Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Mix the eggs with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste in a large serving bowl. When the water reaches a boil, add coarse salt to taste, then add the pasta and cook until al dente, for 9 to 12 minutes depending on the brand. Drain the pasta, transfer to the bowl with the egg mixture, mix gently but thoroughly, then add the artichokes with their juice. Mix again and serve with a few twists of black pepper.

Bugialli was a great teacher and so, no surprise, this recipe offers so many valuable cooking lessons. First, US grocery store produce often benefits from re-hydration. I’d like to think this was true in 1988 but no longer the case in 2019—but sadly, no. To this day I still trim and soak store-bought vegetables to re-hydrate them before cooking. Second, you can create so many beautiful pasta sauces by employing the technique of gently braising vegetables—in the case of this recipe, artichokes—to tenderness. Finally, I love that Bugialli uses water to braise the artichokes. Although today I often cook with rice koji stock or some other super-liquid, this recipe reminds me that water delivers pure flavor.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Stinging Nettle Powder Pasta

I wrote (here) about making green pasta with a torchio pasta press. During my research to create a torchio-friendly green dough, I came across an interesting note in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Knopf, 2008).

Outside of spinach, no other coloring can be recommended as an alternative to basic yellow pasta. Other substances have no flavor, and therefore have no gastronomic interest. Or, if they do contribute flavor, such as that of the deplorable black pasta whose dough is tinted with squid ink, its taste is not fresh. Pasta does not need to be dressed up, except in the colors and aromas of its sauce.

Other pasta masters take a more favorable view of flavored pasta. In Bugialli on Pasta (Simon and Schuster, 1988), Giuliano Bugialli devotes an entire chapter to flavored pasta and shares dough recipes incorporating: tomato paste; saffron; paprika; tomato and oregano; green bell peppers; red bell peppers; artichokes; wild mushroom; rosemary; sage; black pepper; and lemon.

Marc Vetri’s Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015) also dedicates an entire chapter to flavored pasta (including a recipe for squid ink pasta). Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2014) contains recipes for Cocoa Tajarin, Tomato Farfalle and Red Wine Rigatoni. Even a modern classicist like Paul Bertolli includes a recipe for herb pasta in his masterwork Cooking by Hand (Potter, 2003).

Most vegetable or herb dough recipes recommend either hand chopping or puréeing the flavoring and then working it into the flour during kneading. In some cases, such as Bugialli’s artichoke-flavored pasta, the recipe calls for braising the artichokes, then using a food mill to purée the artichokes, and finally reducing the purée into a thick paste before incorporating the flavoring into the flour. Reducing a purée eliminates extra liquid and concentrates flavor.

Using a dried powdered ingredient delivers the essence of a flavor without any liquid. Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns in their Bar Tartine cookbook (Chronicle Books, 2014) write: “[d]ehydration is more than just a method for preserving food. Extracting the bulk of the water from fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish concentrates flavors and changes textures. It’s one of our most important tools for building flavor.”

Although the exception rather than the rule, pasta dough recipes using dehydrated ingredients exist. In the cookbooks referenced above, Bugialli shares a flavored pasta recipe that calls for paprika. McNaughton’s Tomato Farfalle recipe uses tomato powder.

If you own a dehydrator, you can make a flavoring powder in less than a day. Fresh, stemmed leafy herbs, such as basil, oregano, mint and parsley turn brittle yet bright after 6 to 8 hours in a dehydrator set at 95°F/35°C. Flowers such as fennel, elderflower and cilantro only take 2 to 6 hours to dehydrate. If you don’t own or have access to a dehydrator, you can dry ingredients in a low oven, outside in the sun, or even indoors if you have the time and patience. Another option: experiment with store bought dried ingredients, such as wild mushrooms.

It being spring and owning a dehydrator, I decided to make a pasta dough using powdered wild stinging nettles. After foraging and washing the nettles to remove dirt and bugs, I cut the leaves off their stems and blotted the leaves dry. Following the advice of Balla and Burns, I set my dehydrator to run at 95°F for 8 hours.

Stinging nettles smell extraordinarily wonderful while drying. After 8 hours I put the brittle leaves, which no longer deliver a painful sting but remain prickly, into an electric spice grinder. My five dehydrator trays of nettle leaves produced enough dark green nettle powder to fill a small vial. 

I made two batches of pasta dough with my nettle powder. For the first batch I added 2 grams of nettle powder to 70 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Flour and 43 grams of Central Milling Extra Fancy Durum flour. I made my dough in a standing mixer fit with a paddle using just enough of a whole egg and another egg yolk mixture—about 70 grams—to form a clumpy green dough. Wrapped in plastic film, this dough hydrated for 30 minutes at room temperature. I then placed it into the chamber of my torchio fitted with a lumache bronze pasta die. In minutes I had a trove of dark green snail shells. After making some egg pasta snails, I added the cooked straw and hay lumache into a light sauce of thinly sliced asparagus braised in rice koji stock and finished with a bit of cream, freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The nettle pasta had a slight vegetative and nutty flavor.

For my second batch of dough I reduced the amount of nettle powder to 1 gram and used a ziti bronze die. The finished ziti pasta remained green, but less intensely so. I’ll stick with the 2-gram version in the future.

It’s easy to get excited about—and perhaps even carried away with—all the possibilities afforded by using flavored powders to make pasta dough. Circling back to Marcella Hazan’s note that opened this post, I believe one’s own personal taste should govern what one wishes to make and to eat and to share at one’s table. If the idea of making pasta verde appeals to you, give nettle powder a try.

Saturday, March 2, 2019


Some time ago I created a label entitled Pasta Tools on this blogsite. The first entry featured a custom-made bowl (here) that I often use when I mix pasta dough by hand. This year I plan to add new entries under this Pasta Tools label. Look for short posts on some of the pasta tools that I use, such as a walnut mattarello made by Vermont Rolling Pins.

Vermont Rolling Pins offers an Italian Long Rolling Pin that measures 36- to 40-inches long and 1.75-inches wide. Their mattarello comes in cherry, maple and walnut. They also accept custom orders. I wanted a slightly shorter (33-inches) walnut mattarello with a single knob to use when rolling out pasta on my kitchen counter. I like that the walnut’s woodgrain imparts a slight texture to the pasta.

One certainly does not need a beautiful mattarello to hand roll pasta. Many nonnas masterly wield a simple rolling pin or long wooden dowel to create a perfectly round pasta sheet (or la sfoglia). But if supporting craft makers and working with an exceptionally fine tool appeals to you, consider a mattarello from Vermont Rolling Pin.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

White Sonora Wheat Tagliatelle

The home cook with a grain mill and simple bolting screens can create flavorful pasta with fresh flour made from grains both familiar and unique. This post discusses making fresh egg tagliatelle with White Sonora wheat, a Slow Food USA designated Ark of Taste heritage grain.

White Sonora is one of North America’s oldest wheat varieties. According to Slow Food USA, the glutinous white flour milled from this soft wheat “makes stretchable dough suited to large tortillas, which were historically important for the development of burritos and chimichangas.” This soft yet elastic quality also makes White Sonora flour well-suited to creating a tender pasta noodle.

Previous posts on this site explore the reasons behind the milling and bolting techniques referenced below. I wrote here about how to mill grain and then blend its whole-grain flour with refined flour to make pasta. Another post describes how to make pasta with 100% bolted flour.

As I discussed in my post on bolting flour, knowing a flour’s protein and gluten content helps the pasta maker to understand how her dough will respond to different levels of bran and the likely elasticity and plasticity of the pasta dough. Because White Sonora is a soft wheat variety that is low in gluten, I bolt its whole-grain flour with a series of sieves to remove some bran. Sifting out a portion of bran helps to keep the pasta’s gluten fabric intact thereby mitigating the possibility that the pasta will fracture. Blending bolted White Sonora flour with a refined flour further helps to ensure a suitable gluten fabric. I like to use Central Milling’s Organic Type 00 Normal flour, which is a blend of hard red winter wheat and has a protein level of 11.2%.

The following recipe, which serves 2, includes precise weights based upon the results that I consistently achieve with my KoMo Fidibus Classic grain mill and Gilson Company No. 40 and No. 50 stainless steel test screens. Don’t worry if your milling and bolting set-up yields slightly different results. A one-click adjustment on my KoMo mill can change the weight of flour bolted through my No. 40 screen by as much as 10 grams. And if you have already hand-bolted flour at home, you know that this inexact process can yield different amounts of flour from grind-to-grind. Treat the following instructions as a general guide and adjust, adding more or less of an ingredient, as necessary. It may help to note that the 37 grams of bolted White Sonora flour mentioned in Step 8, below, constitutes 32% of the total flour used to make the pasta dough.

1) Place a medium-sized pouring bowl on a scale, tare the scale and put 100 grams of White Sonora wheat berries into the bowl.

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 the 100 grams of White Sonora 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 wheat, 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. 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. 100 grams of Sonora White wheat berries milled and sifted as described above produces ±59 grams of flour.

7) Replace the parchment sheet onto the work surface and put a full height No. 50 sieve on top of the sheet. Pour the ±59 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 37 grams of White Sonora flour. 

9) Add 78 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal flour to the White Sonora flour. You want the flour mixture (i.e., the bolted White Sonora flour and the Type 00 flour) to weigh 115 grams. Stir the flour to blend and sift it into a heavy mixing bowl.

10) Add 1 whole large egg and 1 egg yolk (together weighing approximately 76 grams) to the 115 grams of flour. Mix to form a pasta dough and vigorously 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.

I have rolled White Sonora pasta dough with a mattarello,but more often with my Imperia R220. In both cases the cooked pasta has a tender texture but a discernable bite. The key to successfully making this dough lies in its hydration: Too much liquid creates a flabby, anemic noodle.

You can buy White Sonora wheat berries from a number of on-line sources. I buy my supply from Hayden Flour Mills located in Queen Creek, Arizona. If you don’t have access to a grain mill but want to make White Sonora pasta, you are in luck: Hayden also sells a White Sonora pasta flour, which is a blend of White Sonora and Golden Durum wheat.

The ability to remove different amounts of bran from freshly milled flour and then using the bolted flour in a desired percentage with refined flour allows the pasta maker to zero in on the exact type of pasta she wishes to create. The combination of White Sonora’s soft flour with Central Milling’s fine Type 00 flour makes a silky noodle.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Japanese Ingredients in Pasta Sauces

A historical survey of Italian regional pasta reveals a rich tradition of makers using available ingredients. In her Translator’s Preface to the Encyclopedia of Pasta, Maureen B. Fant writes: “If [an entry’s ingredient] seems vague or ambiguous, it is because people used what they could lay hands on.”

Today, inside and outside of Italy, what people can lay hands on has dramatically changed. I increasingly reach for Japanese culinary powders and stocks when making pasta sauces. If you taste a plate of pasta made with one or more of these ingredients, I doubt you could pick out a Japanese essence. These ingredients blend in to support and enhance other flavors. Over the course of 2019, I will examine a few of these ingredients. First up: Shiitake mushroom powder.

The recipe that I use to make this savory-inducing powder comes from The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying (Ecco, 2015). Bowien writes: “This is the gentleman’s MSG. It’s umami incarnate, in powdered form.” 

I first made the powder about three years ago.  It looks a little like a soup mix one finds in a package of dried ramen. One night, on a lark, I added a tablespoon or so to some water while braising artichokes for a pasta sauce. The sauce boasted a delicious rich flavor. I now use shiitake mushroom powder not only when making pasta sauces, but also as a seasoning when cooking other Italian (and non-Italian) foods.

You can find commercial mushroom powder at Asian markets and online, but making it at home takes almost no work at all, especially if you purchase dried shiitake mushrooms. Here’s Bowien’s recipe, which makes about ½ cup of powder.

1 (1-inch) square dashi kombu
½ ounce stemmed, dried shiitake mushrooms

1. Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the kombu into 4 or 5 smaller pieces, then grind it to a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder or blender. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Grind the mushrooms to a powder and combine with kombu. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Like ground spices, this begins to lose its potency immediately.

Plenty of on-line sources sell dashi kombu (aka konbu) if you cannot find it in a nearby market. If you want to splurge, The Japanese Pantry, an on-line business located in San Francisco, sells outstanding ma konbu as well as other high-quality Japanese food products.

If you own a dehydrator, you can dry your own mushrooms in about 18 to 24 hours. I start with approximately 33 to 35 small- to medium-sized fresh shiitake mushrooms. Wipe the mushroom caps clean with a damp towel and remove the stems, which often twist off where the stem meets the cap. Dehydrate the mushroom caps at 120°F/48°C until completely dry. I let the dehydrator run 24 hours then weigh out 14 grams of dried mushrooms to make the powder. A small Krups spice grinder makes quick work of pulverizing the kombu and dried mushrooms.

Bowien calls for shiitake mushroom powder in a lot of the recipes in The Mission Chinese Food CookbookMapo TofuKung Pao PastramiThrice-cooked BaconBroccoli BeefCatfish à la SichuanPork Jowl and Radishes. I can go on (but won’t). Point being: The powder makes a range of different types of food taste better.

My delight with shiitake mushroom powder lead me to make Porcini Spice Powder from State Bird Provisions (Ten Speed Press, 2017) by Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. I found their mushroom powder interesting, but trickier to employ because it contains allspice berries and sugar.

I now use shiitake mushroom powder whenever I make my favorite artichoke pasta sauce, which recipe I will post. But first, I need to introduce another Japanese ingredient that has recently permeated my Italian cooking: Rice koji stock. Stay tuned.