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 (here).