Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Spelt & Kamut Pasta

I take and keep notes when making pasta with a new flour blend. I often shoot a reference picture of the recipe with the finished pasta. If the dish turns out, I store the photo on my computer and the recipe in my pasta journal. (Sometimes it takes me a while to move my notes into my journal.)


About week ago, I came across a photograph of an emmer and Kamut pasta that I made back in 2016. I wanted to try out the recipe again, but couldn’t find any emmer grains in my pantry. I did, however, find a bag of spelt. I decided to improvise.


If you root around on The Internet, you will find a lot of conflicting information on…well, a lot of things, but, for purposes of this post, on emmer, spelt and einkorn grains. Each is different, but these grains often get lumped together as farro. Although mixing-up emmer, spelt and einkorn is easy, it’s hard to confuse these grains with Kamut, which is a trade name for Khorasan wheat. I love cooking and baking with Kamut. I often blend this ancient durum wheat with other flours to make pretty much everything taste better. When I received my first bag of Kamut from Montana Flour & Grain, I understood why some call it “Camel’s Tooth”. If you have not worked this grain, I suggest you give it a try. Finding Khorasan wheat gets easier with each passing year.


Per my 2016 notes, I used 75% emmer and 25% Kamut flour. I wanted to keep close to these percentages with my spelt and Kamut pasta. With a goal of making 2 serving portions, I started with 250 grams of spelt that I milled and sifted through a No. 40 and No. 50 sieve. (More on bolting flour here.) This produced 75 grams of spelt flour. I then milled 150 grams of Kamut grain and similarly sifted the flour achieving 32 grams of Kamut flour. I wanted 115 grams of total flour, so I added 8 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal to my flour mixture.


I usually add an egg and a yolk to 115 grams of flour when making pasta. In this case the egg/yolk mixture weighed 78 grams. After mixing the flour and egg together by hand in a shallow bowl, I kneaded the dough for 8 minutes, wrapped it in plastic, and set the dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.


After resting, the dough felt soft so I decided to make a laminated noodle using my Imperia R220 manual pasta machine. After multiple passes through the rollers, I stopped at the machine’s number 3 setting. The pasta still felt a tad soft. I cut the pasta into 4 sheets, dusted it with semolina and let the sheets air dry on my kitchen counter for about 15 minutes per side. Because I planned a sauce of fresh borlotti beans and razor clams, I cut the pasta into tagliatelle. I wrapped the cut noodles in a kitchen towel and let them sit for about 45 minutes as I made my sauce.


I taste my fresh pasta while it cooks. Although the pasta felt soft after rolling, the cooked spelt and Kamut pasta had a firm bite to it. After about 2 minutes in salty, boiling water, the pasta achieved the right texture to finish cooking for another minute or so in my sauce.


Spelt pasta has a lovely mild wheat flavor. Bolted Kamut flour helps the noodle’s strength. Conclusion: Switching out the emmer for spelt worked out great. For the last couple of years I have experimented with making an extruded Kamut pasta using my torchio pasta press. After a lot of fine tuning, I’m getting closer to a recipe that I can share with you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020



The 2010 English-language edition of The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking lists fifteen different types of focaccia. It defines focaccetta di Aulla as a flatbread; focaccia al miele as a sweet pastry; focaccia di Lerici as a cake; and focaccia di Pasqua salata di Pitigliano as a loaf. Focaccia farcita contains boiled vegetables—field greens, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes—sandwiched between two disks of dough and then baked. To make focaccia di Voltri, a specialty of Genoa, mix a “relatively liquid dough,” coat it with corn flour, and bake it on a hot plate.

Here in the United States, only one type of focaccia—focaccia genovese—has achieved anything close to a stronghold, and then only, in the eyes of many, as pizza’s poor relation. As Colman Andrews writes in The Country Cooking of Italy (2011) “…it would not be entirely incorrect to describe the most common varieties of focaccia as pizza crust without the toppings (or with the simplest of them, like just salt, olive oil, and/or rosemary or other herbs).”


Focaccia deserves more respect. This ancient bread boasts a primal lineage and the best examples rank among the world’s most delicious breads. In The Food of Italy (1971), the great Waverly Root—second from the left on this site’s banner—writes that focaccia’s “…origin reaches so far back that no one knows when it was first invented….” We do know that the word focaccia derives from focus, the Latin word for “hearth.” When describing a particular region’s version, Root often calls focaccia a hearth cake “as its name indicates” because these early flat breads cooked on a hearth’s hot stones or among ashes.


Fortunately, home bakers can make excellent focaccia without stones, ash or even a fancy bread oven. In my opinion, the best focaccia comes via a Nancy Silverton recipe that appeared in a 2011 Los Angeles Times article entitled Master Class: Chef Nancy Silverton. In this article, Silverton describes her quest to find the secrets to baking great focaccia and shares her “basic” focaccia dough recipe.


If you know anything about Silverton, you know that there is nothing “basic” about her bread. After sharing Silverton’s base dough recipe, the LA Times article presents different ways to embellish the dough: Roasted Pepper and Chile, and Onion and Sage. Each taste fine, but, for my money, the paragon of Silverton’s focaccia is a version made with green olives and fennel pollen. The published recipe in the LA Times makes 2 rounds. I modified the recipe to make a single round and to add metric measurements.



Total time: 3½ hours, plus 12 to 24 hours resting time for the sponge


Servings: Makes 1 (10-inch) focaccia dough round


Note: This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer, 1 10- by 2-inch round cake pan and a digital kitchen scale. 


Focaccia sponge


.25 grams active dry yeast

105 grams water

86 grams bread flour


1. In a small mixing bowl (preferably plastic or ceramic), sprinkle the yeast over the water. Set the bowl aside for a few minutes to give the water time to absorb the yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the bread flour until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.


2. Cover the bowl tightly with a sheet of plastic wrap, then tightly wrap another piece of plastic wrap or twine around the perimeter of the bowl to further seal the bowl.


3.  Set the bowl aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until the sponge becomes bubbly and thick, like the consistency of wallpaper paste (thicker than a pancake batter but thinner than dough), 12 to 24 hours.


Focaccia dough


156.5 grams water

5.5 grams olive oil

93.5 grams focaccia sponge

2.25 grams active dry yeast

220 grams bread flour

5.5 grams kosher salt

110 grams olive oil for baking pan


1. About 3½ hours before you are ready to bake the focaccia, place the water, 5.5 grams olive oil and 93.5 grams of the focaccia sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Toss out the unused focaccia sponge or use it to make another round.) Fit the mixer with a dough hook and, over low speed, add the yeast and 220 grams bread flour. Mix the ingredients over low speed for 2 minutes to thoroughly combine and form the dough.


2. With the mixer running, slowly add the salt, then increase the speed to medium. Continue mixing the dough until it is smooth and well-formed, and starts to pull away from the bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. Note that the dough will not pull so much that it “cleans” the bowl, but if the dough is too sticky and is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl at all, add a little more bread flour (a spoonful as needed at a time) to achieve the right consistency.


3. While the dough is mixing, lightly grease a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with olive oil. When the dough is ready, turn it out of the mixer into the oiled bowl. Wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and tightly wrap the perimeter of the bowl with kitchen twine or another piece of plastic wrap to further seal the bowl. Set the dough aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until doubled, about 1½ hours.


4. Dust the work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Acting as if the round has four side. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Turn the dough over and return it, folded side down, to the bowl. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature until it has doubled in volume, 50 minutes to 1 hour. (The dough will be puffy and feel alive, springy and resistant. It will not collapse under the touch of your fingertips.) 


5. Pour 110 grams olive oil into the 10-inch cake pan and tilt the pan so the oil coats the bottom evenly. Place the dough in the prepared cake pan and very gently pull the edges just to obtain a roughly round shape. Cover the pan with a clean dishcloth and set aside at room temperature until the dough relaxes and spreads to cover about half the surface of the pan, about 30 minutes.


Castelvetrano Olives and Fennel Pollen topping


olive oil for brushing

approximately 18 Castelvetrano olives, pitted

2 grams Maldon sea salt, or another large flake sea salt

.20 grams [1/8 teaspoon] fennel pollen


6. Heat the oven to 450F. Remove the dishcloth from the top of the cake pan and, using your fingers, gently tap down on the focaccia with about 5 light strokes to nudge it toward the edge of the pan; it might not reach the edges, but don’t worry.


7. One at a time, starting from the center and working out, push the olives into the focaccia dough while simultaneously pushing outward to encourage the dough toward the edge of the pan, arranging the olives evenly over the surface of the dough and pressing them so deep that they are almost flush with its surface. At this point the dough should be touching the edge of the pan.


8. Brush the surface of the dough generously with olive oil, then sprinkle over the sea salt and fennel pollen. Set the focaccia aside until it has risen and puffed around the olives, about 30 to 45 minutes.


9. Place the focaccia on the center rack of the 450F oven and bake until crisp and golden-brown, approximately 24 minutes.


10. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the focaccia from the pan to a wire rack (use a fork to gently lift and slide the focaccia out of the pan). Brush the surface of the focaccia once more with olive oil. Set aside to cool slightly—or as long as you can resist it.


After making this bread a few times, I started to play around a bit with the ingredients. I tried a mild Ligurian extra virgin olive oil from Azienda Agricola Vittorio Cassini. This EVOO makes the bread even more delicious.


Next, I experimented with a different flour blend. Instead of using 220 grams of bread flour in the dough, I blended 170 grams Central Milling Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour with 42 grams whole grain Kamut flour and 8 grams Central Milling Organic Medium White Rye flour. I mill the Kamut the morning of the bake. I don’t know what it is about this particular flour blend, but the results taste amazing.


In terms of process, I deviate from the first instruction in Step 4, above. Instead of turning the dough out onto a floured surface, I do what I call a “Tartine turn” which is a technique that I learned from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book.  Here’s how I do it: Imagine the bowl’s rim as the round face of a clock. I wet my hand and grab the “edge” of the dough at 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck the dough in. I then turn give the bowl a ¼ counter-clockwise turn and grab the “edge” at the new 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck it in. I do these turns one more time. Finally, with wet hands, I lift the dough up and turn it over and return it to the bowl, seam side down. I like this bowl-turning approach because it’s tidy and I don’t have to flour and then clean up my work surface counter.


Finally, I want to share a recommendation for a nice, dedicated focaccia pan. I bought a 26cm Ottinetti blue steel deep round baking pan that measures across just a tad over 10 inches. It’s the perfect pan for Silverton’s focaccia recipe. If you buy this pan, you may wish to line the pan’s bottom with a round of parchment paper to insure against sticking the first couple times you bake. After a couple of rounds, my pan was seasoned and I now forgo the baking paper.


Silverton’s focaccia lends itself to different toppings. In place of olives I once tried cubes of grilled artichoke heart. I’ve inserted different roasted peppers that turned out a round resembling a delicious stained-glass window. I topped my latest version with Japanese eggplant, anchovies and garlic that I added after an initial 8-minute prebake. Pulled from the oven 16 minutes later, I sprinkled over a heavy handful of Pecorino Romano cheese.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Red Russian Wheat Pasta


In Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015), Marc Vetri writes about making pasta with freshly milled wheat flour at Washington State University’s Bread Lab. The results, he reports, were “staggering.” Pasta made with commodity flour “made the familiar mild-tasting earthy pasta that most people are used to.” But pasta made with freshly milled wheat varieties, such as Soissons, Tevelde, McGuire and Dayn, produced outstanding flavors and fragrances. However, Vetri continues, one grain stood out:


“One variety in particular, Red Russian, smelled complex in the bag but failed in the bakery. It was high in protein, 14.1 percent, but the protein wasn’t strong enough to make bread. So I asked [the WSU Bread Lab] to grind the Red Russian wheat berries very finely, like tipo 00 flour, the grind I normally use for fresh pasta….With this freshly ground whole wheat flour we made a basic egg dough, rolled by hand, and cut it into pappardelle. Just boiled and put on a plate, it was like no pasta I had ever tasted. The texture was soft but chewy and the flavor was pronounced: earthy, nutty, and fruity all at once. It was light years ahead of any other whole wheat flour I’ve ever used to make pasta. And none of these flavors was detectable in the pastas made with commodity flours. The textures were similar, but texture is something you can manipulate by mixing flours together to change the protein content. Flavor, on the other hand, cannot be replicated.”

After reading this paragraph in Mastering Pasta, I—probably like many other curious pasta makers with grain mills—searched for Red Russian wheat berries. I couldn’t find any. I kept looking, on-again/off-again, over the years, but with no success.


About a month ago, I had a lucky break: I came across a scan of a 1922 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin (No. 1305) on the Bread Lab’s website. This bulletin examines soft red winter wheat varieties found in the US and contains a section on Red Russian. Upon learning that Red Russian was a soft winter wheat, I augmented my search parameters and found Palouse Heritage, a grain supplier in Eastern Washington State. Palouse Heritage sells Red Russian under the tradename English Redhead. According to Palouse Heritage, high protein soft red wheats, like Red Russian, “…have been used for centuries for scones, biscuits, flatbreads, and pastas. It is also prized by craft brewers for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers.”


I placed my Red Russian order with Palouse Heritage and, upon receiving my wheat, made my first batch of Red Russian pasta. I finely milled 57 grams of Red Russian and blended it with 57 grams of Central Milling’s Organic Artisan Bakers Craft bread flour. I brought the dough together with 1 medium egg and 1 small egg yolk and kneaded the stiff dough for 5 minutes. After a 30-minute rest at room temperature, I rolled the dough out with my mattarello and cut the pasta into fettuccini. The pasta’s texture, soft but chewy, mirrored Vetri’s description, but I didn’t taste a pronounced nutty or fruity flavor. Maybe blending the Red Russian with refined flour mitigated the whole wheat flavors?


I made a second batch of pasta, this time using 100% freshly milled Red Russian. I followed Vetri’s Whole Egg and Whole Wheat Dough recipe on page 29 of Mastering Pasta. This pasta also had a mild wheat flavor—one might say earthy—but, at least to my taste, not a pronounced nutty or fruit quality.


A myriad of factors (e.g., soil, geography, weather, farming practice and seed variety) can impact the flavors of fruits, vegetables and, yes, grains. My experience with Red Russian wheat reminds me of a similar episode I had making pasta with Warthog, a hard red winter wheat. I bought a bag of Warthog from a Texas mill and these remarkable berries smelled and tasted of baking spice. The Texas mill sold out before I could place another order, but I found an East Coast mill that sold Warthog grain grown in New York State. Although harvested in the same year, the Texas and New York grain smelled and tasted materially different. The New York Warthog did not express any spice notes while the Texas grain smelled redolent of baking spice.


Next year’s Red Russian crop might better express the flavors that impressed Vetri. Although not quite as expected, the grain made great tasting pasta. I like that the soft Red Russian did not produce a gritty-textured noodle that often occurs in a home-milled, 100% hard wheat pasta. I look forward to making further experiments with this Washington State heritage wheat.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Cayenned Corn

Here’s a recipe to take advantage of the bounty of summer corn. I clipped Ishmail Merchant’s recipe for Cayenned Corn from some newspaper or magazine back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. In researching this post, I learned that the recipe comes from Ishmail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine (St. Martin, 1986). The cookbook version calls for ½ teaspoon of cayenne and isn’t quite as chatty (i.e., fun).


Cut as much uncooked fresh corn as you have mouths to feed. (For 4 people you will need about 4 to 5 ears of corn.)


Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the corn, a couple of chopped-up garlic cloves, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like heat), and salt to taste. Cook this mixture a few minutes over medium heat.


Add ½ cup cream (half-and-half or even milk will do), cook the mixture for another 8 minutes or so, and serve it hot with a side dish of basmati rice.


Ismail Merchant (25 December 1936 - 25 May 2005) was an award-winning film producer who, with his life-partner James Ivory, created nearly 40 films including The Remains of the DayHowards End, and A Room with a View.


Merchant loved film and food. A self-taught cook, he boasted that he “disobeys all the conventions and laws of cooking, preferring to improvise and make new discoveries all the time.” According to Madhur Jaffrey, who wrote the forward to Ishmail Merchant’s Passionate Meals (Hyperion, 1994), “Ismail cooks easily and he cooks well.”


I certainly get the sense of this fearless cook when reading the above recipe for Cayenned Corn, which feels more like a gesture than a mandate. I prefer recipes that give a cook license to play around with a dish. Once I added spot prawns to briefly cook with the cream and corn. Occasionally I add diced onions and green chilies to the dish. Often I top the dish with slices of roast chicken. My latest tweak: swapping out the cayenne pepper with Cobanero chili flakes from Burlap & Barrel, a spice importer located in Queens, New York. This fruity, smoky pepper grows in Guatemala and adds heat and complexity to this easy summertime dish.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Willie's Crisp

The calendar says July, but the weather today feels more like winter in my corner of the Pacific Northwest. Locals like to say that summer on the island begins in earnest on the 4th of July. We’ll see. So far 2020 hasn’t been a normal year, to say the least.


In anticipation of the season, I’ve started to pull out some of my favorite summertime recipes. Here’s one called Willie’s Crisp. The recipe comes from the great food writer Marion Cunningham. I clipped the recipe out of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food Section back in the early 1990s. I loved the dessert so much that I printed it on my Vandercook Model No. 4 press.


Marion Cunningham, who rewrote The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and penned a number of her own cookbooks, earned a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. She died in 2012. Cunningham frequented the Saturday morning farmer’s market in Walnut Creek, California, where I often shopped with my young daughters. It was always a treat to see her shopping there. Cunningham’s recipe for Plain Pancakes from The Breakfast Book (Knopf, 1987) remains a family favorite memorialized here on this website. But on to Willie’s Crisp, which serves 9.


1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

5 to 6 cups peeled, seeded and sliced fruit, or stemmed berries

½ to ¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

¼ pound butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready an 8x8-inch baking dish (no need to butter it).


Put 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork. It should be crumbly; if it seems too dry, add a little more egg.


Put the fruit or berries into another mixing bowl. Stir together the 2 tablespoons flour and sugar to taste. Add to the fruit and toss to lightly coat. Spoon fruit into the baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the crisp mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the crisp mixture.


Bake about 40 minutes or until the topping is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


I will dig through my recipes to see if I kept my original clipping of Willie’s Crisp. I don’t recall if Cunningham shared her connection with Willie, but I doubt he was actually a cowboy. If you have excellent peaches, consider using them to make this delicious, comforting dessert.


I hope you enjoy Willie’s Crisp as much as I do. Next up: a recipe for Cayenned Corn from Ishmail Merchant. Stay safe, everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


I posted my first article on this website ten years ago. I wrote about bigoli, a Venetian spaghettoni that I made on a hand-turned pasta press called a torchio.


Since writing that first post, I’ve made a lot of pasta with my torchio using different bronze dies that craft a diverse range of pasta shapes. I learned that certain dies produce better results when extruding a particular kind of pasta dough. I now use one type of dough when making a fine, long pasta (here) and another when I want a short pasta (here).


Yet even with my pasta journal full of tested recipes, I still experiment: sometimes to affect a change in my pasta’s texture and/or flavor; sometimes based upon the ingredients that I have—or don’t have—on hand; and, occasionally, just for fun.


I want to share another torchio pasta dough recipe that I recently developed. I aimed to make a chewy-textured long string pasta that extruded without excessive sticking. To realize these qualities, I use my standing mixer fitted first with a paddle and then with a dough hook to knead the dough.


115 grams Central Milling Organic Semolina

115 grams Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal

4 grams Diamond Crystal kosher salt

2 medium eggs



1) Put the 230 grams of flour and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle. Mix to combine the flour and salt.


2) Place a glass beaker on a scale, tare the scale and add the eggs to the beaker. A medium-grade egg weighs approximately 50 grams, so the eggs in the beaker should weigh about 100 grams. Add water to the beaker so that the egg mixture weighs a total of 112 grams. If the 2 eggs weigh more than 112 grams, remove enough egg white to reduce the weight of the eggs to 112 grams. Whisk the beaker’s contents together.


3) Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Slowly add small amounts of the beaten egg mixture into the flour. Patiently wait between each small pour to allow the mixer to incorporate the egg into the flour. From start to finish, the step of adding the egg mixture to form the dough should take about 3 minutes.


4) When the dough comes together (see photo above), turn off the mixer and replace the paddle with the mixer’s dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer back on to low and knead the dough for 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer.


5) Form the dough into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Very tightly wrap the dough log twice in plastic film and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Tightly wrapping the dough helps hydrate the dough.


6) After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough and knead it by hand for 30 seconds to firm up the dough. Ready your chosen torchio die and place the dough in the torchio’s chamber.  Set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at your desired length. The pasta should feel just a tad sticky. When making a long string noodle, I dust the cut pasta with semolina flour before placing the pasta on a tray to dry out for an hour or so. 


The above recipe makes enough pasta to serve 4. When I began developing this recipe, I used 115 grams of flour, one egg and some water. This produced a dough that happily skirted around the dough hook in the mixing bowl. So I doubled the qualities and problem solved.


I bought a new bronze die to use with this dough: a 3mm square spaghetti die that Emiliomiti (here) calls spaghetti alla chitarra. Per Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, the pasta chitarra (guitar) ”…consists of a wooden frame (beech or other neutral wood) strung with parallel steel wires.” The pasta maker places a thick-ish sheet of pasta on top of the “strings”. Zanini De Vita continues: “[u]nder the uniform pressure of a rolling pin, the strings cut the pasta to make the famous maccheroni, which are a sort of square spaghetti about 12 inches (30 cm) long. They are boiled in salted water.”


In Molise maccheroni alla chitarra is called crioli, in The Marche stringhetti, and in Lazio it is tonnarelli. If you like to make cacio e pepe, the above dough paired with the tonnarelli die will make you very happy. I also used the dough in my torchio fitted with a No. 98 rigatoni die. The pasta tasted great, but the tubes didn’t hold their shape after extruding.


I originally started this food blog, in part, as a lark, thus its silly name. If I had known I’d be at it for ten years, I might have considered a more serious moniker. But…maybe not. What could possibly be more Serious than a Bunburyist? Another ten years?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci

I hope that you and your loved ones are all safe and well.


My state’s Stay Home/Stay Healthy order allows market shopping, but experts advise to limit these outings to once a week. So like many others, I am buying more canned and dried food items. I picked up some dried chickpeas (aka garbanzos beans) and decided to make a bean and pasta soup from Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio (University of California Press, 2013). I find this pantry-friendly dish comforting and, when necessary, adaptable.


Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci features a small, square pasta that goes by different names throughout Italy. Many will recognize the shape as quadrucci and quadretti (“little squares”). A factory-made version goes by the whimsical name lucciole (“fireflies”). But in Lazio, they call the pasta cicerchiole and ciarchiola because its diminutive size approximates that of a local wild pea.


Here’s Zanini De Zita’s recipe for Minestra di “cicerchiole” con i ceci (Soup of chickpeas and homemade pasta).


1 pound (500g) chickpeas, soaked and ready to cook

1 sprig rosemary

1 slice lardo or pancetta

1 garlic clove

1 ladleful tomato purée


5 ounces (150g) cicerchiole (i.e., quadrucci, a homemade pastina)


Bring 2 quarts (2 liters) lightly salted water to a boil in a pot. Add the chickpeas and rosemary and cook over medium heat until the chickpeas are tender; the timing will depend on the age of the chickpeas. Check after 20 minutes and frequently thereafter. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water.


Chop together the lardo and garlic and sauté gently in a pan over low heat. Add the tomato purée, season with salt, and cook until the sauce is well reduced. Add the cooked chickpeas, the pasta and 4 cups (1 liter) of the chickpea water to a boil. When the pasta is al dente, transfer the soup to a tureen or ladle into individual bowls and serve.


Some notes and thoughts. In my experience, dried chickpeas—at least the store-bought domestic ones sold in the US—rarely cook in 20 minutes. Check after 20 minutes, but let the chickpeas cook until they are truly tender—this may take an hour or even longer—but not so long lest the chickpeas become mush.


If you have lardo, pancetta or some other equivalent meat or fat on hand, then lucky you. With no lardo or equivalent in my pantry, I sautéed the garlic in a couple good glugs—maybe 4 tablespoons—of nice olive oil. In the past, I’ve added diced onion to the garlic, and sometimes carrot and celery, too. Many recipes for chickpeas and pasta soup include anchovies.


In Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds, Zanini De Zita shares a quick and easy way to make cicerchiole:  cut fresh “…fettuccine crosswise at intervals equal to the width of the noodle.” She writes that most recipes for cicerchiole call for an egg dough.


With the flour shortage at my local market and because I own a KoMo grain mill (here), I made whole-wheat pasta mixing one large egg with 50 grams freshly-milled Warthog hard red wheat from Barton Springs Mills and 50 grams Central Milling Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour. (More on milling, blending and bolting flour for pasta here and here.) As it comes out of the mill, Warthog flour strongly smells of cinnamon and baking spice.


If you want to take a deeper dive into cicerchiole, I recommend that you consult Zanini De Zita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (University of California Press, 2009) and The Geometry of Pasta (Quirk, 2010) by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy. Zanini De Vita covers cicerchiole in the Encyclopedia’s Entry No. 203 for Quadrucci. She writes that the small pasta generally contains wheat flour, eggs and sometimes nutmeg. In central and southern Italy, cooks often make this pasta using just flour and water. In Italy’s Marche region, they mix wheat and corn flour to create their version called quadrelli pelosi. Lazio’s cicerchiole often contain wheat and emmer flour.

Looking at the above regional variations, one might conclude that authenticity springs from necessity and availability. So especially at a time like this, use what you have on hand. And if that’s dried pasta, cook it in salted water then add the pasta to the cooked chickpeas (or beans or farro or barley or lentils).


Back to cicerchiole. The Geometry of Pasta says the small square pasta measure 3mm by 3mm by .5mm. Kenedy writes that the little squares are “…the simplest shape to make, but rather fiddly and so easier to buy.” This may be true in normal times, but these are not normal times. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Koji Stock

Back in February of 2019, I wrote (here) about using Japanese ingredients, such as culinary powders and stocks, to make pasta sauces and I shared a recipe by Danny Bowien for what has become a staple in my kitchen pantry: shiitake mushroom powder. Here’s how I use the powder to make a quick yet flavorful fresh pasta sauce serving 2:  

Sauté a diced shallot in 2 tablespoons/28 grams of butter. Add 1 tablespoon/2 grams of mushroom powder to the pan and stir the mixture together over moderate heat. Add some thinly sliced vegetables to the pan. (When in season, I like to use thin slices of fresh artichoke heart or asparagus.) Pour in ½ cup or so of water, a bit more butter and a pinch of fennel pollen and/or some chopped herbs. Bring the mixture to a simmer, taste and season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and braise the vegetables for about 4 minutes. The sauce is now ready to receive the cooked pasta. Mix the pasta and sauce together for a minute over moderate heat, add freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese and cook until the pasta absorbs its sauce. The shiitake powder enhances the flavor of the other ingredients without contributing a mushroom flavor. The powder makes the sauce taste delicious and savory.

When I want to add even more flavor to this pasta sauce, I use koji stock in place of water. In The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Artisan, 2018), René Redzepi and David Zilber write that they “find koji indistinguishable from magic—the best kind of magic, in fact, because anybody can wield it.”


What is koji? Per The Noma Guide to Fermentation, “[k]oji is a term that comes from Japan, where it refers to rice or barley that have been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a species of fungus—a sporulating mold, to be exact—that grows on cooked grains in warm and humid environments. (In the English-speaking world, we apply the term koji interchangeably to the inoculated grains, the fungus, and the spores.)”

I first read about dried rice koji in a 2013 article by Tara Duggan in the San Francisco Chronicle. Duggan’s piece focuses on shio-koji, an easy-to-make mixture of dried rice koji, salt and water. Shio-koji tastes salty, sweet and savory all at the same time. Use it like salt to marinate meat, make pickles, and add flavor and depth to salad dressings and sauces.

The Noma Guide to Fermentation contains a recipe for shio-koji. But, better yet, Redzepi and Zilber tell the reader how to make the actual koji grains. The book goes on to suggest innovative ways to use both fresh and dried koji grains. One application surprised me: use dried koji grains to make stock. Redzepi and Zilber write: 

“One of the best possible uses for dried koji is as a flavoring for stock. Boil 1 liter water in a pot and add 150 grams crumbled dried koji (not koji flour). Turn down the heat and let the stock simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the solids. What you have is a versatile, vegetarian base liquid that can be used for a whole flight of applications.”

That’s it! In 10 minutes you can create this magical liquid that enhances and deepens the flavor of food. On its own, my homemade rice koji stock smells and tastes just slightly sweet and of mushrooms, but its own unique flavor disappears as it cooks and the koji works its magic. The authors share that, thanks to koji, at Noma they “more or less stopped making long-cooked meat stocks and producing sauces via classical reductions…By cooking koji into a lighter broth, we can achieve the same rich, complex flavors without the heaviness of all that gelatin and dairy.” 

If you want to try koji stock but don’t want to make and dry your own koji grains, finding commercially-manufactured dried rice koji isn’t nearly as difficult as one might imagine. Start your search at a well-stocked Asian market. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you might find dried rice koji at a nearby grocery store with a good international food section. The brand I see most often here in the Pacific Northwest is Cold Mountain. If you cannot find dried koji grains locally, you can buy a container on-line from US and Japanese sellers.

Being me, I wanted to make my own koji grains. I used my Brød & Taylor Bread Proofer and a homemade cedar tray to hold the grains. I bought koji spores (aka koji tane) from GEM Cultures, a business here in Washington State and from Kawashima, an on-line source in Japan. Koji tane doesn’t cost too much and has a self-life of months if properly stored. By carefully following Redzepi and Zilber’s clear instructions, I went from uncooked white rice to koji grains in 2 days of mostly unsupervised attention. Making barley koji is just as easy as creating rice koji.

Is koji stock made from homemade rice koji better than stock made from Cold Mountain dried rice koji? In my experience, the homemade stock has a much deeper aroma and taste. But both produce remarkable stock.

If you haven’t checked out Redzepi and Zilber’s book, I recommend you give it a look. The Noma Guide to Fermentation explores a broad assortment of fermented foods ranging from simple lacto-ferments, such as pickled white asparagus, to mind-blowing black vegetables and garums made from roasted chicken wings. Redzepi and Zilber also explain how to use koji to make miso and shoyu.