My third week of pasta-making, and I wanted to pull out another one of my flours that has been siting in the cabinet…probably wondering why I had ever bought it in the first place if it was just going to sit on the shelf, watching the usual go-to’s defaulted to! Oh, if flours could speak!
I reached for the semolina.
From the quick reading I did on semolina, to learn a few of its properties, I thought if I used all semolina I’d end up with such a dry, brittle dough that it might crumble to dust even as I rolled it into a ball! I may be exaggerating, but, still, the cautions were enough that I did a half and half: half all-purpose and half semolina.
What I read was that semolina makes a stiff dough and can be difficult to handle on its own because it is ground more coarsely and so can dry more quickly (qualities which, along with its high gluten content, make it a great flour for dried pastas), and that a beginner might want to combine with a softer flour if making fresh pasta.
Was I a beginner? Not quite. And yet, neither did going years between pasta-making sessions qualify me as a pasta-making guru. I took the Zen route of Beginner’s Mind.
I could go full-on semolina now, but if I was willing to be a beginner and only bring in some, then later, when I made a pasta dough with all semolina, I’d experience the difference myself and understand what the other writers were alluding to.
So I pulled out my two flours, two eggs, a little salt. Attached my pasta machine to the counter. And, instead of dish towels laid out on my table to transfer pasta to, I set out two baking trays.
I made my well, and proceeded as last week and the week before, from dough to pasta sheets.
The semolina flour is very fine, but still grainy, like fine sand or corn flour, while the all-purpose flour is a soft powder. The dough was different from my last two doughs, as were the sheets as I rolled them out. I would say pliable, rather than soft. Maybe silky.
I cut the sheets in half at the next-to-last setting on my pasta machine, because they were getting long and unwieldy. And, then at the last setting, as the sheets got long again, I cut in half again to get the length I wanted for the tagliatelle.
Tagliatelle just refers to hand-cut, and is, basically, a fettuccine-width.
Instead of using the machine to cut the sheets, I dusted them with some of the flour, rolled up and cut into half-inch widths. Then unrolled and separated the lengths, and made nests on the trays, which I’d also dusted with the flour, to prevent sticking. I had wet and then wrung out two dish towels to drape over the trays.
I was making the pasta in the morning, and wanted it to hang in there til I cooked it at dinnertime. Thanks to a Jamie Oliver blurb in a cookbook of his that I have, he had suggested trays (which is why I had pulled out trays this time), covered with damp towels. It worked just fine, though I checked throughout the day, and once in a while ran my fingers through the noodles to be sure they were staying separate and not sticking to each other. Though I tossed them all with flour as I’d laid them on the trays, I didn’t know if the damp towels might counter all the good I’d done!
Now, I’ll tell you, I could’ve called my mother at any point on any of these weeks for guidance, and she would’ve been thrilled, but I intentionally did not. She is such a natural at this, and has so much to share, but I needed to play and explore on my own first.
When it was dinnertime, I put on a pot of water to boil, and preheated the oven to 450°.
I decided to echo the shape of the pasta with zucchini and yellow squash. They were a medium size, and I slid them lengthwise on a mandoline to get long wide slices. Then cut those slices into half-inch vertical lengths. I tossed them with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven for about 20 minutes, til they were soft, golden, and browning.
The pasta took no more than three minutes. When it came out, the half-inch tagliatelle I had cut had grown to one-inch pappardelle. I tossed the noodles into the pan with the zucchini and squash, added more oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it together to coat it all. A handful of chopped parsley for color.
I came across chef/food writer David Lebovitz’s blog while scanning for information about semolina and pasta. He refers to semolina giving some French baguettes a creamy richness. I’m glad I came across that little snippet, because I wasn’t sure how to describe the difference in texture from my pasta variations of the previous two weeks.