The History Of Pasta : The Gnocchi Edition
The history of what we know today as pasta begins in Sicily dating back as far as 1152AD. Writing dating back to the 1st and 2nd century historian and author Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lasagna which he attributes to the 1st century Chrysippus people of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavored with spices and deep-fried in oil. They would later fill these sheets of dough with meats resembling modern day pasta dishes. Common forms of pasta include long shapes, short shapes, tubes, flat shapes and sheets, miniature soup shapes, filled or stuffed, and specialty or decorative shapes. As a category in Italian cuisine, both fresh and dried pastas are classically used in one of three kinds of prepared dishes. As pasta asciutta (or pastasciutta) cooked pasta is plated and served with a complimentary sauce or condiment. A second classification of pasta dishes is pasta in brodo in which the pasta is part of a soup-type dish. A third category is pasta al forno in which the pasta incorporated into a dish that is subsequently baked.
Pasta is generally a simple dish, but it comes in many varieties due to its versatility. Some pasta dishes are served as first courses in Italy because the portion sizes are small and simple. Pasta is also prepared in light lunches, such as salads, or large portion sizes for dinner. It can be prepared by hand or food processor and served hot or cold. Pasta sauces vary in taste, color and texture. When choosing which type of pasta and sauce to serve together, there is a general rule regarding compatibility. Simple sauces like pesto are ideal for long and thin strands of pasta while tomato sauce combines well with thicker pastas. Thicker and chunkier sauces are better able to cling onto the holes and cuts of short, tubular, twisted pastas. The extra sauce left on the plate after all the pasta is eaten is often mopped up with a piece of bread.
Chefs know that when choosing flower for their product they must first consider the final product desired. To achieve a firm, resilient product, like pasta, high-protein flour will give your pasta the strength to withstand being stretched and pulled without tears forming in the dough. If you want a light fluffy cake protein levels should then be lowered to around 8%-10% by weight. The lower level of proteins allows for the dough to form together while being silky and smooth to taste. Other factors including acidity, moisture content, humidity of workspace, time and firmness of dough all affect the final pasta product.
All-Purpose Flour – A blend of hard and soft wheat; it may be bleached or unbleached. It is usually translated as “plain flour.” All-Purpose Flour has 8% to 11% protein (gluten). All-Purpose Flour is one of the most commonly used and readily accessible flour in the United States. Flour that is bleached naturally as it ages is labeled “unbleached,” while chemically treated flour is labeled “bleached.” Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached. Bleached is best for piecrusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes and waffles. Use unbleached flour for yeast breads, Danish pastry, puff pastry, strudel, Yorkshire pudding, lairs, cream puffs and popovers.
Almond Flour (Gluten Free) – Just a touch of this flour (about 1/4 of the flour mixture) is all you need to add moistness, a little binding, light almond flavor, and density to baked goods. It is especially good in pastry crusts, cookies, and quick breads.
Barley Flour (Low Gluten) – A non-wheat flour made from grinding whole barley. It is a popular alternative to wheat flour because, unlike many non-wheat flours, it contains some gluten. This flour has a mild, but slightly nutty taste. This flour also has fewer calories and more than four times the fiber of all-purpose. When consuming products made of barley flour instead of All-Purpose Flour, one can triple the fiber intake. When making yeast bread recipes, there is not enough gluten in barley flour to properly develop the bread, and it is recommended swapping only one quarter of all-purpose flour for barley flour in yeast bread recipes, it is great in quick breads and pancakes.
Bread Flour – Is white flour made from hard, high-protein wheat. It has more gluten strength and protein content than all-purpose flour. It is unbleached and sometimes conditioned with ascorbic acid, which increases volume and creates better texture. Bread flour has 12% to 14% protein (gluten). This is the best choice for yeast products.
Buckwheat Flour (Gluten Free) – It is packed with nutrients, readily available, easy to work with and has a nice nutty flavor. Check out the article “Buckwheat Flour – Adds Nutrients and Flavor to Baked Goods” on the Cooking America website.
Cake Flour – A fine-textured, soft-wheat flour with a high starch content. It has the lowest protein content of any wheat flour, 8% to 10% protein (gluten). It is chlorinated (a bleaching process which leaves the flour slightly acidic, sets a cake faster and distributes fat more evenly through the batter to improve texture. When making baked goods with a high ratio of sugar to flour, this flour will be better able to hold its rise and will be less liable to collapse. This flour is excellent for baking fine-textured cakes with greater volume and is used in some quick breads, muffins and cookies. If cake flour is unavailable, substitute bleached all-purpose flour, but subtract 2 tablespoons of flour for each cup used in the recipe (if using volume measuring).
Chickpea Flour (Gluten Free) – Also known as garbanzo flour, gram flour, and besan. Made from dried chickpeas ground into a flour. Used in many countries, it is a staple ingredient in Indian, Pakistan, and Nepal cuisines. You can use this flour as an egg substitute in vegan cookery. You can substitute up to half the amount of all-purpose flour called for in a recipe with chickpea flour. It is also very easy to make your own Chickpea Flour by processing dried chickpeas in your blender or food processor.
Corn Flour (Gluten Free) – A powdery flour made of finely-ground cornmeal and milled from the whole kernel. Corn flour comes in yellow and white and is used for breading and in combination with other flours in baked goods. White corn flour is used as a filler, binder and thickener in cookie, pastry and meat industries.
Instant Flour (Wondra from Gold Medal) – Is granular and formulated to dissolve quickly in hot or cold liquids. It will not work as a substitute for all-purpose flour. Although there are recipes on the container for popovers and other baked goods, it is used primarily in sauces and gravies.
Millet Flour (Gluten Free) – Millet is one of the oldest foods known and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes. Millet flour is most commonly used in desserts and sweet breads largely because of the grain’s naturally sweet flavor. When substituting for wheat flour, it is usually best to start with about a 3-to-1 ratio of wheat to millet
Organic Flour – Used in the same way as regular flour. It must follow U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations to be labeled “organic.” Using this flour is a matter of personal preference, but, in backing it behaves the same way their non-organic counterparts do.
Pastry Flour – Also is made with soft wheat and falls somewhere between all-purpose and cake flour in terms of protein content and baking properties. Pastry flour (also known as cookie flour) has a protein (gluten) of 9% to 10%. Pastry flour can be used for making biscuits, piecrusts, brownies, cookies and quick breads. Pastry flour makes a tender but crumbly pastry. It is not recommended for yeast breads. Pastry flour (both whole-wheat and regular) is not readily available at supermarkets, but can be found at specialty stores and online. You can try to mimic it by using a 2-to-1 ratio of all-purpose flour to cake flour.
Pumpernickel Flour (Low Gluten) – This flour is made from coarsely ground whole rye berries. It is the rye equivalent of whole-wheat flour. Pumpernickel breads tend to be dense, dark, and strongly flavored.
Quinoa Flour (Gluten Free) – It is one of the most nutritious grain flour available. Quinoa is considered a grass/seed and not a grain. This powerful little grain is a great addition to any diet, but is an ideal solution for those following a gluten free, vegan or vegetarian diet. You can substitute this flour for half of the all-purpose flour in many recipes or completely replace wheat flour in cakes and cookie recipes. This is a very expensive flour to purchase.
Rice Flour (Gluten Free) – Rice flour is a form of flour made from finely milled rice. This flour can be made from either white or brown rice and can be used interchangeably. White Rice Flour (also called Mochik) is lighter, milder, and easier to digest than wheat flour. Some find white rice flour to be slightly gritty, but many find it preferable to bean flours. It is great as a thickening in sauces. You can also make your own rice flour – just place rice of your choice (white or brown) in your blender and process until it forms a powder.
Rye Flours (Low Gluten) – There are light, medium, and dark colored varieties of rye flour. The color of the flour depends on how much of the bran has been removed through the milling process. Because rye flour is low in gluten, some suggest substituting 1/3 of the amount of rye with wheat flour to ensure the bread will rise properly.
Self-Rising Flour – Also known as Raising Flour and sometimes as phosphated flour. This is a low-protein flour with about 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt added during milling for every cup of made. It is especially suited for biscuits, muffins, cakes, and pastries. It is also available bleached or unbleached. It is often recommended for biscuits and some quick breads, but never for yeast breads. Exact formulas, including the type of baking powder used, vary by manufacturer. Recipes that call for self-rising flour do not call for the addition of salt or leavening agents.
Semolina Flour –It is made from durum wheat, the hardest type of wheat grown. The flour is highest in gluten. When other grains, such as rice or corn, are similarly ground, they are referred to as “semolina” with the grain’s name added, i.e., “corn semolina” or “rice semolina.” It is also used in making the pasta we carry at Olivina Taproom.
Sorghum Flour (Gluten Free) – A very good substitute for wheat flour in many recipes, especially if combined with other denser flours.
Soy Flour (Gluten Free) – Made from ground soy beans. Full-fat and low-fat soy flours work best in sweet, rich, baked goods like cookies, soft yeast breads, and quick breads. Soy flour can be substituted for approximately 10% to 30% of the wheat or rye flour in most recipes.
Balancing PH – As an example, alkaline noodles are very popular product for Asian dishes. The alkalinity allows the dough to turn a yellow hue as well as resemble the mouth feel of egg like dough. A simple addition of 1 teaspoon of baking soda to your pasta sauce can be lighter on the stomach, however, when changing the acidity of any product one can expect a chemical change in flavor.
Moisture - Moisture is one of the most crucial factors when forming dough. A pasta dough that has high moisture will be soft to the touch and very fragile, a wonderful choice for fried noodles. If you were to add moist noodles to any acidic or water-based sauce, the moisture of the dish will turn the noodles into a mushy mess. However, if your dough does not contain enough moisture, the protein strains are unable to form together leaving your pasta ball incomplete. The industry standard is 30% moisture of pasta balls. Anything below 20% will not allow the dough balls to form. Anything over 45% moisture will turn cooking water into a starchy solution.
Kneading - The kneading process is very important because pasta must withstand various chemical changes. If your pasta noodles are not formed properly they will disintegrate and turn the pasta water into a starchy liquid. Over-kneading the dough may cause problems later, so simply apply moisture and allow pasta to rest.
Humidity - Humidity is just as important as the moisture of your dough. If your workspace is too humid, this can make the kneading process very difficult and troublesome. However, a very humid environment can work to your favor as well. If, by some chance, you make the pasta too dry or too over-worked, simply wrap the dough in plastic wrap that is coated with oil. To speed the process up for very dry pasta balls, you can loosely wrap the dough ball and place a warm wash cloth on top and place a large mixing bowl over bowl, forcing your pasta ball to relax.
Firmness - The firmness of your dough is the final factor to consider. All pasta requires a certain amount of kneading and forming before it is ready to eat. When you form your pasta ball from flour and egg you will notice your pasta ball is very loose. This is because the protein fibers have formed to a point but are not very resilient to chemical change. Folding and kneading your pasta dough via a machine or rolling pin will tighten the protein fibers, thus allowing it to withstand the boiling process as well as the ability to soak up water and acid without falling apart.
During our first class we will discuss forming pasta balls and demonstrate the proper kneading process. Next, we will cover how to form your pasta with a hand crank pasta maker. For help you may refer to the guide above or the step-by-step guide below to assist in your troubleshooting.
So to start this magical process
you will need the following
2. Solid, Flat Surface
3. Appropriate Flour
4. Measuring Cups
5. Whisk or Fork
6. Seasonings and Oils
7. Baked or Boiled Russet Potatoes
In this section, we will cover the basics of making handmade gnocchi. Gnocchi is very delicate pasta; because of this you must freeze the pasta first, then take it directly from the freezer to boiling water for the best results. The temperature of your potato also plays a roll in the fluffiness of your pasta. Gnocchi is only made with potatoes, flour and egg. A variety of starchy vegetables can also be used to take the place of the potato, such as beets, parsnips, yams and more. Without heavy amounts of starch, your pasta will never form properly and will feel more like soft clay. To start the process of making gnocchi, we will start with preparing potatoes. The suggested amount of potatoes for 4 servings is 4 medium potatoes or 3 large potatoes. Boil the potatoes until the skin starts to blister. You may also bake the potatoes, but be sure to wrap them in foil in case they burst during the process. Again, you may also use a starchy vegetable. Cook the potato or vegetable until it is well done. Remove the outside skin of the vegetable and mash it as quickly as possible. Quickly mash your potatoes as the hotter they are the fluffy the pasta will feel. Next, make a well in your mash and dust a cup of flour over the well and the mash. Break two eggs in the center of this well and add a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Begin to whisk the well together until it turns into a paste, then add the mash at this point collapsing the well and begin the kneading process. Once you begin to knead the dough be generous with the flour, adding up to a cup and a half more for this batch. Once the dough has formed, it will look and have the consistency of a dough ball, but without the spring in it. Wrap the dough and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes.At this point chop the ball into many sections and begin to roll them into longer tube shapes.Use your fingers to roll out the dough evenly. This pasta requires a delicate touch so try not to be rough when rolling.Aim for the pasta to be the same size. Length does not matter. Next, take a bench tool or knife and begin cutting the pasta into ¼ or ½ inch sections. When doing this, use a clean fork and lightly dip it into flour. Take one piece of cut dough and place against the back or front of the fork.With one finger, lightly push an indent into the pasta, making the pasta slightly push through the fork needles. Using your fingers, lightly pinch the back of the pushed side together closing the pasta and completing the pasta. Now place it into a floured bin. With a gnocchi board simply placed the cut dough, cut side down against the board to allow for more friction, with light pressure, slide your thumb down the board with the pasta under curling the pasta as you go. Place into a bin of flour until your ready to sift the results. This floured bin will prevent the pasta from sticking together. Place the bin into the freezer for 4-5 hours. Once the pasta is fully frozen, shake it through a pasta colander and place in a zip lock bag. Remove as much air as possible and place back in freezer. Frozen pasta will be fresh tasting for 1 month and good to eat for up to two months if stored properly.