Atta flour

I made some pasta the night before last.

I keep noticing these things that my local FoodMaxx sells. For example, in the Indian section they have some spices; the first thing I noticed is that they have whole cardamom, green and black. Green is the usual one. Not only can I now get whole cardamom but their prices are so low. Next I noticed that they have whole mustard seed; enough to last me forever, but the price is so low it feels like it’s practically free. Then I noticed that they have cumin seed. Again, I was sort of put off by how much; it fills up a quart jar. But again, the price was so amazing that I figured that I’ll put it in a jar and keep it in the freezer and it’ll keep for a long time. And whole seeds last longer than ground ones.

Then I noticed that they have flour; at first I thought it was just wheat and chickpea flour, but then I noticed that they also have millet flour, of which I’d already bought some from the health food store. Then I noticed that the wheat flour says that it’s durum flour; the light bulb went off and I was thinking that durum flour is ordinarily hard to get and good for various things. So the next time I went I looked at it and not only is it durum flour but it’s whole wheat durum; that really got me excited (I don’t like using white flour unless it’s absolutely necessary). It’s marketed to be used for chapati, and it’s also used for roti, naan, and puri. There are 3 different brands; 1 of them is a mixture of whole wheat and white, one is just whole wheat, and the third I don’t remember what its composition was, and it was also the most expensive ($13) so I didn’t pay much attention to it. The whole wheat only one was the least expensive, $8, so I got it. So $8 for a 20 pound bag of whole wheat durum flour. If you buy King Arthur flour it’s $4 for a 5 pound bag; Pillsbury or Gold Medal is around $3.50 for a 5 pound bag.

So now I’ve got enough whole wheat durum flour to last me for a long time.

When I got home I pulled out some cookbooks and started looking at pasta recipes and sure enough, durum is what’s wanted for pasta. I followed one recipe but the pasta was much too dry and I had to add a lot more water, although that’s consistent with using whole wheat flour; it definitely needs more water. But the dough kept tearing while I was kneading it. I let it rest for an hour and kneaded it some more and it was still tearing, although not as much. I kneaded in some more water but then it started getting tacky. I remembered that an old James Beard pasta cookbook called for oil in the pasta dough so I kneaded in about a tablespoon of that. The additional water and finally the oil fixed the tearing. By the time I finished it was too late to cook it, and it was an experiment anyhow, so I wrapped it and put it in the fridge. Tried some the next day and it was great. I should have started with the James Beard recipe; it uses about half the flour and I’d have started with the oil in it. Since it’s whole wheat and needs more water I’m going to start by adding an egg yolk in addition to however many eggs it calls for. The Mark Bittman pasta recipe calls for 2 eggs and 3 egg yolks and there’s one in the James Beard book called French noodles which calls for 3 eggs and 6 egg yolks. James Beard also wisely stresses that it’s important to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes and preferably overnight in the fridge.

My pasta machine’s cutters are dodgy; they cut on every other one so the pasta ends up being twice as wide as it should be with a groove down the center where it didn’t cut. For the second batch I decided to just use the pasta machine to roll the dough and then to cut it by hand, which I liked doing. I also learned a great trick from a cooking magazine for sprinkling flour; use a salt shaker for a nice even sprinkle. I bought one of those stainless steel ones that are the size of a coffee mug with a handle on the side; it was something like $1.50 at TJ Max. After sprinkling the flour on the rolled dough I use a soft pastry brush to spread it around. You can sprinkle a lot of flour on the flattened dough before you roll it into its jelly roll shape just before you cut it; it keeps the dough from sticking together and it rinses off when you cook it.

It was great when I cooked it. It was definitely whole wheat, not the tender delicate (and, to me, insipid) noodles you get from white flour, but I always prefer whole wheat. I put some clarified butter and olive oil on it and some garlic salt and freshly ground pepper. The second time I grated some Romano cheese on it. Both were very tasty.

I’m looking forward to trying James Beard’s recipe; I remember when I used it many years ago that it made a nice dough. I’ll also have to try adding 1/4 cup of some of the other flours; millet, rice, teff, barley, whatever.

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