Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hand-Made Multi-Grain Fettuccine I


(Part I)

Normally, by 11:30 pm the final few sentences are being drawn out of a deep yet drying well of creativity. However, tonight that time marked the end of a pasta making saga- the process I fully intend to describe in the next several paragraphs. 

Originally, the title of this post read Home-Made Multi-Grain Fettuccine, but as I mixed, kneaded, rolled out and sliced the dough by hand, I felt deserving of correcting it to Hand-Made. And that makes me think that although kitchen equipment has progressed tremendously and can aid in any culinary function, it lacks the heart and soul that the cook inadvertently- or intentionally- passes over to the food she handles. 

Therefore, having invested two and a half hours of emotional and physical energy into flat brown noodles, I expect them to possess super powers. This late in the night, I could be entertained by flying tricks, Bruce Lee inspired stunts or stand-up comedy, for that matter. But, to my utter disappointment, my fettuccine noodles have only proved their ability to dry up under the faint heat of under-cabinet lighting...

The process began with research into various types of flour and pasta recipes. While most sources called for flour and water as the only ingredients, Shauna James Ahern differentiated herself by adding eggs with extra egg yolks, ground nutmeg and psyllium husk powder. The latter was quickly brushed off as it turned out to be a bulk-forming laxative. Plus, I did not have it in my kitchen and had to stick to the ingredients available on the pantry shelves, and what I had was amaranth and quinoa seeds and rye and Polish wheat berries. 

Without wasting time, I went straight to academic sources. Turns out, scientists in Argentina experimented with various types of flour in pasta making and determined that a maximum of 30 per cent of bread wheat flour can be substituted with amaranth flour to reach an enhanced nutritional value without sacrificing technological and sensory quality. Another paper investigated the properties of amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat flour and the effect of these ingredients on the final product- noodles- and it was concluded that the best ratio was 60 per cent buckwheat, 20 per cent amaranth and 20 per cent quinoa flour. Now I was getting somewhere...

Just to pick the golden middle, I decided to assign amaranth 25 per cent of the total flour content. Next was Polish wheat. Although purchased on a whim, it turned out to be perfect for pasta making, simply based on its resemblance to durum wheat in that both are of tetraploid variety, although Polish wheat is not cultivated in the US, mainly because of its low yield. It also appears that both are of hard variety, although the information on Polish wheat appears limited. For my recipe, I chose to assign 25 per cent of the total to this ingredient. Finally, I decided to use rye and unbleached all-purpose flour in 12.5 and 37.5 per cent ratios, respectively. Quinoa flour was abolished as soon as I recalled that one of my relatives discovered an intolerance to saponin, the presence of which depends on whether the grain was washed or not.  

¾ cup
Unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup
Amaranth flour
½ cup
Polish wheat flour
¼ cup
Rye flour
Egg yolk
¼ cup
1% milk
1/8 cup
Filtered water
½ tsp
1 tbsp
Olive oil

Having ground fresh amaranth, Polish wheat and rye flour in my Vitamix before putting my son to bed at 8:30pm, I was ready to get started. Using the well method, I whisked, then kneaded the ingredients together by hand until I achieved the desired consistency. Since the dough had to be rolled out for pasta noodles, it had to be rather firm but not dry. Once ready, I wrapped it inside a plastic bag and let it rest for 25 minutes. After, I cut the dough in half and rolled out one part, while the other went back in the plastic bag, lest it dry out prematurely.

The process of rolling out the dough took time and significant effort, but while it was challenging, I found myself enjoying the idea of making something so common-place and taken for granted from scratch. The dough, once rolled out measured 37 centimeters (or 14.6 inches) in diameter and 1 millimeter in thickness. It was now time to cut it into ribbon-like strands of fettuccine. 

For ease of storage, I swirled each strand so it resembled a small spiral. By the time I started working on the second half of the dough, the first batch of fettuccine already showed signs of drying up, which is why it is important to work quickly.

Now ready, my spirals will be left to dry overnight to endure the ultimate test tomorrow, when  I cook my very first hand-made pasta. According to most sources, fresh pasta only cooks for 2-3 minutes and might only take an extra minute or so, if it is dry. 

It is 2:10 am and I can finally head to bed, nurturing the thought that I have done my best for today and tomorrow is a new day. The super powers I methodically cultivated in these Italian noodles will shine through in a special dish tomorrow night!

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