Semolina and Water Pasta Dough
Semolina and Water is the pasta dough that most Southern Italians used for centuries when eggs were scarce. Even though it is primarily just flour and water, it produces a pasta rich in flavor from the Semolina, the inner most part of the Wheat Nut interior found in Hard Durum Wheat. It is yellow and rich in protein and gluten making it a great food for producing rich spongy breads and wonderful Pastas.
Semolina has been around for thousands of years, even before the time of Christ. It is widely used in many Cultures from the far northern parts of Europe, America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. With that said, it can be found in Most European or Asian Markets if you have a hard time finding it at your local grocers.
However the most prized Semolina comes from Southern Italy where Pasta is not only practical, but loved. Italians take their Pasta seriously and some will not touch pasta made with a pasta machine, but prefer the hand rolled method with a Mattarello, or long rolling pin, or hands and a knife or Gnocchi or Cavatelli board.
Semolina is also used in Breads and Pastries, as a barrier for breads and pastas from sticking together, and is what gives Couscous its grainy wonderful flavor.
Measuring your dough with a kitchen scale gives you a more precise outcome. And if you don’t weigh it with a scale and measure by cups, depending on the humidity you may need more or less flour. I have found over time, you get a feel for the correct consistency and as I always say, don’t give up and learn from any mishaps or mistakes.
It is better to add less flour than too much water, but give it time for the flour to develop the gluten and it should all come together,
I encourage EVERYONE I teach to make Pasta to learn how to mix the dough by hand and get a feel for it. You never know when the power will go out and if you are having a house full of people for dinner, you will still be able to produce your pasta until the power is restored.
Using a food processor is an easy alternative and takes a lot of time and mixing out of the hand method, and when I am not making Pasta as a cheap therapy session or in a hurry, it is a great method too.
300 Grams Semolina Flour
(If you do not have a kitchen scale start with 2 cups of semolina adding 1 3/4 cups and leaving 1/4 cup to the side to add more a tablespoon at a time if needed)
175 Grams HOT water, at least 170 degrees
I have an electric tea maker that make the water to the temperature I need, but you can use a sugar or oil thermometer to get the correct temperature. If you have none of these, just boil some water and use it. I also like to use bottled filtered water for the taste factor. My test for a great restaurant is how the water they serve you tastes. If they filter their drinking water, so is the water they cook with. Nothing worse than rusty sulfur water from a well when making fresh pasta. Or anything for that matter.
(Again if you do not have a kitchen scale, 175 grams is a tiny bit less than 3/4 of a cup of water. Start there and add more if
The most important thing any cook can do before they start is wash their hands extremely well, like you are a surgeon. You want to clean your nails, getting any dirt or grime off your hands and especially with Pasta, wash your wrists too. You will be using your hands and wrists to knead the dough and sometimes people aren’t the greatest after a bought with nature. Sorry to be so graphic, but next time you go to relieve yourself in the bathroom, keep in mind what your fingers, hands, wrists and arms touch as you are cleaning yourself. Teach your children this too especially if they help in the kitchen. Anyone that works in a Kitchen and has had to take a Serve Safe Certification test learns this.
Measure out your flour and place it on a wooden board big enough to mix and knead your dough or if you don’t have a wooden surface, your counter top. Don’t let that discourage you. Learn to make it. It will be fine. It’s like ordering the House wine vs a more expensive wine. Still good and gives you a great flavor and outcome.
Make a well in the middle of the flour. It should look like a crater with your walls as high as possible to hold your water.
Pour your hot water in the middle and with a fork, start adding flour from the inside of the wall into the water, mixing well and adding more flour as it is incorporated into the water.
Once the water and flour mixture is thickened and there is no fear of liquid pouring all over your work space, use a dough scraper to add the rest of the flour into the damp mass, turning and cutting the dough like with biscuits, scraping your work surface to grab all the flour mixing as you go.
Once the dough is not fluid, you may feel like it is too dry, especially if you didn’t use a scale. Remember the old woman in Italy hardly use a scale and do this all by feel and sight. You too will be able to accomplish this as time goes on, but for now, just start kneading your dough together. Fold the dough over in half, pressing with the palms of your hands away from you, like kneading bread. Turn the dough a half turn counter clockwise, fold and push. Again, turn and push. Keep doing this. It takes a while for this to all come together. If after 3 minutes if it still isn’t a softer dough and too dry, add a little more water, a tablespoon at a time, if it is too wet, add a little more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a soft supple dough that doesn’t stick to your surface or hands.
After you learn how to mix the dough by hand, If you are using a food processor, add your semolina and water and let it mix and come together. It may take a couple minutes and it may look like it’s too dry, but give it a few minutes, stopping the mixer if needed and feeling the dough. If after a few minutes and feeling it, if it feels too dry and a tablespoon of hot water and process again, adding more water a spoonful at a time until it comes together but isn’t too dry or too wet. This is why we like using a scale. When weighed out vs measured by cups, it is usually spot on and will mix perfectly. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead as below. You will still want to knead by hand as this is what makes your dough smooth and releases the gluten. There is no getting out of this.
Continue to knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Allow the gluten to be released and develop. It really makes a difference. You cannot over knead any Pasta, ever. Take a break for a couple minutes if you have to rest your hands, but cover your dough with plastic to keep it from drying out.
After you are finished kneading, roll your dough into a ball. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap tight but not squishing it, leaving no air inside the wrapping. We don’t want air to allow moisture in or develop and making our hard work useless.
Let you dough rest. Two hours or more is best for Semolina and water dough, but I have rolled out after an hour. Still 2 or more hours allows the gluten to develop better, especially without the use of eggs which helps the gluten to develop faster. You will have an easier time rolling or forming and not fight the dough. You can refrigerate the dough and use the next day, but it does take some of the elasticity away, so making it and using it the same day is best.
If you refrigerate the dough, take it out for at least an hour to allow it to get back to room temperature before attempting to roll out. It will be a lot easier especially if rolling by hand and stretch better.
In my next blog post we will discuss how to roll by hand and using a Mattarello, a long Italian Style Rolling Pin, vs a regular rolling pin, Pasta Shapes and making Cavatelli and Orecchiette. Until then, enjoy your food!