DIY-ing Pasta with Different Flours
The art of making fresh pasta seems like a very daunting task until you make it for the first time. After the first time you have tried someone else’s recipe you can then go ahead and try your own versions of them. In this post we are venturing into unknown territories with lesser known flours. After lots of experimenting, we can safely say that you shouldn’t restrict yourself when it comes to ingredients. If you have a dietary restriction and/or food allergy that keeps you from trying food, or you’re just trying to eat healthy; you shouldn’t give up.
We have been able to compare different ratios, ingredients, and lack of ingredients in order to make a pasta that keeps everyone happy and feeds them well.
To make a basic pasta dough, you need a flour, a binding agent, and sometimes, a liquid.
The flour is the base, it gives the pasta its body and structure. The flour plays two important roles in the pasta; the starch molecules absorb moisture and helps the pasta to hold its shape, and the gluten in the flour adds the stretchy, springiness to the pasta. Most often, pasta is made with all-purpose flour because of its high gluten content. We tried rice flour, soybean flour, and multigrain flour. Rice flour isgluten free.
The binding agent helps strengthen the structure of the pasta and brings the dough together. Traditionally, eggs are used as a binding agent, as the protein in the eggs set with heat to give strength and stability to the pasta. But soaked flaxseeds powder, or some fat, also works great!
Liquid is added to increase the malleability of the dough, and to help strengthen the gluten network. Usually, just enough plain water is added to bring the dough together. You can also add stock, or milk.
A few more things to understand before we get to making our pasta.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in flours like Wheat, Rye, Spelt, and Barley. It has a glue like texture which helps the dough’s elasticity and helps it rise. Gluten also gives the desirable texture(chewiness) to any baked product.
How is gluten formed?
When water is added to a flour , gliadin and glutenin (proteins) grab each other forming chains of gluten. Gases then get trapped in the gluten strands helping the dough in it’s elasticity.
How does gluten help?
Gluten helps with the elasticity of the dough. Flours with less or no gluten are hard to maintain, and are brittle.
Flours like wheat, rye, and barley have the highest gluten content.
Soya bean, rice, chickpea flour have no gluten. Thus, these flours need extra help from the kind of binding agents we use. Egg is always a good binding agent, ground flax seeds once dissolved in water can be used as a vegetarian option.
Now on to our pasta making.
What we can say about this little experiment is that you are free to use any ingredient as long as you know the basics behind it. Working with most flours is easy as they have some gluten. For the flours that have little to no gluten you just need to familiarize yourself with the flour first, by kneading a little with water and seeing how stretchy it becomes, and then by adding egg/fat/liquid and you will realize that these flours just need to come together as a dough, they do not require a lot of work because of the lack of gluten. For instance, we made a gluten free pasta by using rice flour, and ground flax seeds and water to bring together the dough. Once the rice flour dough came together we rolled it using the pasta machine, the noodles although little brittle turned out to be a nice fettuccine. Similarly, we made pasta dough with various flours and liquid/egg combinations.
Kneading is absolutely essential to the pasta making process. Specially if you’re using a flour with gluten. The more you need the dough, the more the gluten chains stretch out, and the springier your pasta becomes. So knead till your arms hurt!
Apart from the basics, try adding different flavourings to the pasta dough. The thing to remember is that sharp ingredients cut the dough while rolling out, so powders always work better.
At the end of the day you have to remember to go by instinct, and mistakes are so important to learn from. Treat cooking as a learning process and you shall come out as a well fed winner.