It’s all about the flour II: durum and more

Hey wait a second, these taste like egg noodles! And indeed strands of homemade fettucine will if you make them from the same base material as their Swedish equivalents, which is to say soft, finely ground white flour. There’s not a thing wrong with that, of course. Standard all-purpose flour makes fantastic pasta. However to get closer to the taste of Italian pasta, you need use flours like the ones employed in Italy — and that pretty much means durum.

What’s durum? For those that might have missed last week’s exhaustive (—ing?) posts on flour, durum is a type of wheat, the hardest of all wheats. It’s physically hard, which means it’s got “bite”, it’s also “hard” in the sense that it’s high in gluten, which is what gives pasta its integrity, keeping it from dissolving as it boils.

So OK then, let’s get us some durum and we’ll make us some pasta! Oops, hang on. It’s not quite that simple, for there are many types of durum, from finely ground “extra fancy” durum flour to coarsely ground semolina. Which do you use to make pasta? Not to be obtuse on the matter, but it depends. Fresh pastas tend to be made from finer grinds, so I’ll typically put in a healthy dose of durum flour into the mix, but for interest (like the mix masters over at King Arthur) I’ll add some semolina too, for texture.

But that’s just the beginning of what’s possible. Just about any artisan flour can be used to brilliant effect in fresh pasta. That bag of fresh ground whole grain flour your cousin brought back from Vermont? Bingo. What about a little buckwheat, rye, or spelt? Maybe even some chestnut flour or even corn meal? Why not? In the right proportion (say, about a third to half of a mostly wheat and/or durum flour mix), it will very likely be excellent.

The point is to experiment, for while things can and do go wrong with pasta, it doesn’t pose anywhere near the same technical challenges as bread.

Reader Dave points out that in Italy fresh pastas aren’t made with durum flour, that durum is reserved for factory-made dried pastas. That’s entirely true. Italian fresh pastas are frequently made with Italian all-purpose flour, which has a lower gluten content even than our all-purpose. However because the character of Italian gluten is different than that of American gluten (it’s firmer whereas ours is stretchier) I still recommend the addition of some durum flour. It will give the pasta more character than the average egg noodle.

4 thoughts on “It’s all about the flour II: durum and more”

  1. Hi joe! I now live in st Louis from Santa Claus (yes, the north pole where hot chocolate reigns, not pasta) and have finally found a local Italian specialty shop that carries “00” flour that is not in a 25# bag but a small 4# bag for the home cook. The flour is Italian in origin and makes a beautiful, silky pasta. Viviano’s is the name and the owner, Mike, is wonderful. On a separate but similar note, my husband and I have been to Italy twice and the further south we went, the better the pasta and wine! The pasta was so light & soft so I’ve been experimenting with eggless pasta or a half an egg (or maybe one of your friend’s pulley eggs) in the dough recipe. The secret is as all pasta, let it rest. I love your website and am a huge fan! I have tried about 10 recipes and have only known about it for a week!,,,

    1. Santa Claus Indiana? I know that place!

      BUt thanks so much, Cindy, for the info and your readership! I couldn’t be more pleased that you’re trying so many of the recipes. I work as a full-time troubleshooter around here, so if you have any questions or additional comments, please get in touch! I’m pretty much always around.

      – Joe

  2. Can you use bread flour to make pasta, or will the amount of gluten throw it off? I would really like to make my own pasta but it is so intimidating. You really make it look easy, especially with the photos, they help a lot to make things clearer.

    1. You certainly can use bread flour, Dana. That’ll be just fine…some people prefer that, actually. Let me know how it goes!

      Also, I really need to re-do that post. Those photos are some of the first I ever did and are awfully dark and blurry!

      – Joe

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