semolina

Communal Meal: Fresh Pasta

Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).

There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.

We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)

Pasta

“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved

Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved

Eggs – 4, plus two yolks

  • Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
  • Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
  • When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
  • Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
  • Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
  • Set aside for at least ½ hour.
  • Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
  • When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
  • Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
  • Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
  • Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
  • Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
  • Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
  • Repeat with other sections.
  • The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.

 

Serve with your favorite sauce. Tomato sauce.

 

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Semolina Gnocchi (Part 2)

I had previously written about the semolina grain and how it appears and tastes differently in North African and Middle Eastern couscous and Indian uppamav contexts. The semolina granules used in couscous and uppamav have a distinctive texture. Adding vegetables or meat to the dish make them both substantial meals. Semolina flour, on the other hand, is smooth much like regular flour. It is used to make both bread and pasta.

Semolina flour is made from the inner endosperm of durum wheat which is  yellow in color, and the resulting flour has a pale yellow hue. The flour is commonly used to make gnocchi. As N. is a big fan of gnocchi, I waited for her to come home to make potato gnocchi with semolina flour. The recipe uses rich ingredients resulting in a decadent and creamy gnocchi. Baked gnocchi can  be eaten on its own, warm from the oven! Alternately, serve with fresh tomato sauce.

 

Baked Potato Gnocchi

Potato – 1 large, boiled

Semolina flour – 1 cup, plus ¼ cup for dusting

Milk – 4 cups

Nutmeg powder – ½ tsp

Egg yolks – 2, whisked

Egg – 1, whisked

Butter – ¾ cup, room temperature

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup + ¼ cup, finely grated

Sage – 10 leaves, finely chopped

Parchment paper

Metal grater

  • Using a metal grater, grate the boiled potato into a large bowl. Keep aside.
  • Bring the milk to a simmer in a large pan.
  • Add the semolina flour and nutmeg to the milk. Mix well, removing lumps with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be smooth. Cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring continuously so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove from heat. Add the butter, egg yolks, egg, and ¾ cup grated cheese and combine.
  • Add chopped sage and grated potato. Mix with a light touch to form a dough ball. Roll out the dough on parchment paper, about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Refrigerate for an hour.
  • Dust a clean surface with a little flour.
  • Take a small amount of dough and start to roll between your palm and then on the clean surface to make a 4-5-inch-long log. Use a light touch.
  • Cut into small pieces (about 1-inch). Make a small dent (collects the sauce later) in each piece with your pointer finger. Place the small pieces on a parchment paper. Or, use a cookie cutter or a tea strainer to cut out different shapes.
  • If you are not cooking right away, freeze the gnocchi. It can be baked from frozen.
  • Otherwise, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese and bake it at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. The gnocchi should have a light brown crust.
  • Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.

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This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.

 

Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.

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In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.

 

Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.

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No-Sugar Indulgences for the Holiday Season

When A. and N. come home, the first thing that they do is check to see if there are desserts in the refrigerator or pantry. We all love our last course! For a month-long holiday celebration, I decided to substitute some sugary treats with healthier options. I drew my inspiration from two sources commonly used in Indian sweets: dried fruits and nuts. At this time of the year, most pantries have leftover nuts from making cranberry bread and pecan pie or dried fruits in preparation for the upcoming Christmas, Ramadan and Hanuka celebrations. It is easy to spare both to make a no-sugar indulgence.

Dried fruits are often combined with flour and sugar mixture, as is the case with fruitcakes. Nuts are normally mixed in with corn syrup or sugar – think peanut brittle. Both ingredients, independently, need sugar to bond them together. When the nuts and fruits are combined, the dried fruits replace sugar to give the confection its sweetness and the nuts give it heft. An added advantage of this recipe is that you can use any combination of nuts (walnuts, cashew nuts, or almonds) and dried fruits (figs, dates, raisins, cranberries), creating a good way at the end of the holidays to use up any spare ingredients.

Dried Fruits and Nuts Bark

Dried fruits (any combination of figs, dates, prunes) – 1 ¾ cup, chopped into small pieces

Dried cranberries or raisins – ½ cup

Nuts (any combination of walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds) – 1 cup

Butter – ½ tsp to grease a cookie sheet

  • Toast the nuts in an oven or on the stove. Chop them in a food processor.
  • Heat a pan and add the chopped up dried fruits and cranberries. Add 4-5 tbsp. of water. Cook them on a low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes).
  • Add the chopped nuts to them. Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Mix together the nuts and dried fruits until you can roll them into a ball.
  • On the greased cookie sheet, roll out the ball until you get a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into smaller squares.

 

Semolina is a wheat grain, which is ground into flour to make pasta dough. In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. As a dessert, semolina granules are combined with molasses (jaggery) or sugar and bonded with nuts and dried fruits to make barfi. They are served at every auspicious function as ladoo. Cooked semolina has a mild taste, and its soft texture pairs well with nutty flavors and gooey dried fruit in the following recipe.

Semolina with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Semolina – 1 cup

Dried fruits – 1 cup, diced

Cashew nuts – 1 cup

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the salt.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, heat a separate pan.
  • Add the semolina to the pan and stir continuously until it has a warm, toasted aroma. This step is to prevent the semolina from clumping together later. Keep aside in a plate.
  • Add butter to a clean pan. When the butter melts, add the cashew nuts. Brown them evenly by constantly stirring. Keep aside.
  • Cook the dried fruits with 4-5 tbsp. of water on low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes). Keep them aside.
  • As soon as the water boils, add the toasted semolina in small amounts. Stir and mix continuously to prevent it from clumping together. When all the water is absorbed, continue to cook for a minute until the semolina looks fluffy.
  • Add the nuts and dried fruits and mix them in with the semolina.
  • When the mixture has cooled, make small balls. Top it with a cashew nut.

 

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