In Defense of Gluten

My daughter and I love making pasta. We start from scratch, and enjoy mixing the dough by hand, kneading it while we talk, and finally running it through the Imperia pasta machine to make lasagna sheets, noodles, or squares to stuff with filling. 
The recipe is pretty simple, adapted from my father's teaching and from the work of the late great Marcella Hazan. It can be scaled up for any size meal, or you can just make lots and store the dough balls in your fridge for a week or more, ready to dust with flour and roll out into beautiful sheets of pasta.

Take 1 cup all-purpose flour and make a "volcano".
In the hole of the "volcano", crack and beat 1 egg.
Add 1 TBS of olive oil, and 1 pinch of salt.
Add 2 tsp of water (or tomato juice, or nettle infusion). The water helps the gluten form properly.

To this basic template you can add rubbed sage, or chopped parsley, or calendula petals, or cuttlefish (sepia) ink. The possibilities are endless

Slowly incorporate the flour into the egg/oil/water mix. When it's mostly blended, start squishing the dough with your hands and fingers until it forms into a glossy ball (or multiple balls, if you're using more than 1 cup of flour). Keep kneading until the dough becomes elastic and supple.

Place the ball of dough in a plastic bag in the fridge for an hour or two, then take it out and cut in half. Press the dough into a flat pancake - and you're ready to feed it into the pasta machine!

The quality of the dough relies on a protein present in wheat, called gluten. I've been unable to achieve the stretchy quality of good pasta dough any other way. It's elastic, resilient, and can be rolled incredibly thin without tears or breaks thanks to the gluten polymer keeping everything "linked up". Part of what kneading accomplishes is to link many gluten molecules together to achieve this resilient "sheet" effect. I apologize if gluten offends your sensibilities (or you GI tract) - but it's really a beautiful thing.

The other day my daughter and I were admiring the thin sheets, looking at how the light from our western windows glowed through them, alabaster-like. She came up with some great similes to describe the fruits of our labor. I told her I'd steal her words - which led to a conversation about exactly what I meant by that, how one could "steal" words, what plagiarism is. Good stuff for a four-year-old. Regardless, here's my plagiarism in action. It's an ode to gluten.

Metal rolls thick dough
until, when held up
evening sun shines through it -
thin as a rabbit's ear,
silky and cool. We clear
flour off the pine board
and lay a long sheet out
thin as a petal.


Unknown said...

Now, I do indeed love this post as well as the gluten fruits of your labor. You are both cooks and imagery poets.

rose of Walk in the Woods - she/her said...

Oh, I do love pasta.

And it's always homemade/handmade in my little hut. I recently had some travels to contend with and when I got home The Spouse had a simple garden sauce simmering, arugula salad awaiting its olive oil and herbal vinegar … and "homemades" (as we say) just waiting to swim to life in the second pot simmering on the stovetop.

Such a warm and loving welcome home, gluten and all!

Wonderful post! I've always used flour, egg and oil to make my pasta … but I'm *so* inspired to add herbal infusion now!

Pamela said...

I have a pasta dough recipe that is perfected for my tastes - it's awesome! You can roll it so thin in the machine you can see through it! And, it's deep yellow thanks to wonderful eggs. Don't see a problem with pasta every once in a while! Parisian gnocchi has tarragon, parsley, and chervil in it - it's amazing.