Medieval Pasta

The following research on the wheats and dough is credited to my husband, Ben.

Any pasta recipe starts with the dough and any discussion of period pasta dough starts with a discussion of wheat. The nutshell version: the ancestor of modern wheat is einkorn wheat which is not a good bread wheat being that it is bitter and needs to be leached. Einkorn mated with a wild grass to produce emmer wheat. Emmer has developed into what we know as bread wheats and durum. Emmer is better for bread but is very hard to mill. The modern bread wheats Vulgare, Compactum and spelt are much easier to mill.

Durum, in latin, means hard. Durum wheat is a very high protein, high gluten wheat but it has a very low moisture content. This means that it is not very good for bread (but you can make bread with it) but it is perfectly suited for making pasta. Pasta made from durum wheat, once dried, can be stored for years. (6) (Storck 31-33) Semolina is a grind of durum wheat whose coarseness is equivalent to fine cornmeal. Scappi notes that plain, non stuffed pasta could be dried and stored for an extended period of time which was the purpose that dried pasta was originally designed (Scappi 48)

We have tried to make several period pasta using bread flour, spelt and cake flour (because Scappi uses the term “fine” flour) but the soft flours mildewed quickly. Pasta made with all purpose flour (a combination of soft and hard wheat flour) and semolina did not mildew. Our conclusion is that Scappi would have used semolina for all pasta including pasta asciutta, or dried pasta and all-purpose only for pasta to be used immediately or stuffed pasta.

 

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