Semolina Pasta - A photograph and recipe

Semolina Pasta - A photograph or two, along with a fabulous recipe (see below).

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, homemade semolina pasta with a bright pesto and I can't resist a quick photograph to show my friends.

A standard photo with a tripod-mounted camera.  White-balanced at the camera and metered with a grey-card.

It was a dark, cloudy day but the grey-card metered picture, which gave a perfectly-exposed picture,  looked too bright and was not natural.  To keep the photo looking more like the real event, I decided to underexpose the grey-card reading by 1.3 stops, which is the photograph above.  Notice the white bowl is muddy.

Below was the recommended grey-card version.  The problem in both pictures is the highlight on the table, where all the detail is blown out of the wood.  I'm not particularly happy with either of these pictures.  If I were doing this again, I would have drawn the blinds on the window, just out of view.

Here is a closeup of the dish, again underexposed from the grey-card's recommendation.  The wine was sacrificed and is no longer visible.

The recipe is wonderful.  If you tried this, you will think egg-and-four noodles are uninspired and no longer worth eating.  This pasta is that good.

Semolina Pasta with Basil Pesto
Time: apx 40 minutes (plus 3 hours rest)
Skills:Easy to Moderate
Serves 2 to 3

With this recipe, you are making a world-class dish with hand-made noodles and a wonderful pesto.  Yes, this is a lot of work, but you can do this.  It is fun and not particularly technical.  Although this recipe seems long, it has lots of descriptive details.  It will take about an hour, plus resting time in the fridge.  Start in the morning and have it for lunch or dinner.

I have a Kitchen Aid mixer with a pasta maker attachment.  Admittedly, it was expensive, but it is loads of fun.  On your first attempt, you might be slow with a pasta-machine, but with experience, you will get faster and will be less-stressed.  A manual roller or hand rolling and slicing will also work.

In the past I made egg noodles and found them too soft and mushy.

This time I used Semolina flour with wonderful results because the noodles are firmer and stand up to boiling water.  This is a wheat flour, high in gluten and is milled to be somewhat gritty, like a fine, pale yellow corn meal.  It is inexpensive and can be found in grocery bulk sections.  

Serves 2 to 3.

Pasta Dough:

2 Eggs
1 to 2 tbs oil
2 T water
dash of salt
1 3/4 C semolina flour (400ml)

Beat the eggs, oil, water and salt
In a large bowl, add the flour and dig a pit for the egg mixture.  Start mixing by hand with a stout wooden spoon, working from the inside out. 

(Officially, you are supposed to beat the mixture for 2 minutes with a dough hook, but it was pointless because the mixture did not form a ball with the machine.  In the end, it was easier to mix with a wooden spoon and my hands.  No need or harm in over-working at this stage.)

Only a small amount of water is needed, with the eggs providing most of the liquid.  When formed into a ball, the mixture should barely hold together, packed.  It may take several attempts to gather into a ball.  The dough should be barely moist, on the verge of crumbling, somewhat like a good home-made pie crust dough.  If more water is needed, use a water spritzer to spray the dough.

Drop the ball on the counter and knead the flour by hand, folding it back upon itself.  This is a substantial dough and it will argue.  Use the balls of your hand and teach it a lesson.  Work it for several minutes.  If it sticks, it is too moist -- add flour to the counter and work it in.  It should hold its shape after the kneading.

Hand-roll into a thick, can-shaped tube, 3.5" (8-10cm) diameter
Slice into round biscuits, about 1" (2 to 3cm) thick

Individually wrap the pucks in plastic.
Put into the refrigerator, resting for at least two, preferably 4 hours.   The gluten needs time, let it rest.  If not, it will fall apart as it is later rolled. It can rest for as long as 12-24 hours.

While resting, make the pesto.

Pesto Sauce:
The pesto is a standard sauce and I never measure.  Invariably, I never make enough -- make more than you would expect.  Although the photos above show a drier sauce, I've learned to be more generous with later batches.  You want the noodles to swim.

Make the pesto before cutting the noodles to cut-down on your stress.

I use both pine nuts and white almond slivers, buying both in the supermarket's bulk section.  The pine nuts are wonderful, and there is no doubt the pesto needs them, but they are expensive.  Because of this, I stretch the recipe with the almonds.  Almonds are grainier, drier and blander than the pine nuts, but the garlic will take care of this.  I like their texture and the nuts add an al-dente to the sauce.

3 to 4 large cloves of garlic, or more...
1/2C Pine nuts  (80ml)
1/3C White Almond Slivers (80ml)
Olive Oil
One large Lemon, squeezed and seeded
Salt, Pepper
4 oz. Basil (75g) - two large packages, roughly chopped
Grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese (3 to 4 cups, finely grated)

A good-quality (more expensive) cheese is noticeable in this recipe. 

In a food processor, toss in garlic, pine nuts, almond slivers, pulsing several times.  Scrape the sides to catch the garlic.  You are looking for a grainy mixture, not a puree or paste.

Add a squeeze or two of lemon juice to hold the basil's color, and a dash of salt and pepper.
Pulse-in the basil, working in batches. Although bulky, the basil will blend and reduce.

While blending, drizzle a respectable amount of olive oil -- I'd guess about a cup.  There is an art to this -- you do not want to over-work the basil and yet you want to add the olive oil slowly enough to emulsify.  Scrape the sides.  Add enough oil to make a smooth, fairly lose but not runny paste.  You can wing this and can't really do this wrong.  Err on the liquid side.

Finally, quickly pulse-in or hand-mix the grated cheese.
Set the mixture aside in a small glass dish and let the flavors mellow.
If you are going to be more than an hour, cover the surface with plastic wrap.

Cutting the Noodles:

Following the instructions with your noodle machine, hand-roll the biscuits into an oblong, flat disk, about 3mm thick.  Feed it through the machine's widest setting.  Fold the sheet back upon itself lengthwise and re-feed three or four times at the same setting.  This sets a grain.

Move the machine to the next thinner setting and feed the sheet again but do not fold back on itself.  Continue narrowing the thickness, until their final thickness.  For fettuccine, my machine recommends a #4 setting, but I like it thicker and use #3.  The sheet will be thinner than the cooked noodle.

Make all the sheets, laying each flat on a counter; do not stack.  Do not worry about jagged edges or rounded corners.  There will be more sheets than you would expect.

Use a knife to cut the sheets to their final noodle-length (10 to 12" (20-30cm), give-or-take.
Do this before slicing, making the sheets more manageable. 

Slice the noodles into their final shape, either by hand or by machine.
Important: Slice all the noodles before cooking; it makes your life less hectic.

If you find the noodles clump or mush-up in the cutter, 
the dough may be too wet 
or not rested enough and the project is in trouble.

Lay the cut noodles aside, sprawling across every counter and table in the kitchen.  Don't worry if they stick, they will separate in the water.  No need to dry them. 

Boil in rolling, salted water for a minute.  You may have to cook the noodles in two or three batches, depending on your pot.  Don't crowd.  Work as quickly as you can.

Put the cooked noodles in your largest, widest bowl.  Wait on the sauce.


Toss all the noodles at one time with the pesto.  (From experience, this works better than trying to add the new freshly-cooked noodles to a previously-tossed bowl.)  If too dry, drizzle with olive oil and curse because you did not make enough sauce.

Garnish using a vegetable peeler and slicing off a few curls of cheese to put on top of the plated dish.

A few slices of toasted garlic bread would be a glorious addition.

A Merlot or Pinot wine makes a great pairing.

Kale Pesto Variation:
A kale pesto is a good variation which my college-bound daughter taught me.  Replace the basil with kale and use only almond slivers, no pine nuts.  You are doing this because you are a poor college student and both the pine nuts and the basil are expensive.  Kale and almonds are nearly free.  I would still use a better quality cheese.  The results are similar to the basil pesto and the taste is excellent, but different.  I make this variation often.

Pesto and Salmon

A picture is all that is needed.

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