I love pasta almost as much as I love bread. Some dishes just do not work with any other starch. However, in the last 10 years, I've found myself becoming increasingly sensitive to normal dry boxed pasta and even homemade fresh pasta. Someone might suspect a gluten sensitivity, but I consume kgs of whole wheat flour in the form of homemade sourdough bread. So, a few years ago, I started been playing with various types of whole grain sourdough fermented pasta in order to find a pasta that would not give me stomach aches. I tried sourdough spaetzle (a mucky disaster unless I fried them...) buckwheat noodles (glue...), various store bought options, and sourdough pasta but none of them tasted good and left me with a happy gastrointestinal track.
A few months ago, I saw Chad Robertson made a sourdough pasta recipe for extremely similar reasons. He claims that, after a week of eating through Italy, his "digestion had almost completely stopped", that he "was moving through a fog with my legs stuck in quicksand" and "was so groggy that [he] could barely keep [his] eyes open" (Robertson 2021). He is likely exaggerating for comedic effect, but his success with sourdough pasta and my recent success with non-sourdough pasta prompted me to try again. This recipe is my current iteration.
The two things that I think makes this pasta recipe novel is 1) 100% whole grain 2) using sourdough to ferment the dough instead of only as a flavoring agent. To my knowledge, this is the only whole wheat sourdough fermented pasta recipe. The main improvements that made the pasta edible are 1) sifting the flour to remove the bran from the dough and incorporate it into the levain 2) using durum flour instead of whole wheat for vastly increased firmness and texture and 3) reducing the hydration to improve both handling of the rolled out dough and "toothiness" of the dough. In the end, this pasta has a texture somewhere between a dry box pasta and a fresh pasta.
I've made it successfully 5 times in a row so I think it is ready to post. It requires durum (semolina will probably do) flour. Whole wheat flour gives a slightly gooey texture, but its passable with chinese style sauces. This recipe was based off Chad Robinson's pasta recipe for sourdough pasta and Helen Rennie's pasta recipes.
Timeline: Make levain (20 minutes) -> 4hr -> make dough (30 minutes) -> 4hr -> place dough in fridge overnight -> roll dough out (1 hr) -> cut noodles (30 min) -> dry in freezer (1-2hr)
- 20g sourdough starter, 100% hydration (1:1 water to flour by mass)
- 60g water
- 60g flour mix (will discuss later)
- 480g sifted durum flour (will discuss later)
- 250g liquid (4 large eggs + water or 5 medium eggs + water)
- 10g salt
I do not find a huge difference when moving between flours. White flour, whole wheat flour, and durum flour seem to have very similar properties. I would say durum is slightly thirstier than the other two.
- Take 540g durum flour and sifted it through the finest metal mesh filter you can find. I use a "60 mesh". This removes the bran of the durum (or whole wheat). This is a required step as the bran adds a gritty texture to the pasta that I find unpleasant.
- Take your sourdough starter and combine with the water for the levain.
- Add the bran from the durum flour and as much semolina (sifted durum) as you need to get to 60g.
- Mix well, cover, and let sit in a warm place until around double in size.
- When the levain has doubled in size, make your liquid. You want 250g total and as many eggs as you can. To get perfectly 250g, top off with water.
- Mix your levain into the liquid and beat the mixture until smooth with a fork.
- Add the salt to your semolina flour and mix. Make a well in your bowl and add the liquid. Using your fork, stir the liquid as you slowly mix in more flour. When the consistancy gets too thick for the fork, use your hands and start mixing in the flour to the egg mixture.
- When the dough comes together and most of the flour is incorporated, turn out onto a clean surface and begin to knead so you get all the flour into the dough.
- My favorite kneading method is to use both hands to flatten the dough into a large disk. Then, I fold the top edge to the middle, seal, then fold the entire ball over the bottom third so the bottom edge seals in the middle but the ball is now seam side down. Then I press hard and roll to seal. I flip and repeat the folding. Now I have a ball and I repeat step 5.
- Knead, adding flour until none remains. Then knead for 10 minutes or until smooth.
- Oil the exterior with EVOO and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in a warm location for 4 hours or until 1.5-2x the volume.
- Once the dough has risen, place in the fridge overnight.
- Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll out in a pasta machine. I like to stop after the first pass through the #5 setting.
- Let the sheets dry until it feels like human skin, then cut into ribbons.
- Place 1-2 layers of pasta on a half sheet tray and place in the freezer. Check in 30min-1hr. If dry to the touch, place in freezer bag.
- To cook, add to boiling water. 3-4 minutes.
The image is this pasta with minced garlic, parsley, cliantro, maggi, and pasta water with a kale salad. Most of the garlic and herbs are basically raw. It was paired with duck confit and a celery root soup. I've used this pasta in asian beef noodles soups, french beef stew leftovers and vinegar based pasta salad with tomatos, gai lan, and herbs.
Learning from my mistakes
- Without durum, the texture is gummy or too soft.
- 60% hydration is too high.
- Kneading for more than 10 minutes after the flour is incorporated is unnecessary
- Make sure to let the dough sit after rolling it out so it dries out. 30minutes - 1hr. Neglecting this step leads to noodles that are stuck to each other. If you wait too long, the noodles will crack when you try and fold them in order to cut (unless you are using like a 300mm knife). I like to cut each sheet in half to about 10 in, fold in half once, and cut into strips. Rolling them tends to be more risky for me.
- Durum flour (or any flour) as dusting is not strictly necessary. I recommend against it until you are drying the noodles in the freezer.
- Without sifting the bran, the pasta has a grainy texture and in my opinion is inedible when you use a coarsely ground bread whole wheat unless you sift the bran for the levain. You can cover it with an oily or creamy sauce, but it is not delicious.
- You do not get the characteristic dry pasta white interior from al dente cooking, but there is still a nice bite to the pasta. Unlike store bought fresh pasta or dry pasta (even organic 70% whole wheat pasta), I can eat this pasta for dinner and the leftovers for lunch without gastrointestinal distress.
- Overproofing the dough is unlikely but possible. Don't let it double in size, then sit for a few hours at room temperature. The dough will pick up slightly sour notes that aren't amazing. Lower hydration tends to slow the fermentation process so this will take longer than a high hydration dough with similar levain type/percentage.
If you want videos on how to roll out or make pasta dough, I like Helen Rennie on youtube or the isolation baking channel with Jeffrey Hamelman. If you assume water = eggs, Rennie's egg dough has 61% hydration and her all water dough has 58% hydration. Chad Robertson's water doughs are around 51% hydration while his egg dough is at 60% hydration.