What flour should I use for making pasta?
Tipo 00 flour the most common flour used in Italian households where they use it for making cakes and making pasta using egg by hand on the kitchen counter. This particular flour is not high in protein and therefore not suitable for making rustic Italian breads.
Tipo 00 flour is not high in protein and therefore no suitable for making rustic Italian breads. Italians will often create a blend of semolina flour and Tipo 00 for bread and pizza making.
‘Tipo ‘OO‘ is a term from Italy. Italians use the term ‘Tipo O‘ and ‘Tipo OO‘ to describe how finely the flour is milled. Importantly, the gluten levels in Tipo “OO” flour can range from 6% – 12.5%. This is due to the difference in wheat grown in Europe. This is the reason why here in America, you will often find labelling to describe Tipo 00 suitable for making pizza and making pasta by hand using egg.
Importantly, Tipo 00 by itself does not make what is considered to be the best pasta because it does not have high enough levels of gluten for creating an elastic dough. However, for making cakes and pastries, Tipo 00 is Italy’s go-to flour. Interestingly, the flour is not grey like American all purpose flour but very white and it has a delicious, creamy aroma.
The Pasta Maker blends Tipo 00 flour with ground semolina flour known as durum wheat flour for making our pasta.
In general terms there are 5 choices when selecting flour for making pasta
Strong flour – a good strong white bread flour is the most commonly used flour for pasta making. Although in our experience, this type of high gluten flour can give your pasta a pasty texture. The pasta can be made with or without eggs because there is enough strength in the gluten in a good flour to hold the pasta together. The eggs are not essential and merely make a richer pasta.
OO flour – this is the one that the purists use and is also the one recommended by Antonio Carluccio in his books on Italian food. A bag of OO flour usually says on it “di grano tenero” which means soft grain. OO signifies very fine so what we’ve actually got is a fine soft white flour. Because it is a soft white, it will be low in gluten and will therefore need something to keep it together and that means you have to use eggs as a binder. Carluccio talks about the “dentiness” of pasta meaning that pasta al dente should have some firmness, almost crunchiness to it and should not have a paste-like texture. A very high gluten flour can manage this on it’s own, but as OO is low gluten, the eggs provide that degree of firmness required, as well as holding the pasta together.
O flour – is a halfway house between a strong flour and OO flour. It is usually a blend of a very strong flour such as durum flour and a softer white wheat flour. Because of the strong flour, it will contain more gluten than OO flour and will generally make pasta without the addition of eggs. However the pasta itself will be less firm if the eggs are left out. It will require less egg than OO because it already contains more gluten. The balancing act between eggs and gluten will determine the final texture and really it comes down to personal preference and how rich you want the pasta to be. In short, the more Os that there are in the name of the flour, the more eggs it will need. If you want to put lots of eggs in, go for a OO. If you only want a little egg in, go for the O or the strong flour. If you are not bothered about egg at all, then use the strong flour.
Durum flour – comes from durum wheat which is a very hard high gluten variety. It is used commercially for blending with other flours as in O flour above and for the manufacture of dried pasta. Many varieties of dried pasta list their ingredients as durum flour or durum wheat semolina (in pasta terms it’s the same thing) and that is all. It is generally not used in a domestic situation and the late Elizabeth David, one of the finest cookery writers this country has produced, said in her book “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” that she preferred to use a good strong bread flour for pasta and that she could not recall ever seeing an Italian cook or housewife making her pasta with semolina. Having said that, it’s most common form is as durum wheat semolina and it can be added to any strong flour to bump up the strength.
Semolina – comes from the heart or endosperm of the wheat grain. Durum wheat semolina is used for dried pasta because it is very high in gluten and because as semolina it is ground fairly coarsely, rather like ground rice, so it absorbs less water. It therefore dries faster whilst maintaining it’s shape and will cook without falling apart. It needs no eggs and so from a commercial point of view is far easier to handle. In Italy, semolina flour is preferred for making handmade, shaped pastas like orecchietti, trofie, cavatelli, etc.