There are a lot of people who take pasta making and cooking really really seriously and that's awesome - for them. When I cook for myself, I tend to cut corners: don't have proscuttio? use bacon, dont have butter? use oil (lets be honest though I ALWAYS have butter) and (here's the relevant one) don't have semolina or double zero flour, can I use all purpose instead? There is a lot of information out there about eggs and pasta, but I've had a pretty hard time finding out about flour.
There are two main types of flour used for making pasta. Semolina and 00 (double zero) are the two most common kinds found in recipes, but they're not something the average home cook necessarily has. So, last weekend I set out to test three different flours and the good news is this - you don't have to invest in expensive and hard to find ingredients for making pasta at home.
I relied on the palates of my wonderful friends who blindly tasted linguine and ravioli made with each flour. I tried to be as scientific as possible, making sure to cook each pasta for the same time, and I made it with the same sauce (cacio e pepe) Here's a shot of them diligently taking notes and eating pasta. I'm about to go deep, so if you just want to know which one to buy I would jump to the end now.
Each pasta was good, but some did taste better than others. We chose a sauce that allowed the flavor of the pasta itself to come through (literally just butter, parmesan and pepper). If you were to cover them with a more flavorful sauce, or fill them with something, the taste most likely wouldn't matter (its pretty subtle).
This is definitely the prettiest of the three, it is a coarser, yellower flour and makes a beautiful yellow pasta (the top one in the above photo). It has a toothier consistency than the others and is a little chewier. We thought that this one tasted the best; it's the ingredient we're most familiar with when it comes to pasta. Box pasta is made from semolina and water, which is why the flavor was so familiar. The rougher texture allows sauces to cling to it better, it made an amazing linguine. The roughness wasn't a perk when it came to making filled pastas. The flour particles are bigger, so the dough isn't as stretchy when it gets thin. I had a few of my more stuffed raviolis burst when I tried to seal them. Overall- its great for making un-stuffed pastas and it tasted the best.
Although this wasn't the most delicious one, it still made pretty good pasta. In terms of particle size its in between semolina and 00 flour, you could definitely tell it wasn't as "grippy" with the sauce. The color was in between and it wasn't the golden yellow one normally associates with handmade pasta (the middle one in the photo). The flavor was alright compared to the semolina, but could probably be improved on either by mixing with semolina flour or making some kind of flavored pasta. It performed well when it was super thin for the ravioli, I didn't have any of them break and it was easy to work with. Overall- good for making filled pastas, would do in a pinch, and would make okay linguine, especially with a more flavorful sauce.
Double zero flour is super fine, it makes a great elastic dough that can be rolled really thin. There is more information online about this than semolina flour, and basically, its used because its able to be made thin and the noodles are really smooth and silky. Personally, I didn't care for that texture with the linguine, don't get me wrong, it was still good, but if there was ever a time to be picky this is it. I did prefer it over the all purpose flour flavor wise (I honestly don't know why) and thats why I would rank it over the all purpose. It did make the BEST ravioli. The dough was super easy to work with and I was able to REALLY fill them. Like - there was filling shooting out the sides filling them. This flour is great for making really smooth pasta, and is my top choice for making filled pastas.
So, the question remains - should I buy fancy flour and if so, which should I buy?
For the one time pasta maker who doesn't cook or bake much- Don't buy fancy flour, just use all purpose, make ravioli once or twice, or try to make linguine. Maybe do it on someones birthday or for a special occasion; you don't need to commit to a fancy bag of flour that you'll just use once.
For someone who likes to cook and bake and can see themselves making pasta occasionally (2-5 times a year) Buy semolina - bobs red mill* sells it, so you can buy it at some major grocery stores and its availible on amazon prime! Its more versatile, you can bake with it, use it for pizza crusts and bread, and you can make some pastas with JUST semolina and water. (I'll get to addressing that at some point). Whats great about it too is you can mix it with all purpose flour which gives your dough more stretch and flexibility (needed for stuffed pastas) AND still have the excellent semolina flavor. I'm a big fan, and highly endorse this flour.
Now, feel free to buy all of them, mix and match depending on what you're making. Today's ravioli was 75% 00 Flour and 25% semolina, it was great; a lot of recipes call for half and half. Once you try the flour, you can figure out what properties of each you like and combine them to make your perfect dough.
*I don't use the bobs red mill brand; I just know that they make a semolina flour . I buy my ingredients *gulp* at an cute little Italian grocery store in the North End here in Boston. I actually don't want to tell you the name because I'm scared you're going to buy out their flour, but because I just restocked (and because worse case scenario I can buy it at Eataly) I'm going to tell you. It's the Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop off of Hanover street in the North end. Its down a tiny alleyway that makes you feel like you're in Europe for a second, and their basement bakery is next door. They sell all kinds of delicious goodies there, handmade pasta (duh) dried meats, cheeses, fancy balsamic that I can only dream of someone buying me someday (did you know real balsamic is like $100 for a teeny tiny bottle) and they have like 10 bags of flour total, both semolina and double zero. Now, why go out of the way to get their flour- 1. Shop small (yay!) 2. Its the cheapest I've been able to find it ($2.99 for a 1 kilo bag) and 3. They have THE BEST sandwiches EVER. I've been eating their sandwiches since before I moved to Boston and have been following them since they moved not once, but twice! So go- go to my special sandwich grocery store, buy all their flour, but just promise me you'll get a sandwich while you're there.