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The Most Versatile Ingredient in Italy

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The Most Versatile Ingredient in Italian Cuisine: Flour

This week, we’re diving into the world of probably the most versatile ingredient in Italy and beyond. Essential for everything from appetizers to desserts, this staple is the backbone of Italian cuisine. Can you guess what it is?

It’s flour! Specifically, soft-wheat flour. This humble ingredient is fundamental to countless dishes in Italy, the land of carbohydrates. Join us in this week’s video as we explore its origins, uses, and importance in Italian cooking.

What Is Flour Used For?

In Italy, soft-wheat flour is indispensable for a variety of recipes, both sweet and savory. Think pasta, pizza, gnocchi, bread, cookies, cakes, and pastries; all these staples rely on flour. But its uses don’t stop there—it’s also a key ingredient in sauces like béchamel and custard and is used to make batter for frying vegetables.

Soft-wheat flour thrives in humid climates, which is why it’s prevalent in northern Italy. Here, it’s combined with eggs to create fresh pasta doughs like ravioli, tortellini, and lasagne. This contrasts with southern Italy, where dried pasta made from hard-wheat semolina flour is more common due to the region’s hotter, drier climate. Bread and gnocchi made from soft flour also originate from the north, with some of the earliest pasta forms being simple flour and water mixtures known as “acqua e farina.”

What Is Soft-Wheat Flour?

Soft-wheat flour is known for its neutral flavor, fine texture, and versatility. It adapts well to other ingredients, making it a key player in various culinary applications. For instance, kneading eggs with flour produces an elastic dough perfect for pasta. In pastry making, flour blends with fat and sugar to create different textures, from crunchy to soft. When making bread, the amount of water mixed with flour reacts with yeast to determine the dough’s rise and texture.

Italy classifies soft-wheat flour based on the amount of bran it contains. The categories are 00, 0, 1, 2, and wholewheat, with 00 (doppio zero) being the finest and least bran-heavy. Typically, 0-type flour is used for making pasta and pizza dough.

Recipes and Our Online Cooking School

One of our favorite ways to use flour is in making fresh egg pasta. Simply combine 100g of 0-type or all-purpose flour with one egg per person. Add a pinch of salt and knead until smooth. Let it rest for 30 minutes, then roll it out with a pasta machine to cut into ravioli, tagliatelle, or pappardelle.

Alternatively, try making flour and water gnocchetti—a quick, simple, and tasty dish. Mix 100g of 0-type flour with 50ml of water to form a dough. Roll into lengths, cut into small pieces, and use a gnocchi board to shape them into ridged gnocchi perfect for clinging to sauces.

For even more fabulous pasta and gnocchi recipes, sign up for our online cooking school, Italian Home Cooking (made simple!). This comprehensive resource brings the secrets of an Italian kitchen directly to your home, with detailed guides to pasta and gnocchi, along with tips, recipes, techniques, and inspiration.

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