Monday, February 18, 2013

The importance of flour (farina)

Flour is something most people buy without much thought. I discovered some of my Italian recipes, such as ravioli and pizza dough, didn't look or feel exactly like those I had made in CremonaMarina, my cooking mentor, suggested I take some farina (flour) home with me.  From her own cupboard, she gave me a 1kg bag of il Molino Farina 00 to test.

Of course she was right!  And now thankfully, I can buy farina in Santa Monica from Guidi Marcello.

I don't buy bread at the grocery store. I can't bear to eat it.  We don't have wonderful bakeries in every neighborhood, as they do in Italy.

About a year ago, Trader Joe's stopped selling my favorite dense Whole Wheat Honey Bread.  Out of desperation, I began making bread again, weekly. With some experimentation, I now know that Organic whole wheat flour does make a difference. (see recipe at the end)

This morning I read this article in "The American In Italia": Umbria's B-side:

Umbria's B-side

The Granarium's local shop, where all is homemade.

By Letizia Mattiacci

Published: 2013-02-17

Umbria is a land of practical people. They're mostly down-to-earth, modest country-folk who generally prefer tradition to innovation. They dislike risks, large enterprises and sushi. They think they live in the best place on earth and there's no need to change it.

True enough — at least the part about living in the best place — but the rest is rather maddening. I admit I don't like sushi, but I could occasionally do with a green curry and a bit of curiosity.

But this is the B-side of slow life in Umbria. If you are motivated to do something — create a project or generate an enterprise — it takes forever.

I know from personal experience. I moved here and started a business after a decade of working in ├╝ber-efficient North Europe. There were times when I thought we'd never make it.

That's why I admire people who start something new, and who do so against all odds and against the never-ending bureaucracy; people who overcome the many delays and get past the mistrust of locals.

I recently met someone who fits that mold, Patrizia Lucarelli. Along with brother Gian Piero she's built Granarium, a stone granary dedicated to the wheat their family produces. It is a Herculean effort and a totally novel way to preserve tradition. Artisan mills have almost disappeared in Italy. Hers is one of the very few national farms that actually grow the wheat they grind.

Not only that, the family also cultivates the wheat organically in local fields surrounding the mill and stores it without chemical preservatives, using ventilation and the summer sun to avoid fermentation and spoiling.

Then they grind it using antique machinery that they bought on eBay (yes), restored, and brought back to operational life. If that weren't enough, they also make breads and cakes in a wood oven that they sell in their little shop and at various markets throughout the province.

And should I wax lyrical about the flavor? Come see and taste for yourself. The word flour takes on a completely different dimension. I might never find the courage to buy supermarket flour again. 


Whole Wheat Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 C warm water
½ C milk
3 t dried yeast
¼ C honey
1 C white whole wheat flour (Trader Joe's)


¼ C olive oil
1 C O Organics Whole wheat flour
½-1 C whole wheat flour (you may not use it all)

Prepare sponge. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula. Cover and set in warm place for one hour.

Sprinkle oil and add 1 cup of flour over the sponge. Hard beat by hand for 1 minute.

Add remaining flour, 1/4 C at a time with a wooden spoon. Until a soft dough is formed. May be done in a heavy duty mixer.

Turn dough onto board. Knead, but do not add too much flour. Dough will be slightly sticky. Add 2 t olive oil to a large bowl. Place bread ball into bowl and turn to coat with a veil of oil. Cover with clean towel and let rise 1-2 hours or until doubled.  Punch down.  Let rise again.

Place into buttered metal pan. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes. When it has risen enough, put it into a hot oven. (It may fall a little if it rises too far.)

Preheat oven. Bake 375 for 35-45 minutes.

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