Tuesday, 25 February 2014 | 20 comments

Frascatelli

Hi from our muddy homestead. Perhaps you’ve been spending the past week watching the Olympics, or snuggling up against the continuing winter weather. Me, I’ve been trying my hand at an obscure Italian pasta-dumpling thing that is named after a branch from a bush. To each their own, I suppose.

I think I’m a good cook, but a pretty unoriginal one when it comes down to it. Every once in awhile, though, I get the itch to try something totally different, and I head to my email inbox. For years, I’ve been emailing myself “interesting” recipes. This is a horrible idea because usually, I archive them and they’re lost forever. In any case, this frascatelli recipe came from a 2003 New York Times article. Ack.

The frascatelli caught my eye because it’s poor man’s pasta, made without benefit of eggs or even salt—it’s just flour and water. You dip your fingers into a big bowl of cool water, and flick them over a shallow pan of flour until water is well-scattered across the surface. They you gather up the craggy mass of flour, and sift it, to separate the bits of uneven, ragged dough that have been created from the flour and water. And then repeat. It’s simple but fun, faster than normal pasta making, and unlike many things I’ve ever tasted.

Like most fresh pastas, frascatelli benefits from the bits of flour that still cling to its outer surface, making a very rich pasta water and resulting in sauced pasta that’s near risotto-like in consistency. But frascatelli has the tender, toothsome bite of well-made gnocchi without the heft. I had it twice, once with just olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and red pepper flakes, and another time in a brothy tomato sauce: there is not much that doesn’t go well with this remnant of la cucina povera.

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Quick little self-promotional note: The Yellow House is a finalist in The Kitchn(/Apartment Therapy’s) Homie Awards for “Best Daily Read” Cooking Blog! The editors write that 1) (hilariously) I’m not annoying because I don’t write about how my husband likes nachos, and 2) that the site is “a loving ode to American farmhouse cooking”. (These are both things I strive for, so that’s great that they noticed.)

In any case, we’re up there with real giants. Like, Ree Drummond-style and Amanda Hesser-style giants. So while I don’t kid myself that we’ll win, I think it’d be nice to get out the vote for the underdog in any case. If you’re so inclined, go for it: Vote here. You have until Wednesday night. Thanks!

Frascatelli

I anticipate that a lot of you will ask about flour types, so I did some experimenting.
Semolina, the classic pasta flour, makes the firmest, largest pasta-dumplings. I assumed other flours would be a disaster, but I think since this pasta “dough” is barely manipulated at all, they all resulted in really beautiful, tender pasta.
Regular old all-purpose flour worked nicely, though, although the dumplings were significantly smaller and more delicate. A mix of all-purpose and whole wheat was also nice, if a bit nutty. The best, in my opinion, was einkorn flour (I think I had a sack sent to me as a freebie, full disclosure, by Jovial Foods). The einkorn (pictured in the last photo) gave the pasta a gorgeous buttery yellow color, and, while very soft, made the most risotto-like consistency when finished. In any case, I think you can safely experiment here.

You’ll need

  1. For the frascatelli:
  2. 4 cups semolina (or other type, see headnote) flour
  3. Water
  4. For preparation:
  5. Salt
  6. Several tablespoons olive oil
  7. 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
  8. 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or substitute fresh red chile)
  9. 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano, Pecorino, or other hard, salty cheese, plus more for serving
  10. Parsley or basil for finishing

Directions

  1. To make the frascatelli:
  2. Spread flour 1/2 inch deep in a large, shallow pan or baking dish.
  3. Fill a big bowl with cold water. Dip your fingertips in the water and flick water, as evenly as possible, over the surface of the flour. No need to be dainty here, the water will pool up a bit in some areas, and in others will be delicately speckled. Continue until the flour begins to pit and pucker, but stop before the surface is entirely saturated.
  4. Using a spatula, a pastry scraper, or your hands, gather the flour in a mound and scoop into a fine mesh sieve or sifter (a larger strainer with more surface area is better here). Tap and bounce the sifter until the uneven doughy dumplings (some will be quite small) are left behind, allowing the loose flour to fall back into the pan.
  5. Spread the sifted pasta onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Continue making the pasta until most of the flour is used (the last 1/2 cup or so will be too saturated and gummy to be used).
  6. (The frascatelli can be prepared immediately, or you can wait several hours (or, with semolina, up to 24 hours).)
  7. Bring a pot of very well-salted water to a boil. (Do not skimp on the salt here; since the pasta is just flour, you really need it. Like Tamar Adler says, your water should taste like “pleasant seawater”.)
  8. When the water is at a slow boil (too fast a boil and you risk damaging the tender pasta), add it and give it a quick stir. Cook the pasta for just about one minute.
  9. Meanwhile, and immediately after the pasta goes into the water, heat the oil over medium heat in a large saute pan, and add the garlic. Saute for just a minute or, so until the garlic is fragrant.
  10. Reserve a cup or two of the pasta water, and strain the pasta in a colander or using a spider skimmer, and transfer it to the pan with the garlic oil. Toss the pasta to coat with oil. Add reserved pasta water, always keeping enough liquid in the pan to keep the frascatelli quite moist, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the red pepper flakes and grated cheese, and remove from heat.
  11. Serve immediately, with roughly chopped parsley or basil for garnish, and pass more grated cheese.

Tagged

§ 20 responses to Frascatelli

  • I had never heard of frascatelli before reading this, but it looks remarkably similar to the dumplings my grandmother used to make for soups. She also just dribbled water into a dish of flour and cooked the resulting lumps. In family parlance, the dumplings were called “xiao shi tou” (little rocks) because they looked like gravel. She comes from Shandong province in northeastern China, where wheat flour was the traditional starch (it is too cold to grow rice there) and people used to make all kinds of noodles, dumplings, steamed buns, etc. from scratch.

    • Peggy

      I was going to say they look like Korean sujebi, so I’m intrigued by your xiao shi tou. When I tell people that sujebi is my favorite they sometimes look down their noses at me. That’s peasant food!

      • Peggy, I’d never heard of sujebi! I looked it up on Maangchi.com and it looks fun to make and tasty. I wondered if it is related to my grandmother’s dish, but sujebi seems to involve more steps than frascatelli or the ‘gravel’ my grandmother made… with an actual kneaded dough. So maybe the dishes are not long-lost northeast Asian cousins. Still sounds delicious!

  • Hurray! I nominated you for the Homies… Too many blogs seem to be practically screaming hyperbole at me. Yours is always a haven where I learn from, and am inspired by, your carefully measured words and reflections. Thank you!

  • This is intriguing – I thought I knew my pasta but this isn’t something that I’ve ever come across before. It sounds so much fun (and so very delicious, of course). Congrats again on the Homies nod, your space is one that always inspires and I’m so glad that it’s been recognised for that.

  • I’ve never heard of such a thing but I am thoroughly intrigued! It seems like such a whimsical pasta-making experience. Definitely going to try soon.

  • You. Rock. Congrats kiddo…! This portends a very big year for you…….
    So, the frascatelli: My copy of Anna del Conte is not here with me in NYC today but I’ll make an educated guess that this comes from either far north, near/on the Swiss border (if for no other reason than its remarkable resemblance in both form and process to spaetzel) or very far south (Puglia) for its parsimony. My one question: did you find, when making it with Einkorn, that the dough was wetter? As though the dough sucked up as much water as it could and then abjectly refused any more, leaving you with slog? Just curious…..(My experience baking and cooking with Einkorn resulted in my having to do major proportion shifting)

    • Ah, let me know what Signora del Conte says. The first thing I thought is that it looked like rough spaetzle.

      Re: einkorn—since this recipe doesn’t actually call for particular amounts of water (rather, you just flick water at the flour until it looks right), I didn’t have issues with the einkorn. However, I have in other preparations experienced what you talk about…I think that’s a low-gluten flour issue, unfortunately…

      Thanks, Elissa! x

  • WOW! I’ve never heard of this. I’m so excited! Thank you

  • Wow, these are so interesting! I’ve never heard of making pasta quite like this before. Definitely must give them a try! :)

  • Oh my goodness, this sounds just delicious. If I hadn’t just had dinner, I’d run off to make this right now.

  • I love food that has a story, a place. Will be making this soon.

  • yasmin

    i didn’t see this post in time but i would have totally voted for you :) does the pasta not get…mushy?

  • This looks lovely, just the recipe to try on a lazy snowy day. You’ve got my vote!

  • Ashley

    This reminds me of Italy’s Fregola, the same water flicking method but then the little pasta ball things get toasted in an oven prior to boiling. Your dinner looks wonderful.

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