As a child, homemade pasta was a weekly occurrence in my house. I loved to help my mother put the pasta through what we called “the spaghetti machine”. We made the pasta with eggs and all-purpose flour. A certain amount of strength is required to make the dough right. Neither my mother or I (as an adult) were able to make the dough as stiff as my brother or father could. It still tasted good but I always knew it wasn’t perfect.

We never use durum semolina, which is specifically for pasta, and I was always curious. So, I gave it a try.

Well, I think I’m in love.

It’s grainy and I assumed it would be even more difficult to make into a dough.

It’s actually easier. It mixes well with water only. And it turns into a pliable dough during the kneading process.

What is durum semolina? It’s a form of durum wheat. Most wheat products are made from red spring or red winter wheat. Durum wheat is a different variety from the Middle East and whose use dates back thousands of years. There are multiple varieties of durum wheat. And not only is it preferred for pasta, it is also used for couscous and bulgur. It can be used for bread but is usually mixed with all-purpose flour (also know as bread flour).

Durum semolina is different from semolina. Drum wheat is first ground into semolina flour. Then ground again to produce durum semolina. This is important. Semolina is coarse and would not mix as well with water. So be sure to look for durum semolina.

Why should you make sourdough pasta? For the same reason you should eat sourdough bread. It’s can be digestible for those who may have issues. It’s good for blood sugar and there’s research that indicates that the dead bacteria and yeast strains (they die when cooked), still help benefit immune function.

As for the sourdough version below, would this recipe work, using all-purpose flour and egg pasta? Yes. Just don’t use the water. Could that be fermented? Yes. But it will not be as strong and may not hold up as you might like.

Even making sourdough pasta with durum semolina is tricky. If you make it ahead, it will continue to ferment, even in the fridge. A batch that had been in the fridge for three days, was not as strong as it was when first made. I tried to dry it to see how it held up and it breaks easily.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make the dough, let it rest for 30 minutes and then roll out right away.
  2. Once you have your desired style of pasta (in this case, filled tortellini) let sit for a couple of hours to dry out a bit. Fresh pasta cooks so fast that it’s easy to overcook. By letting it dry a bit, it provides a better window for cooking so it does not overcook.
  3. Flour and water amount will vary a little as it will depend on the consistency of the sourdough starter. The key is to make sure you have a stiff dough that’s pliable.
  4. Generally, once the pasta floats to the top, it’s done.
  5. Sourdough pasta does puff a bit more because of the yeast strains in the sourdough starter.
  6. This recipe can be made without sourdough starter, just use more water.

Can an egg be used instead of the water with durum semolina? Yes, but it doesn’t need it. An egg is used with all-purpose flour as flour and water, alone, make paste, not pasta. The fat in the egg keeps it pliable. Durum semolina and water is very pliable and perfect for pasta. And without the egg, it has a better shelf life as fresh pasta and is better for drying.

Sourdough pasta is good for the gut, thanks to the starter and the resistant starch in the non-fermented flour. All of the other ingredients in the recipes are gut-friendly, too

Sourdough Tortellini with Mushroom, Ricotta and Asparagus

Sourdough Pasta

1/2 cup durum semolina sourdough starter*

1 cup durum semolina flour (plus extra for kneading and rolling)

1 tbsp water or more if needed

Sea salt for the water when cooking

Tortellini Filling

1 tbsp butter or olive oil

2 tbsp finely chopped onion

2 medium Cremini mushrooms (about 1/2 – 2/3 cup when chopped)

1/2 cup – 2/3 cup finely chopped asparagus

1 tsp dried sage

1/2 cup ricotta cheese or cashew cream cheese

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Avocado Yogurt Dressing

5-6 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup yogurt or coconut yogurt

1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted

1 small clove garlic, crushed

1-2 tbsp lemon or lime juice (to taste)

3 tbsp parsley

1 tsp raw honey

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Mix the starter, flour and water together to form a dough. You may start by mixing with a spoon but eventually, you’ll need to transfer it to a clean, flat surface (like the counter) and finish working in the flour by kneading it. Try to knead in as much flour as possible. Once it forms a stiff ball, keep kneading for 5-10 minutes until it’s soft and pliable.

Let rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat a medium-size skillet on the stove on medium-high heat. Add the butter and onions and lightly sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and sage. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are cooked. If the mixture starts to stick, add a little water. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool. Add the ricotta or cashew cream cheese when getting ready to fill the tortellini. Re-taste to see more sea salt and pepper is needed.

The dressing can also be made now. Place all the ingredients in to a small blender and blend until smooth.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Sprinkle flour on the clean surface. Roll out one of the pieces of dough to be as thin as possible. You’ll be able to see light through. Use a 3-inch or 4-inch circle cutter** and cut as many circles as possible. Put the circles aside. Repeat with the other two pieces of dough.

Spread out all the circles. Put a small amount of filling in the centre. The amount depends on what size circle you rolled. It’s approximately 1-2 teaspoons. Dip your finger in water and lightly brush the edge of the circle to moisten the pasta a bit.  Fold the dough in half to form a half circle. Pinch the edge to hold the pasta together. Bring the two ends of the half circles together. Pinch together. Fold down the top of the tortellini like a collar. Place each tortellini on a rack and let sit for about 2 hours. Letting them dry a bit makes it easier to prevent over cooking.

To cook tortellini: Put a large pot on the stove and fill 2/3 or 3/4 full with water. Bring the water to a boil. Add sea salt to the water. Salt amount varies depending on the amount of water but generally, approximately 1 1/2 tbsp salt per 4 quarts or 4 litres of water. Add the tortellini to the boiling water. When the tortellini floats to the top, it’s cooked. Removed from the water and rinse to prevent it from being sticky. Transfer to a bowl and add the dressing. Serve.

*Durum semolina sourdough can be made by mixing your existing sourdough starter with durum semolina flour. Start with a 1/2 cup starter and add 1/2 cup durum semolina flour and some water (maybe 1/4 cup) and put in a large Mason jar. Mix together with a wooden spoon or a plastic scraper (do not use a metal utensil). Ferment for 24 hours and then add another 1/4 cup durum semolina and more water (if needed). Mix again. Ferment again for 24 hours. Do this for at least 3 days.

**If you don’t have any circle cutters, then use the rim of a class that is the size you desire.

Tip 1: The tortellini can be made ahead of time. Keep in the fridge if making a day ahead. It still needs to sit for two hours of drying time. It can be also frozen. Place them on a baking tray and freeze individually. Then transfer to a container with a lid and store in the freezer until ready to use.

Tip 2: The dressing and filling can also be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge.

If You Don’t Have Any Starter:

It can be ordered online or you could ask for some at a local bakery that makes sourdough.

Making it yourself is not hard but it takes time. Mix 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup water and put in a large Mason jar. Cover with a paper coffee filter (secured with an elastic band) or a tight mesh cloth. Let sit at a warm temp (75 or 85 degrees F) for 24 hours. Add another 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 – 1/2 cup water and mix. Let sit again for 24 hours. Continue to do this until air bubbles form. It usually takes 5-7 days.

The first time I did this, the mixture doubled in size on the sixth day, even though the level was back to where it was originally, by the time I saw it. I knew this has happened because there was residue in the coffee filter and the entire sides of the jar had sourdough residue covering it.  There was only one way this could happen. This meant that a lot of yeast strains have developed in the sourdough and that was the goal.

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