Guide to Italian Flour
00 vs. 0, semola vs. semolina…do you ever look at imported Italian flours and scratch your head in confusion? We’ve been there, too. Here’s a guide to Italian flour that will help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
One of the questions we hear most at q.b. cucina is: can’t I just use all-purpose flour to make fresh pasta at home? Honestly, yes! AP flour is just fine when you’re trying to whip up a batch of tagliatelle for a special night in.
That said, Italian flour certainly has its benefits. There are many varieties, but we’ll focus strictly on farina di grano tenero (soft wheat flour) and semola di grano duro (hard durum wheat flour).
Generally speaking, you’ll find soft wheat flour most often in northern-style pasta doughs, like tagliatelle or ravioli. On the other hand, durum wheat variety is more often used for dragged pasta styles typical of southern Italy. (We’re the first to say that this is a bit of a simplification, but it’s based in grains of truth!)
TYPES OF ITALIAN FLOUR
As one of the heavy hitter flours of Italy, you’ll find that many recipes – from pasta to desserts and beyond – call for this grano tenero, or soft wheat flour, also known as “Doppio Zero.” Super soft and white, this extra refined flour contains none of the wheat bran, is the lowest in protein on this list, and does not develop gluten easily. This makes it a perfect match for egg-based pasta doughs as it helps to retain their delicate texture. The Italian 00 flour of choice in the q.b. cucina Test Kitchen comes from Molino Grassi,* a third generation mill from Emilia Romagna.
Slightly less refined than Type 00, this soft wheat flour is often called for in yeasted pastries and flatbreads. It may contain some of the wheat bran, giving it a slightly thicker texture and slightly higher protein content. (Nota bene: the higher the number of the type of flour, the coarser the grind.) This flour works great for pastries, sweet yeasted doughs, and even focaccia.
FARINA 1 OR 2
Even coarser than the previous types, these soft wheat flours are best used for bread and pizza. With a higher protein content, they are more likely to develop gluten – an important aspect for making those stretchy yeasted doughs.
Also known as whole wheat flour, this darker, coarser flour contains the full wheat kernel (the bran gives whole wheat flour its signature brown look). Often, cooks will mix whole wheat flour with more refined soft wheat flour to achieve a balanced, earthy dough for bread, piadina, and yes, even pasta.
SEMOLA RIMACINATA DI GRANO DURO
And now, the other king of farina in the boot: semola rimacinata. Made from grano duro, or hard durum wheat, this finely milled, sandy yellow flour is typically used in dragged pasta shapes like orecchiette, maccheroni alla chitarra, cavatelli, and more. It can be hard to find (we usually look for Caputo Semola Rimacinata,* or smaller mills from purveyors like Gustiamo) but be sure to look for that word “rimacinata” on the label. Meaning “twice milled,” this ensures that the flour will have a finer consistency than the coarser semolina flour below – and that’s key for quality dough!
SEMOLA DI GRANO DURO
Wait – didn’t we just go over this? There is a lot of confusion surrounding “semolina” in American cooking, as many flour brands simply translate “semola” into “semolina” for American consumers. Semola di grano duro is typically less refined than semola rimacinata, which makes it ideal for spreading onto baking sheets when making breads and pizza (think of it as a natural parchment paper).
HOW TO USE ITALIAN FLOUR
Now that you know the basics, how to use your new flour knowledge? Here are some general farina rules to follow.
Grano tenero, or soft wheat, flours are best for egg-based pasta doughs, pastries, and breads. Simply up the flour grade for higher protein content.
Grano duro, or durum/semolina wheat, flours work best for dragged pasta shapes and water-only pasta doughs, and even some types of bread.
But like any brave chef, the fun part is to mix and match. Toss your fresh egg pasta in semolina to keep the pieces from sticking together, or use under pizza to deftly lift your pie off a sheet pan. Add some semola rimacinata to your 00 flour doughs for a toothsome texture and golden yellow color. Get your hands doughy, and you’ll find your perfect ratios.
SUBSTITUTES FOR ITALIAN FLOUR
It’s not always easy to get your hands on quality Italian flour. Here at q.b. cucina are constantly stocking up at our favorite specialty markets. The good news is that you can easily make substitutions in a pinch.
For Type 00, try all-purpose, or better yet, cake flour! Cake flour is more refined than its AP cousin, and mimics the soft, fine grind of Italia’s 00.
When it comes to semolina, there’s not much that can replace this flour in authentic pasta dough, although you can give all-purpose a try. That said, finely ground cornmeal can make a good replacement for semolina in pizza and bread doughs.
Got more flour questions for us? Let us know!
*Nota bene: we may receive commissions when you click on links to shop ingredients we recommend. However, this does not impact our recommendations – in fact, we use these very ingredients in our test kitchen!