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Using alternative ingredients? Never be afraid to take chances

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After a recent conversation about scratch-made pasta, I decided to try making a batch using an alternative ingredient.

A friend of mine owns Daivi Natural Food. He buys directly from the growers in India, processes, packages, imports, and distributes a variety of high-quality specialty products.

He recently gave me samples of millet, finger millet, rice flour, and corn flour. My first thought was to use his brand of millet flour and corn flour in the exact same proportions as the traditional pasta recipe that I brought back from Italy. I began to build the dough as always. It was quickly very clear that the measurements from the standard recipe were not going to work, as the dough greatly resembled cement. 

(Left) A glass of wine is always nice while cooking, but so is some fine bourbon. (Right) A product of kitchen improvisation: Savory morsels of fried dough that can be adapted to other flavors.

I added another egg and gradually added a full cup of water. At this point, the dough was at least pliable. I pulled it out onto my board and began to knead the dough. Once I had broken a sweat, I decided that it was kneaded enough. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator to rest and cool.

While the dough was cooling, I cleaned our pasta board that Liz had inherited from her Italian-born Nana. Pasta has been prepared on this board by her family for more than 75 years, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to continue this tradition. I floured the board and set up pasta machine that I brought back from Italy. I was planning to pour a nice glass of wine like those TV celebrity chefs, but this situation called for something a bit stronger, like some of the good bourbon that I got for the holidays. By now, 30 minutes had passed, and I was ready to roll out my pasta dough. I divided the dough into four equal pieces. I wrapped three pieces and was going to work on the fourth. My board and rollers were well floured. As soon as I had that piece of dough in my hand, I knew that something was not right. But I didn’t give up that easily. I turned on my pasta machine, and pressed the dough as flat as I could while trying to recover the crumbles that fell off the edges. I bravely fought back. The pasta maker roller was open to the widest setting as I carefully guided the dough into the machine. The dough promptly tore into pieces with some stuck in the machine, some stuck to me and some, like the cement I described earlier, bonded with the rollers of my machine. 

It came to me that I could mix the rest of that dough with chives, spinach, carrots and parmesan cheese for a totally different flavor. 

I set this failed experiment aside and tried to think of what I could do with this sort of thing. I remember reading about gluten-free dumplings at some point. Based on the texture, I decided to test an alternative item. The first step was to place the three wrapped dough balls in the freezer. The one piece that I had been working with I placed in a mixing bowl. I heated a sauté pan and added some olive oil. I had some flax seed, mustard seed, and chia seed in my pantry which I toasted in the oil. I set the toasted seeds aside to cool for handling. In the meantime, I took the dough, added baking powder, some water, onion, garlic, hot pepper flakes, paprika, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. I then added the seeds that I had toasted and mixed everything together. After all, I had nothing to lose. I added more oil to my pan, turned my temperature to medium, let the oil reach frying temperature, and proceeded to drop bite-sized pieces of dough into the oil to fry. The aroma was astonishing and tantalizing. The dough began to brown nicely on one side. I flipped the pieces over and continued cooking until those pieces of dough became crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. I turned these out onto a paper towel and repeated the process with the rest of that piece of dough. (It is always a good idea not to crowd the pan while frying in this way.)

The resulting product was savory, flavorful and much different from what I started out to prepare. After making this recipe, it came to me that I could mix the rest of that dough with chives, spinach, carrots, and parmesan cheese for a totally different flavor. I plan to also try using some of the leftover dough to make a sweet version with candied pecans or walnuts, brown sugar, and orange zest. It strikes me that the combinations of sweet and savory options are limited only by imagination. In fact, instead of making the drop version, I will try making small fritters using corn, and milk instead of water. 

The moral of this story is when trying something new, don’t be afraid of a failure. Mistakes are only a different way to learn and discover new things. Be bold, my friends. Strange and wonderful things come from simply trying.

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