Pantry Update #13: Semolina and Farina

Terminology around foods across languages and cultures is so confusing.

In Canada, no one would know what you meant if you said “farina” which is, apparently, the English term for what I have only ever called Cream of Wheat, which is a brand name. It’s the same coarseness as what is called semolina, and I often wondered about the difference. I gather from various sources that the difference is the variety of wheat, with semolina being yellow and made from hard wheat and farina is white and made from soft wheat.

I’ve never understood how you would possibly make pasta with such a coarse flour, so I’ve never even tried to use semolina for that. I’ve always used regular all-purpose flour for making pasta and assumed this made me some kind of fraud, cheater, or just plain idiot. I was therefore happy to discover flour labelled “Farina di grano duro – ideale per pasta e pane” that was much finer ground than the semolina I’d bought in the past. In this case, “farina” is just the Italian word for flour, and this particular one is a finer grind than the semolina of the same brand.

To add to this confusion, it turns out that the term semolina can also refer to other grains than wheat, where the common factor is that it refers to a coarse grind. Though if that grain is corn, then in the US its called grits. Unless you call it cornmeal. And cornmeal is also just polenta. If you grind cornmeal fine, you call it corn flour, which is what you use in tortillas and pupusas.

I have some semolina in my pantry labelled “coarse semolina”. I have no idea whether this means its more coarse than usual, and if so, does that mean there is a range of grinds you can call semolina, and where are the boundaries with bulgur at one end and simply flour at the other? In any case, it is yellow and the coarseness of what I know as cornmeal.

Dish #50: Not-cornbread

Coarse semolina
Coarse semolina

I invited Michele and Brooke over to for the second round of chipotle-glazed ribs. Last time I made coleslaw to accompany them, but this time I decide to make cornbread.

“i looooove corn bread!” was Michele’s reaction when I told her.

Fast forward to the moments before the meal, with the ribs in the oven.

I lifted the lid from the skillet cornbread that had been slow cooking like a giant pancake on the stove top. I’d prepared it as outlined in The Joy of Cooking. We ooo’d and aah’d at its springy bounce. We delighted that it slid so effortlessly out of the pan and onto a plate.

Michele asked me where I got cornmeal, and I explained that I had bought it at an Indian grocery. I stumbled over the word “semolina” a few times trying to say it.

“I thought semolina was wheat,” she said.

I stared at the cornbread. I looked back at her.

“So … this isn’t cornbread,” I said. Then we laughed our guts out.

We all agreed that it was a very convincing and very good not-cornbread and that if we hadn’t talked about it, we might not have even realized it wasn’t made with any corn. The lesson learned is that coarse semolina works as a substitute for cornmeal.

Skillet Cornbread from The Joy of Cooking

Preheat a heavy 10-inch skillet (that you have a lid for) over medium-high heat.

Whisk together in a large bowl:

  • 1¼ cups of cornmeal (or coarse semolina!)
  • ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoons salt

Add:

  • 1 or 2 large eggs, beaten (I used 2 medium)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons melted butter, bacon drippings, or vegetable oil (I used 3 tablespoons vegetable oil)
  • 1 cup whole milk

Combine with a few rapid strokes. Add to the preheated skillet:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, bacon fat, lard, oil or vegetable shortening (I used vegetable oil. I would not use butter, since it would burn. If I had ghee, I’d use that)

Quickly swirl the fat to coat the pan, and immediately pour in the batter. Reduce to very low heat and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Dish #51: Chipotle-glazed pork ribs, again

This hardly counts as another dish, since I was using the second half of the glaze I made for the earlier batch. Anyway, they were good, again.

Dish #52: Homemade ravioli with quail egg yolks and blood sausage

Italian durum wheat flour
Italian durum wheat flour

I’ve been reading The Flavour Thesaurus on and off. In it, the author describes a ravioli where each one is made with a single egg yolk and slice of blood sausage. As a fun project, I decided to try it.

I made a two poor decisions:

  1. I decided to use quail eggs, which I realize now are too small to stay soft in the centre while the pasta itself was cooking. But they are so cute!
  2. I didn’t add oil to the pasta dough when I was kneading it even though I thought it seemed a bit dry.

As a result, although the ravioli was tasty, the yolks were more cooked than I’d hoped, and the pasta was tough. Maybe I only needed to cook the ravioli longer, but then the yolks would have been way overdone. If I were to make this flavour combo again, I’d cut the pasta into fettuccine and make a carbonara, with pieces of warmed blood sausages.

quail-egg-ravioli-plated
This dish has all the right components, but my execution wasn’t as nice as I hoped

Bonus dish: Weizengrieß with raspberries

“Weizengrieß” is the German word for farina. We always keep it stocked, so I consider it a stable in the pantry along with regular flour, sugar, and such things. Fronx and I make it as a comforting breakfast. We like it with fruit from a jar and cold milk.

Weizengrieß with raspberries and milk
Weizengrieß with raspberries and milk, though you can’t really see the Weizengrieß at all through all the berries and milk.

Tally

Items used up: one (cider vinegar, though I already bought more to replace it)
Items added: one (Italian durum wheat flour)
Items partly used: five
Items used from the “Just use already” category: none

3 thoughts on “Pantry Update #13: Semolina and Farina

  1. “…does that mean there is a range of grinds you can call semolina, and where are the boundaries with bulgur at one end and simply flour at the other?”

    My guess is that because these all come from different countries/regions/languages using different grains, there is overlap in English that probably doesn’t exist in the original language. Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of flour is “powder made from a grain (especially wheat) that is used in cooking for making bread, cakes, etc.” and the normal definition says “finely milled,” so yes! there is a range of grinds you can call semolina, but only finely ground semolina can be called flour. As far as where the boundary between coarser milled things and flour, I don’t know if there is a generally accepted boundary. What about meal? It seems like nut meals are sometimes called flours even though they’re at least as coarse as coarse semolina. Would anyone call almond meal a powder? The trend toward alternative “flours” has probably complicated things further.

    Re. “farina,” I hadn’t heard of it either until Kirk. That’s what he says and he’s from New Jersey.

    Re. tough pasta, how long did you let the dough rest before rolling it out? That’s the only thing I can think of. I’ve made pasta without oil and without problems before, but I do think it’s easier to get it to turn out nice with oil. You’re more experienced at pasta-making than I am though. Side note: You did the egg yolk and blood sausage ravioli!

    Can you tell the project I’m working on right now is boring?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I let the pasta rest for 60 minutes. But I knew I was pushing it when I was incorporating the flour. I just couldn’t believe how much flour was left behind, and so I forced in a bit too much, and the dough did not get as silky as usual. In short, I knew I was making tough dough but did nothing to mitigate it, such a adding a bit of oil, or kneading it for longer.

      Like

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