Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pasta you can see the wheat in (with porcini mushrooms)

Comparing Carlo’s pasta to another artisan Italian pasta widely available in the US during a comparative tasting last week, one taster had comment, which I want to share with you today: “you can really see the wheat”, she said.

I always put a standard pasta next to Carlo’s pasta when doing tastings and in store demos, just because the texture looks different, the color is richer – the pasta looks more alive to me. But I never came up with these simple words. Yes, you can see the wheat!

So today, as Carlo and his staff are shelling this year’s grain harvest (which by the way was great in quality but not really satisfactory in quantity due to the heavy rains in early spring and the dessert like temperatures in summer. Side note: it amazes me how what is celebrated as the perfect climate by one crop farmer can be deadly for the other. In this case, the weather conditions were absolutely perfect for the vines, a notion not shared by Carlo and fellow grain farmers…), let me talk pasta.

Carlo’s pasta is made with a richer form of flour, the so called “semolato”, rather than the “semolina” which is the typical white flour. To explain the difference, let me remind you the composition of a grain kernel (from the outside to the inside)

- the protective skin is called the husk (or hull)
- then comes a layer of bran, which mainly contains fibers
- next is the endosperm, divided into two layers, of which the outer one contains proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and enzymes. The inner part of the endosperm (which is ca. 80-85% of the kernel) is composed of starch and gluten, a protein.
- protected by all these layers is the germ, the living cell of the kernel, and it contains antioxidants, vitamins E and B, minerals and proteins.

The classic white flour (“semolina”) is milled to separate the inner layer of the endosperm from all the other components, using only 60-64% of the actual kernel and loosing many of the positive properties of bran and germ in the process.
The semolato Carlo uses for his pasta is the result of stone-milling the grain and significant amounts of the bran, the germ and the outer layers of the endosperm.

The results are more complex taste profile of the pasta, which is easier to digest, contains more nutrients and shows off the wheat in the pasta itself! It is NOT a whole wheat pasta though, because it does not contain ALL the kernel. Speaking among us, we use the term “semi-integrale”, which could be translated into “partly whole wheat”. In any case wholesome, especially as Carlo follows strict organic agricultural procedures on his farm and also respects organic regulations during the actual production of the pasta: it is dried at low temperatures in order to maintain the proteins, vitamins and amino acids, which are heat sensitive.

Having said all that, how about a nice plate of pasta with porcini mushrooms, while they are still in season (for four people)

1 box of Carlo’s Durum Wheat Pasta Farfalle Shape
½ stick butter
Cosimo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves
2 cups sliced porcini mushrooms (make sure the gills are white and not yellowish-greenish, which is an indicator that they are old!)
½ cup white wine
¼ cup chopped parsley
freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

Melt half of the butter in a saucepan with a dash of olive oil, at low temperature add the slightly crushed garlic cloves to extract their aroma. Add the mushrooms, but be careful not to fry them! Add salt, pepper and white wine. Let simmer for a couple of minutes.
Cook the pasta in a separate pot (contrary to popular belief you do not need to put oil in the water, nor should you rinse the pasta with cold water. The latter would wash away the starch that is needed to have the sauce stick better to the pasta), when al dente drain, take garlic cloves out of the sauce, add the pasta, stir and let sit for one minute, adding the remaining butter and the parsley. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese to your liking.

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