Turning our love for this Italian staple into something uniquely American
by Lacey Griebeler here’s no arguing that noodles and dumpling-like products are deeply ingrained in food cultures all over the world. But here in the U.S., a perennial favorite— especially on restaurant menus—is the pasta that hails from Italy. We’ve been enamored with macaroni since Thomas Jefferson visited Italy and brought back cases of the dried noodles before the turn of the 18th century, or so the legend goes. More accurately, our pasta love affair can be tied to the swell of Italian immigrants who landed on U.S. shores starting in the late 1880s, when America witnessed a boom in Italian foodways. That is when our interest in pasta was truly cultivated, says Lorenzo Boni, executive chef from Barilla (www. barillaus.com). “Part of [pasta’s] appeal is historical. It was one of the first ‘ethnic’ foods to arrive in America, and it’s now deeply ingrained in American food culture,” Boni says. “It’s also very diverse and versatile, from very casual, take-out settings to fine dining. Food from Italy is based on fresh and healthy ingredients such as [extra virgin olive oil], pasta, vegetables, seafood, aromatic herbs and lean cuts of meats. By combining these ingredients with good taste and millennia of experience, we have created what I believe is the perfect modern, delicious—and at the same time healthy—food.” Donato Scotti, executive chef of Donato Enoteca in San Francisco (www.donatoenoteca.com), says he
26 | Chef
believes the appeal of Italian cuisine is not only in its focus on freshness, but also in its adaptability. “I think Italian food is popular all over the world, not only the U.S., because of the vast variety of ingredients that can be found everywhere and its versatility. You can go from making a quick plate of pasta to a more elaborate regional meat dish and always please your guest. The flavors are comforting, local and seasonal.” Just as important, pasta allows the chef to extend an entrée that includes high-priced ingredients by adding a less expensive starch, thus lowering the overall food cost, according to Boni. “Pasta is a great platform for foodservice as a cost-effective carrier for all kinds of different flavors and proteins,” he says. “You can use it to stretch expensive proteins, while keeping the sense of value and sophistication. Plus, it’s familiar and approachable, so putting pasta on the menu, no matter what shape or cut you use, is a low-risk proposition.”
PaPPardelle al Funghi
Donato Scotti, executive chef, Donato’s Enoteca, San Francisco, www.donatoenoteca.com Yield: 6 servings 1 lb. buckwheat flour 1/8 lb. all-purpose flour (optional; for consistency) 8 eggs Olive oil, as needed Pinch salt Water, if needed 6 garlic cloves 6 T. olive oil 18 oz. porcini mushrooms (or mixed wild mushrooms), thinly sliced Salt and pepper, as needed 3 oz. dry white wine (such as Trebbiano) 1 T. Italian parsley, chopped 2 oz. Grana Padano Method (1) Sieve flour onto a work top surface in a pile, and make a shallow pit in the center. Add 4 yolks in the center with some olive oil and salt. Starting in the middle, beat egg mixture with a fork, gradually adding in flour from the outside in. Make into a ball by adding a little bit of water to obtain an elastic dough. Let hearty and flavorful pasta that combines the wild mushrooms that are rest for at least 1 hour. (2) Roll out dough with a rolling pin into a long strip. Feed strip through a pasta machine roller until approximately 1-2 mm thick. Cut pasta sheet into 3-cm-wide strips, and make 3-4-oz. bundles (individual servings), adding some extra flour as necessary to prevent sticking. (3) Per order, brown 1 garlic clove in 1 T. olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Remove garlic, and add 3 oz. porcini mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes at medium heat. Add 3 oz. white wine, and reduce completely. (4) Cook one 3-4-oz. bundle of pasta in boiling salted water between 3-6 minutes depending on the thickness of the pasta. (5) Drain pasta, and place pappardelle in sauté pan with mushrooms along with little bit of the cooking water. Remove from fire, and stir in the Grana Padano. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve. Wine pairing: Graziano Family “Enotria Arneis” 2009 (California), a luscious, full-bodied white wine rarely produced outside of Italy, is rich and with a vibrant acidity that will lift the earthiness of the mushrooms and Grana Padano. currently in-season to a lighter kind of noodles made with a gluten-free flour.
Taking the extra effort to create pasta in-house can make quite an impact on the menu, says Scotti, whose seasonal menu at Donato Enoteca can include upward of five different house-made pastas at any time. One that has particularly resonated with customers is a pappardelle made from buckwheat flour, which he served with a wild mushroom sauce (recipe, right) this spring. “Buckwheat pappardelle is a very