Monday, May 27, 2019

Pasta Grattata

After sliding dough into the chamber of my torchio pasta press, I insert the machine’s piston and turn the handle until a small amount of pasta—about 1/4-inch—pokes through the bronze die. I trim this pasta off and put it aside before turning the torchio’s handle in earnest to extrude the dough.

Sometime ago while making bigoli (here), I made my customary trim cut. This time it struck me that the small bits of pasta that I held in my hand resembled a unique pasta shape in their own right. I made a mental note to do a little research to find the shape’s name.

A couple of days later, by a happy stroke of serendipity, I came across a package of grattini at DeLaurenti, an excellent food and wine shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Although grattini looked slightly different than the pasta I trim off of my bigoli die, the package gave me a lead.

Oretta Zanini De Vita writes that grattini is the Emilian name for Pasta Grattataentry No. 187 in her Encyclopedia of Pasta (University of California Press, 2009). Pasta grattata literally means “grated pasta”. The shape goes by a myriad of different names from Italy’s north to south. In Emilia it’s grattini. In Friuli, it’s called pasta grattada and mignaculis. In the Veneto it goes by the name of pasta gratada, pasta gratadè and pestariei. Lombardy, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily each have their own unique name for the shape.

The traditional way to create pasta grattata is to make a very hard dough from flour and water, to dry the dough, and then to grate it “on a large-hole grater, or [crumble] it with fingers, to make [irregular tiny shapes that are cooked in broth].” Zanini De Vita writes that nowadays you are more likely to find pasta grattata made with an egg dough, which the package of grattini, above, proudly proclaims.
As I searched for grattini through Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia, I came across another pasta shape that resembles my bigoli trim. Grandine, entry No. 119, literally means “hailstones”. Like pasta grattata, one finds grandine throughout Italy’s regions. Although the shapes resemble one another, Zanini De Vita writes that grandine is a mass-produced shape made with durum flour and water. In Sicily, grandine goes by the name of pirticuneddi and palline da schioppo (“musket balls”). Zanini De Vita ends her grandine entry by writing: “In Sicily, pirticuneddi are mentioned among the first pastas made with a special torchio, the so-called paste d’arbitrio.

If you own a torchio, making pasta grattata—or grandine, it’s your call—at home is super easy. It just takes some time and, I believe, two people: one to make small incremental turns of the torchio’s handle and another to cut the hundreds of tiny bits of pasta that come through the press’s spaghettoni die. I suppose a person with a strong back could both turn and then bend down to cut, but that’s way too much up-and-down to my mind.
If you don’t own a torchio, you can make pasta grattata the old fashion way with a box grater. I found a recipe by the late, great Giuliano Bugialli’s (here). You can find his recipe in Bugialli on Pasta (Simon & Schuster, 1988). Bugialli calls the shape pasta grattugiatapasta grattata or pasta rasa. He introduces the shape as follows: “Pasta grattugiata exists in different parts of Italy under various names. While this kind of pasta is homemade, it has even been adapted to commercial dried pasta under the name of grandinine or pastine, and in modern times is used mostly in broth.” 
I find Bugialli’s recipe, which originates from Reggio-Emilia, particularly interesting. He mixes all-purpose flour, very fine semolina flour and freshly grated Parmigiano cheese with eggs to make a dough similar to the one used to create passatelli sans the dry bread crumbs. Bugialli also shares a neat trick to prepare the dough for grating: knead the dough for 15 minutes until it turns very hard, then wrap it in plastic and freeze the dough for 45 minutes. Why? He writes: “This replaces several hours of drying.”
As both Zanini De Vita and Bugialli point out, most cooks serve pasta grattata in a broth or soup. I suppose one could also cook the shape like risotto. I plan to try pasta grattata in a pea pod broth with polpettini, leeks and peas all dusted with pecorino cheese.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Giuliano Bugialli, food writer and teacher: 1931-2019

I just learned that Giuliano Bugialli died on 26 April 2019. You can read his obituary (here) at the New York Times.

After purchasing The Fine Art of Italian Cooking in the late 1980’s, I wanted to amass all of Mr. Bugialli’s cookbooks. His works serve as an expert guide to anyone who wants to understand traditional Italian cuisine. I learned about nocino (here) from his Foods of Naples and Campania (and for this I shall always be grateful). I constantly reference his Bugialli on Pasta. Case-in-point: my 18 April 2019 post (here) on Nettle Powder Pasta. I believe Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking rivals Jacques Pepin’s The Art of Cooking.

To honor Mr. Bugialli, I want to share one of my favorite recipes from all of his cookbooks. Pasta con I carciofi comes from Bugialli on Pasta. In his chapter on Pasta and Vegetables, he includes five artichoke recipes. The following Sicilian recipe is a delicious take on Pasta alla carbonara but with artichokes. It serves 4 to 6.

1 large lemon, cut in half
3 large artichokes
½ cup olive oil
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lukewarm water
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Siciliano or romano cheese
1 pound dried rigatoni, preferably imported Italian

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of cold water and drop in the lemon halves. Add the artichokes to soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion on a board. Clean the artichokes following the instructions on page 67, and cut them in quarters. Then cut each quarter into thin slices and return to the lemon water.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized flameproof casserole over medium heat; when the oil is warm, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Drain the artichokes and add to the casserole, mix very well, and sauté for 4 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the water. Cover the casserole and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. When finished, the liquid should be completely absorbed and the artichokes very soft.

Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Mix the eggs with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste in a large serving bowl. When the water reaches a boil, add coarse salt to taste, then add the pasta and cook until al dente, for 9 to 12 minutes depending on the brand. Drain the pasta, transfer to the bowl with the egg mixture, mix gently but thoroughly, then add the artichokes with their juice. Mix again and serve with a few twists of black pepper.

Bugialli was a great teacher and so, no surprise, this recipe offers so many valuable cooking lessons. First, US grocery store produce often benefits from re-hydration. I’d like to think this was true in 1988 but no longer the case in 2019—but sadly, no. To this day I still trim and soak store-bought vegetables to re-hydrate them before cooking. Second, you can create so many beautiful pasta sauces by employing the technique of gently braising vegetables—in the case of this recipe, artichokes—to tenderness. Finally, I love that Bugialli uses water to braise the artichokes. Although today I often cook with rice koji stock or some other super-liquid, this recipe reminds me that water delivers pure flavor.