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 Grattata, entry 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 grattugiata, pasta 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.