Pasta, flour and grains can be either the building-blocks of your menu items or stand-alone dishes, especially when using heirloom products that have vibrant flavor profiles all their own. As diners pay more attention to what they eat, and where their food comes from, they are moving away from bland, mass-produced options to more artisanal products raised to deliver richer, more authentic flavors.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta is used by chef’s worldwide because it is made with the finest quality grains blended with pure mountain spring water, extruded through bronze dies and slowly air-dried, creating its signature rough texture that holds sauce beautifully. One of our favorites is Cavatelli–from an Italian expression of cavare, meaning “to get, to carve,” this small pasta has the five thumbprints reminiscent of the motion of getting or grabbing something. The fingerprints are left on the dough from the slight rolling motion of the pasta-maker.
While we tend to think of pasta as Italian, it is likely a derivative of Asian noodles brought to Europe by Marco Polo or one of his successors. While pasta is at its heart a simple and very affordable dish–it’s just flour and water kneaded into a dough–the ingredients and techniques used in making pasta can dramatically impact flavor and texture.
The best pasta starts with the best wheat, which is stone-ground into semolina, then mixed with the highest quality water available. The mineral profile of the water will impact flavor (that’s why New York bagel and pizza makers say you can’t replicate the flavors of their doughs).
When it comes to gourmet pastas, the dough is extruded through bronze dies, many still in use for hundreds of years, and air dried slowly (2-3 days) at cool temperatures to bring out the flavor of the wheat and a texture that is fork and sauce-friendly.
The earliest archeological evidence of flour–wheat seeds crushed with stones to create a powder for baking–date from 6,000 BCE. While wheat has been the staple source ingredient for flour in the western world and in the Middle East for centuries, maize or corn flour has been the historic stable in Latin America.
Mass-produced flours are typically refined and bleached to achieve a consistent texture and color. Refining removes the germ and bran of wheat seeds, which reduces the nutritional benefits–mainly protein–of flour. Enriched flours have nutrients added back into them. Artisanal flours typically use the whole grain. Wheat is classified by hardness (soft, hard, or durum); by color (red or white); and by season (winter or spring). Malted wheat has been supplemented with sprouted grain, often barley, which breaks down into sugars that yeast can use.
Hard wheat is typically used for bread, while soft wheat is used for more tender products like cakes. Hard wheat has more protein and more glutens and gives a more chewy texture.
Gluten free flour is flour made of something other than wheat. Gluten-free flours we offer include acorn, buckwheat, corn, garbanzo bean, oat, potato, rice, tapioca and more. We also offer flours made with organic wheat, whole wheat, malted wheats, hard wheat, soft wheat, pastry wheat and more from the finest artisan mills in the world. If you’re not sure what flour to use for a dish or meal, give us a call!
Grains are actually seeds, with or without their outer hulls, harvested to eat or to use as ingredients in other dishes. As with flours, most mass-produced grains are refined, and the bran and the germ are removed from the grain kernel, leaving just sugar and starch. In addition to the refining process, today’s mass-produced grains have been bred to be transported and stored, and as a result, miss not just nutrition but also the flavor of the original ancient grains.
Fortunately, artisan grains are making a comeback as diners crave authentic products and flavors. We carry brands like Anson Mills, which has recovered the Native American strains of corn and offers extremely flavorful cornmeal, grits and oats. We supply Italian Farro from Rustichella, whole and a finely cracked Farro Couscous. Also, we carry organic Spelt, Farro, Kamut and Purple Prairie Barley from organic farmers in Montana under the Timeless label.