The predominant explanation for toasted pasta from Puglia, is that after the wheat fields are harvested and burned to remove the chaff and weeds, gleaners would come and pick through the ashes for the remaining charred kernels of wheat, which they would then mill and make into pasta. Chef Jonah Rhodehamel of Oliveto in Oakland found a reference on the internet for burnt Puglian pasta, and started to experiment. It is hard to imagine a more labor intensive food, but as it turns out the effort is well worth it, as the results are truly delicious. If it’s true that some of the best Italian food is the food of the poor, then toasted wheat pasta has to be a supreme cucina povera dish.
For me, this is particularly exciting because it is the first dividend from the Oliveto Grain Project (now Community Grains) begun 4 years ago. Initially, we hoped that by creating associations with grain farmers, millers, bakers and chefs we could create innovations similar to the ones that have come from associations with all our great meat ranchers and vegetable farmers. It worked.
Toasted whole grain Hard Amber Durum pasta can be found on Oliveto’s dinner menu most nights for at least the next couple of months. We hope to have a dried retail version available some time this summer.