Bakers are doing it. Brewers are doing it. Why not pasta makers? We're, of course, talking about incorporating local grains like heritage wheat, barley and emmer into pasta making. As the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project continues to spread the word about the growing availability of northeast-grown grains, we can't stop thinking about the wonders they could do for fresh pasta. If only we had a fairy Italian grandmother to show us how it’s done…
Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain, clearly must have been listening to our pleas and answered them with Gisella Isidori, a fairy Italian grandmother to call our own.
A long-time friend of Greenmarket and the New York City restaurant world, Gisella has worked for more than 30 years as an Italian food and travel consultant in both the U.S. and Italy. She also really knows her pasta. In the 1980s she ran a pasta business in NYC called Ciao Italia. Gisella also boasts a decades-old love affair with grains: spelt, quinoa, wild rice, you name it. It seems there isn’t a grain out there she hasn’t transformed into incredible pastas.
In October, Gisella delighted GRGP by giving a class on making pasta the true Italian way in our home kitchen, and again the following day at the Union Square Greenmarket.
We stood with rapt attention across the counter from her, as she kneaded dough with stamina, strength and precision befitting the generations of Italian women who came before her. Using no more or no less than the right proportions of flour and salt, with a little olive oil and water, Gisella tirelessly kneaded four doughs -- buckwheat, einkorn, emmer and chestnut -- making each round of pasta the perfect texture of silky and smooth.
While her technique varied little from recipe to recipe, the results were unique to each flour's grain. The emmer revealed a nutty sweetness, whereas the einkorn was far earthier. The buckwheat was smooth with a beautiful lavender-gray tone, and then mixed with a whole wheat double zero flour for a spectacular finish in the traditional Northern Italian dish called Pizzoccheri. Gisella waxed sentimental about the dish, recalling childhood memories growing up near the Swiss border in Northern Italy, where buckwheat was a staple at her family’s table.
Gisella comes from a generation that knows the value of good food, and lets nothing go to waste. After everything was rolled, cut and cooked, the scraps were saved—all the different pasta leftovers rolled into one ball. “Dry it out for a few days, and then grate it over a pot of boiling water” for a delicious "massa grattata,” she instructed.
We will keep trying to get our technique down, but we can't promise we'll ever be able to give it her delizioso touch. Grazie Mille Gisella!