Stop Eating Store-Bought Flour
I hand-make pasta every day, and used to be all about Caputo 00 pizzeria flour from Italy until I found out about the flavors of freshly milled ancient grains.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra. Photo courtesy of Bruce Kalman
Working with different flours is like making music. Like the nuances that a specific instrument can bring to a song, each flour has the ability to completely change the tone of your pasta.
I hand-make pasta every day, and used to be all about Caputo 00 pizzeria flour from Italy until I found out that it's one of the most unsustainable products out there. They grow it in the States, ship it back to Italy for processing, and then send it back here to sell it. And at that point, it's not even fresh anymore.
This is why I decided to only use seasonal, local varieties of wheat flours for my restaurant, Union. I'm fortunate because I work with Grist & Toll, an urban flour mill in LA, but there's ways that you can obtain fresh flour as a home cook. It's well worth the effort, because when you mill your own flours, the results actually smell like flour. The stale stuff from the supermarket has no character at all.
Alternative grains have the power to transform the comfort foods of childhood into something much better.
The same weather conditions that allow the West Coast to grow amazing produce also allow it to grow a variety of wheats. And because of these weather patterns, I source my flours from California, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon. But it's not all easy. At first, developing my recipes was a bit rough because the dough reacts differently than the traditional stuff, but I like to think of using different flours as if I'm playing a game.
Alternative grains have the power to transform the comfort foods of childhood into something much better. For me, it was baked ziti. Nowadays, I use locally milled flour to create fresh pasta that was ground just a few hours before. And when I work with ingredients like traditional semolina flour, I have another technique that involves charring the grain before making the pasta.
For me, working with seasonal food doesn't just mean working with produce, but changing different components of my recipes to suit the season.
I have a friend who has a strong aversion to gluten and doesn't eat products made with traditional flour because it makes her stomach hurt, yet she can eat my spelt pasta and my bread. This is probably because spelt flour has a lot less gluten than traditional pasta and it is more easily digestible, but I'm no scientist. So it goes to show you that just when you think you know everything about the power of alternative grains, some crazy ancient grain will pop up every now and again to make everything better.
As told to Javier Cabral