One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: alternative pasta ingredients

The Italian staple is taking a pummelling in the supermarket but rising in restaurants. Three chefs explain how they're keeping pasta fresh.

16 February 2018
italianchefscarbs

The trend

  • Sales of pasta dropped by £4.5m in the year to July 2017, according to Kantar Worldpanel, as Brits ate 1.3m lbs less spaghetti and 9.7m lbs less pasta shapes
  • On the other hand, free-from ranges are on the up: the combined boom in gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and/or wheat-free dry pasta was 13.6% in the year to October 2017, with a spending rise of 13.8% 
  •  While pasta sales in supermarkets have been suffering, the number of pasta dishes at leading food operators across the UK rose between spring/summer and autumn/winter last year, according to MCA Insight’s Menu Tracker

As a carbohydrate, it’s fair to say that pasta has suffered a little in recent years. Lumped together with white bread, rice and potatoes, this wheat-based foodstuff has been blamed unfairly for weight gain, with the health-conscious shunning spaghetti for spiralised vegetables.

Yet, as pastaio, food writer and cookery teacher Carmela Sereno Hayes points out, in most cases, “'pasta's not the problem, it's the sauce,” which is why she is determined to get us all eating more of the Italian staple by showing how versatile it can be.

Whether it's the challenge of setting pasta apart from the doughy carbohydrate category or, as pub chef Jamie Herridge says, giving vegetarian diners “something more interesting than soup or risotto,” chefs are starting to experiment with pasta dough, adding all kinds of ingredients to the mix – from pulses like chickpeas and lentils to vegetables like butternut squash, spinach, beetroot and sweet potato.

Last month, supermarket chain Aldi launched a range of organic bean spaghetti made entirely from edamame, black bean and soybean, while in the US celebrity-endorsed chickpea pasta Banza is flying off the shelves.

For most chefs making fresh pasta, 00 flour still remains a key ingredient, as gluten from the wheat is needed to supply some elasticity, but chefs like Sereno Hayes are working towards using flour made 100% from nuts or pulses and upping the levels of vegetables. Watch this space.

 

The trailblazers

Jamie Herridge, head chef at The Baskerville: “I make a dish of beetroot tagliatelle with goats cheese, hazelnuts, diced and roasted butternut squash and diced and roasted red beetroot. To make the pasta we roast beetroots to make a puree and add that to 100g of 00 flour and one egg. With a bit of salt and pepper and olive oil, it's rolled out in a pasta machine and cut by hand. To make the dish, we boil the pasta for three minutes and drizzle it with some garlic and olive oil, add the squash, the beetroot and hazelnuts, turn it over and season. Just before serving we add the goat's cheese and put some baby chard on top. You don't get too much of the flavour of the beetroot in the pasta, it's subtle and more visually pleasing than anything.”

 

Carmela Sereno Hayes, food writer, cookery teacher and pastaio: “I make a chestnut pasta with a 50/50 blend of 150g of chestnut flour (dried milled chestnuts) and 150g of 00 flour combined with three large eggs. It's simple to make but the chestnut flour adds a change of colour – it's a darker brown tone – and a nutty flavour with this rich aroma. The pasta pairs beautifully with mushrooms, so I make a sauce of chestnut mushrooms, shiitake and oyster mushrooms that have been pan fried in butter and oil with some fresh thyme. Just before serving I put in some Taleggio cheese – it's a beautiful soft Italian cheese that melts down to make a lovely sauce. I cook the pasta in boiling water for four minutes, then finish the sauce off with a couple of ladles of pasta water and add it all together.”

 

Mike Jennings, head chef at Wood Manchester: “The restaurant's executive chef Simon Wood and I came up with a dish including squid ink farfalle. It's a pistachio and pine nut crusted halibut with charred broccoli, smoked mussel, squid ink farfalle and sea herbs. To make the farfalle we add squid ink to the whisked eggs, which we add to 00 pasta flour. The pasta dough comes out black, and we roll it out and shape it before cooking it and adding it to the rest of the ingredients. We believe that all dishes should be balanced, so it's our way of putting a carbohydrate on the plate, and we use the squid ink because it's a fish dish and it helps carry on the journey across it. We also like to make our own fresh pasta here because we believe it's a real technical skill and important that chefs learn it.”

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