Pasta. P-a-s-t-a. Two syllables, one short, succinct word that means so much to me both personally and professionally as a private chef and caterer, and holds a whole universe of flavour, possibility and potential. My relationship with pasta has always been one of pure love. The only thing is, it has such a bad press these days like everything containing gluten.
What are the alternatives to pasta? That’s where my experiments with spelt come in. Spelt does contain gluten but in much smaller quantities than regular wheat.
What is spelt?
Spelt has made a resurgence over the last decade in the whole foods world. Unlike wheat, where vital nutritional bran and germ are usually removed during milling, the vital substances of spelt are found in the inner kernel of the grain. Also in its favour, due to spelt’s high water solubility, its vital substances can be absorbed quickly into the body so that its nutrients are digested much more easily. It’s also rich in many vitamins and other nutritional substances, particularly protein, containing all the essential amino acids our body needs.
As for its history, Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times, so it’s basically been around since the year dot. In Greek mythology spelt (zeia – it’s all Greek to me) was a gift to the Greeks from the Goddess Demeter, so it has a good track record.
I’m not jumping on the at-times irritating gluten free band wagon. I’m more interested in the “everything-in-moderation-with-fewer-and-fewer-refined-sugars-or-processed-foods”. This includes bad modern processed wheat which increasingly contains pesticides that can’t be digested by the body (such as weed killers which may be responsible for some gluten intolerances these days).
Spelt pasta – this private chef’s new recipe
As for my brush with spelt, I’ve always liked the nutty consistency of it as a grain, a.k.a. farro which is delicious when cooked like pearl barley and used in a salad format or with some roast veg. It’s well worth some experimentation.
As a personal chef, I’m always trying new ways to satisfy customers’ whims and needs so I’ve recently started using spelt flour to make fresh pasta. Just use it as you would normal ‘00’ pasta flour and it seems to behave just as well, if not better when eaten, giving a very good bite for that holy grail of ‘al dente’ which any pasta aficionado seeks.
How to make spelt pasta
I don’t weigh quantities for pasta, but as a general rule, roughly 100g of flour, one whole egg and a couple of egg yolks makes a good quantity for two people as a main course.
Just bring it all together in a bowl, roll into a ball and rest in the fridge for anything from an hour to a day. There’s no need to knead it much at this stage, let the pasta machine do this for you by putting the dough through on the thickest setting, folding it over, passing it through and repeating this process about 10 times, until you have a smooth sheet of pasta, then go on rolling it down the settings on your machine until you’ve reached the desired thinness.
It’s brilliant as tagliatelle for carbonara(one of my favourites),or as pappardelle for something more substantial like wild boar ragù, which I recently did for a private dinner to great accolades.
S-p-e-l-t. Just one syllable and so many possibilities…