The Wheat Comes From Where????

What? I queried.  You went where to buy wheat?

The well heeled Italian businessman replied, Texas.

Jack and I love to travel on Italian trains. Age brings its perks – deep discounts on business or first class tickets.   I like the “four-top” set up. Four comfortable seats surround a table. There are places to plug in your “God Forbid I forget my iPad,” and interesting folks to chat with.  For example, the two businessmen who sat across from Jack and I. After ten seconds, they realized immediately that we were Americans and proudly proclaimed that they had just come back from Texas.

Charming gabby girl said, Texas – that is a great place to visit.

We were on business.

Jack was immersed in his book when I said, What do you do?

We buy grain.  We import Texas wheat to Italy.

My mind said “what the duck” but my mouth politely spit out, Why?

For the pasta industry.

Hands started flying and words were soaring over the four-top.  Now I was not, as Jack said, being SNARKY when I bellowed – Texas!  They make Italian pasta with wheat from Texas!  I wouldn’t eat anything grown in pesticide ridden Texas.  That is when Jack kicked me under the table.  OUCH!  (Don’t you kick me too – Texas does restrict some use of pesticides – I looked it up.)

The men, being politicians at heart, explained that Italy doesn’t grow enough wheat to make all the international pasta lovers happy.  Italian companies need to import wheat to satisfy the market need.  They have been buying wheat from the USA and Canada for years.

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According to an October 2019 article in Worlds Top Exports,  in 2018, Italy ranked 4th in wheat importing.  They imported $1.82 billion of the heavenly grain.  The USA sold them 28.1% less than the previous year but still raked in $146.2 million.  Canada sold 81.1% less than the year before.  Why you might ask?  The answer is simple – pesticides.  I discovered an article on i-politics that talked about Barilla Pasta Company speaking to Canadian growers and explaining Italians don’t want to eat what they perceive as poison.  Italians lobbied and marched for locally sourced grains.

Italy, like other countries, legislated Country of Origin Labeling  (COOL) for food. That means you have to say where the wheat was grown and were it was processed.  That gives consumers an option.  They can decide where they want their dinner’s ingredients to hail from. I believe in eating local and shopping local.  What happens to wheat when it is shipped in big containers across the seas? Errrrggg – I can’t imagine the creepy critters that have stowed away.

In 1846 Antonio Rummo started making Rummo Pasta in Benevento.  The wheat he used was only from the Italian regions of Puglia and Campania.  I was sad to see that they too had to import wheat to satisfy their global customers.   Rummo is a local company so I do support them – but I also always read the label.

La Molisano Pasta is from Campobasso, also close to Pontelandolfo. Some of their products proudly proclaim on the front of the bag “Solo Grano Italiano.”Pasta 3.jpg

Other packages I have to turn over and put on my glasses to discover where the wheat was from.  Happily, I have only found La Molisana in our local supermarket made with Italian grain.

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The USA does have COOL legislation.  Those “made in China” labels are everywhere.  Are we equally concerned about food?  We have all seen the labels in supermarkets that told us where the produce was fun.  Are those signs still there?  Let me know. In February, 2016 the United States Department of Agriculture repealed the COOL requirements for Beef and Pork.   I stopped reading their website after I saw that…

Those of you are shopping in any country but Italy, please let me know if COOL is in effect on pasta, rice and dry goods.  Are the labels there? I am really curious.

It is amazing what you can learn traveling by train.

Ci Vediamo!

Zucchine Sono Arrivate! Recipe 1

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Everyday it seems there is a mysterious bag, basket or pile of zucchini by my door.  These things must multiply like rabbits.  Last year, it seemed like I was chomping down on zucchini blossoms daily.  Bundles of fully formed zucchini didn’t appear because we were all to busy frying up the flowers – remember this post:  Fried Squash Blossoms

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This year, I didn’t get invited to imbibe as much in my favorite fried flower.  Now I know why.  People let the blossoms grow into long green meaty vegetables.  But what is a woman to do with them?  I can’t say no thank you – half the time I don’t know where they come from and the other half – well it would just be rude.  I remember making tons of zucchini bread in Flagtown but we’re in Italy – so it is time to start finding out what the elders do.

Zia Paulina taught me how do make a simple zucchini topping for pasta.  Actually, she tortured me with a little knife by insisting that I cut paper thin zucchini slices without using a cutting board, mandoline slicer or food processor.  None of my slices were thin enough – come carta – like paper!  When I finally got the thinness just right she was pleased.  Then I watched her dump some olive oil in a frying pan, sauté the zucchini slices and toss them with pasta and a healthy dose of parmigiana.  Prima piatta was finished.

I decided to see if anyone else tossed zucchini with pasta – a quick web search found lots of recipes.  Being an independent type, I ignored all the advice and just followed my instinct –  the pinch of this, a handful and there you go style of cooking. The first step was to create the paper thin slices that really worked in Zia Paulina’s dish.

Note - I slice towards my thumb!  How dumb but it works.
Note – I slice towards my thumb! How dumb but it works.

My smart ass husband watched me get closer and closer to lopping off a finger and he decided to show me how to get those paper thin slices.  First he took out the potato peeler and peeled the skin off one cucumber.  Then he cut it in half and started making short thin slices with the peeler.

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Master chef makes quick work of the zucchini – but where is the cute green? Oh, next to the cutting board.

 

Jack’s system would absolutely work.  But I wanted the zucchini – which I know had absolutely  no yucky chemical crap on them – to have that cute green trim.  White zucchini against white pasta couldn’t look very appealing.  So I finished up the rest using the potato peeler on unpeeled zucchini.

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Cripes, they didn’t teach me this in 4-H. What a cool use of a peeler.

The actual cooking of the dish was much simpler.  I sliced up some onions and a red pepper.  Why the red pepper?  Because I had it and I liked the color – back to white pasta and white onions and white zucchini – you get the idea.  The olive oil that we have here is literally from the trees in our yard and pressed locally.  It is heaven on the tongue all by itself.  It really helps to use good olive oil for dishes like these.  While the water for the pasta was getting up to boil, I quickly sautéed the onions and peppers.

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What a beautiful red color! They do not sell green bell peppers here – because red means ripe!

Salt, pepper, a touch of garlic powder – I noticed that none of my Italian relatives cook with onions and garlic in the same dish.  Loving garlic anyway I can get it, I tossed in the garlic powder.  When I added the zucchini, I happened to look out the window at the basil growing madly and thought – why not.  The basil added at the end gave the dish more color and a little zing.  Here is the final product – I added grated cheese to the dishes before I tossed them.  Buon appetito!

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Subscriber Dirties Her Hands With Dough!

This post was sent to me by an incredible cook, Kathy Hall.  I know she’s a great cook because I have sat at her table and practically licked the plate clean every time she invites me over.  She has been following “Nonna’s Mulberry Tree” and sent me this pictorial post of her own.  Enjoy!

Kathy:

Homemade fresh pasta has always ranked high on my kitchen bucket list. I have always cooked almost everything from scratch and still have a fond memory of a pasta party at my  friend Grace’s college apartment. She was the first in our crowd to get a Cuisinart and we watched in amazement as in less than two minutes the flour and eggs formed a ball of dough right in the bowl. We liked it so much we did it three times. Luckily, being Italian, she had a pasta maker so we all took turns cranking away for about an hour then happily stringing fresh strands on the back of every available kitchen chair.

That was over 40 years ago. This summer my friend Midge traveled to Italy to reconnect with her Italian heritage and I am following along virtually via  this blog.  One of her first posts was a recipe for homemade pumpkin ravioli with walnuts, parmesan and speck. It looked and sounded heavenly so I dug out my rolling pin and borrowed my neighbor’s ravioli cutter.

It was not a complete success. The filling was a savory rustic delight. The pasta, which I insisted on rolling by hand, was way too thick and cooked up into a gummy mess of semi raw dough not worthy of it’s yummy filling.

Time for technology. I ordered a pasta machine from Amazon and watched a bunch of Youtube videos on how to make home made pasta. This is my second batch in four days (We ate the first one too fast to photograph.)

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Mound of flour and one egg – here’s looking at yah!

The recipe is simple, one egg, about 2/3’s of a cup of all purpose flour, a small splash of olive oil and a little salt (if I remember to add it). I mix it old school starting by making a hole in a mound of flour big enough to hold one broken egg. I scramble the egg, olive oil and salt with a fork and then slowly incorporate the flour working from the inside of the volcano out.

Scramble that egg!
Scramble that egg!
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Make sure you washed your hands!

When the fork gets coated with the thick egg flour mixture I switch to my hands continuing to incorporate flour until I have a  not too wet, not too dry dough. It’s not as magical as the Cuisinart but it’s a lot less clean up.

The next step is where practice makes a difference as I transform that sloppy doughy mess by manipulating it with my hands. Pasta making is similar to bread making. You have to experience how the dough should feel as you knead it. Ideally your Italian grandmother shows you this. I’m Irish so I learned by experimenting and seeing how different doughs perform as pasta.

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Who kneads a gym?

For those non bakers, here’s how to knead. Flour your hands and the board. Stretch the ball of dough you formed by pushing down and away from you with the heel of your hand, then rotate 90 degrees, fold in half and push again. If it’s too wet sprinkle a little more flour on the ball and keep working it. If it’s too dry wet your hands and incorporate that little bit of water as you knead. A lot depends on the size of the egg, how much olive oil you put in and the humidity in the air. Relax, work slowly and enjoy. In time you will know when you have the right combination of flour, eggs and water. Eventually the dough will stop sticking to your hands and start to become silky.

Keep pushing away, folding and rotating until the dough is smooth and springs back when poked. It takes between six and ten minutes total and is a nice upper body workout. Then form the dough back into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Some recipes say to flour the ball before wrapping it, others say to coat it with a little olive oil. I flour if the dough seems a little wet, oil if it seems a little dry.

While the dough rests, I make a sauce and put on a big pot of salted water to boil. One night my sauce was fava beans, garlic and olive oil. The next it was tomato sauce with turkey sausage and mushrooms that I had in the freezer. The classic combination of butter and cheese is also good.

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Looks amazing!

After the dough rests, and the sauce and boiling water are ready. Either try to roll the pasta out by hand or dig out a pasta machine and follow the instructions. I strongly recommend the pasta machine. Unlike the Cuisinart, it never has to be washed, just dusted off with a pastry brush.

Roll your pasta dough til it’s thin enough to see your hand on the other side, cut into your favorite shape, cook for two to four minutes depending on thickness, toss with sauce and enjoy. . I can’t speak about left overs since we have had none. This recipe serves two people if you are used to 2 ounce dry pasta servings.

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Yummy!

Next week I’m tackling those ravioli again.

Buon appetito!

Kathy Hall