Grano arso means burnt grain. The use of burnt grain for making pasta and bread is thought to have originated a couple of hundred years ago in the cuisine of poverty in southern Italy. Now, while it may not be a necessity for survival, burnt grain is still of interest to the experimental cook.
When I first learned about grano arso pasta, it went directly to the top of my to-do list. It was a must as I love to make pasta and I love toasty flavors.
To make grano arso pasta, simply replace about a quarter of the flour in the recipe with toasted flour. I chose to make grano arso semolina cavatelli. I toasted the semolina until it was very dark—in fact, it was actually smoking when I finally decided it was dark enough to take out of the oven.
Making pasta dough with the toasted semolina was no different than making it with untoasted semolina, though it did absorb a touch more water. But the color, texture, and flavor of the resulting pasta were completely different. The texture of the brown pasta was slightly grainy, and the flavor deep and toasty, reminiscent of a well-charred pizza crust. I served it in my Angry Tomato Sauce, and it was as if a base note was added to the dish.
Fresh Grano Arso Cavatelli
16 ounces semolina
8 ounces warm water
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread 4 ounces of the semolina on a baking tray and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until toasted and dark brown. Let cool to room temperature.
Combine the toasted semolina, untoasted semolina, and water in a large bowl and mix until a rough dough forms. The dough will seem very dry at this point, but resist the temptation to add more water. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for about half an hour.
Cut the dough into eighths. Keeping the remaining dough covered as you work, roll 1 portion of dough into a ½-inch thick rope. If the dough springs back as you roll it, cover it with plastic wrap and let it relax for a few minutes before continuing. Using a table knife, cut a ¾-inch piece of the rope. With the side of the knife, press down on the cut side of the piece of dough, dragging it toward you at the same time. Unroll the resulting little cup of dough. Make more cavatelli with the remaining dough in the same manner. As you work, arrange the cavatelli in a single layer on lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays. Let dry for a few hours.
Makes about 1 ¼ pounds, enough for 4 to 6 main-course servings. Cook as you would any other pasta, in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente. Regular cavatelli does not contain toasted semolina. Cavatelli can be turned inside out to form orecchiette (watch me make orecchiette in this video).