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Diagram of a Dish: Grano Arso Cavatelli

Sara Deseran | October 23, 2012 | Story Ingredient

There’s more than one story about the origin of using grano arso (burnt grain) to make pasta and bread. Some say that this Italian tradition stems from the time when hungry peasants scoured freshly burned wheat fields seeking overlooked kernels. Others say that it began with the burnt flour swept from the decks of bread ovens. Today, at A16—a restaurant hardly known for feeding peasants—grano arso might come about in a less romantic way, but it makes an autumnal, toasty-tasting pasta. Chef Christopher Thompson explains the method behind his madness.

The Pasta: “The grano arso pasta recipe used by A16 originally contained eggs, but I removed them to make it more true to Southern Italy, the poorer region that our menu is based on. Cavatelli is definitely a pasta from Southern Italy.”

The Research: “I’ve had grano arso pasta at quite a few places in Italy—in Campania, in Puglia. Once it was served as orecchiette, with a sauce made from puréed squash leaves, plus squash stems and cacioricotta cheese.”

The Method: “To toast the flour for the pasta, we put it on a pan in a convection oven on high heat for about an hour and a half, stirring constantly so that it cooks evenly. If you overtoast the flour, you’ll destroy all the stretchy qualities of the gluten and have crumbly pasta.”

The Fixings: “Cavatelli rotates on and off our menu in different forms. Here I made it with pork heart sugo cooked with shank and trotters. It also has chanterelles, ancho cress, and smoked caciocavallo in it.”

The Cheese: “Caciocavallo is a hard cheese with Southern Italian origins. The name means “cheese on horseback” because they say that’s how it used to be transported. It’s shaped like a gourd, and it’s hung to age in pairs tethered with a rope.”

A16, 2355 Chestnut st. (near Divisadero), 415-771-2216

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