Saragolla Pasta from Rustichella

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews 

Fantastic full flavor from an ancient wheat

As you probably know, I’m a big pasta person. We eat pasta at our house three or four (or sometimes five or six) times a week! And as you may also know, I’m wildly passionate about great artisan pasta. I’ve said it about 1600 times before, and I’ll hopefully be saying it for a long time to come—for those who are already buying artisan food, great pasta is one of the most wonderful and affordable luxuries in the world. For a few extra dollars, one can go from C+ commercial, reasonable-for-mass-market, pasta, all the way up to A+, artisan (it’s easy to remember: C for commercial, A for artisan) and, in the process, take the quality of your evening meal from okay to outstanding!

With that bit of background in hand, I’ll happily announce that this newly arrived offering from the Abruzzo region on Italy’s east coast has me very excited! It’s truly excellent! Positively memorable. Almost meaty, actually. Here’s what friend and importer and author of the wonderful Autentico, Rolando Beramendi wrote about it:

I love the Saragolla pasta because you can really taste the quality of the FRESH wheat, you can experience that ancient wheat that was cultivated 200 years ago in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1815-60). I think the fact that this is a semola semi-integrale (i.e., semi-whole wheat) makes it so tasty, because it’s not whole wheat and not modern overly-sifted durum wheat. That, in itself, gives it a great taste. It’s so nutty, so grainy, and it tastes like a really good bread, the kind made nowadays by really good spots like yours at Zingerman’s Bakehouse! It’s all about the grain! And the craftsmanship of Rustichella d’Abruzzo makes it so fun to eat. You chew and bite, yet it’s not as al dente as the regular pasta. I find it soft and supple, but you still have to chew it a lot … it’s so great! I always eat it with just good olive oil, garlic, and pepperoncino! So that way, it’s simple and you can taste the flavor of the pasta! 

As Rolando has said, this is very much what the flavor of the wheat would have been back in Schiller’s time. One hundred and fifty years ago, we can say with certainty that Saragolla was one of the premier pasta grains in Italy. In fact, it was so widely grown and milled in southern Italy that the term “saragolla” was often used to identify durum wheat in general. Sadly, as is true of so many old heirloom grains, Saragolla’s heyday slowly came to an end when commercial pasta-making demanded more consistent grain and higher yields. In an effort to protect this ancient grain from extinction, it’s been put on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. And of course, one of the best things we can do to help make that happen is to eat it—as Rolando reminds me regularly, the more we all eat it, the more likely it is that farmers will want to grow it. Happily, that’s quite easy to do because it tastes so terrifically good!

In the Abruzzo, where the Peduzzi family at Rustichella has been making artisan pasta for 99 years now (next year will mark their 100th anniversary!), the hard-to-reach elevations and narrow back roads in the hilly Apennine terrain of the province of Teramo meant that some of the Saragolla wheat survived the industrial era. Gianluigi Peduzzi jumped at the chance to bring it back. As with all Rustichella’s “regular” pasta, the Saragolla is extruded through old-fashioned bronze dies to insure the appropriately rough texture (for better integration with the sauce) and very slow, almost 60 hours, of low-temperature drying (to protect the flavor of the grain and keep that incredible chewy texture). You and I, happily, get to eat the fruits of Gianluigi’s fine labors!

The Saragolla pasta has a light brown color and a notable nuttiness that’s really quite lovely. As Rolando said, it’s really good just with a big olive oil (like, perhaps, TyPuglia), red pepper flakes, and garlic. I like its natural nuttiness a lot with mushrooms and it’s also excellent for Pasta ala Gricia (the recipe for which is in Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon). Great too, as Rolando said above, tossed with that IASA peperoncino I wrote up a few weeks ago and that we now have at the Creamery and Roadhouse.

If you’re half as happy to eat pasta as I am, give this special Saragolla a try. My guess is you’ll be eating it regularly for a long time to come! At the Deli, we have Saragolla Rigatoncini, thick delicious tubes of pasta made with this great heirloom grain. And at the Roadhouse, we have some of Rolando’s favorite, the Saragolla Spaghetti, for sale up by the host stand!