Burnished Wheat

Recently we learned to make traditional Italian pasta by hand. We used artisan flour and learned about history through the story of this product. We spent an afternoon making the pasta and then cooked and ate it together.

A century ago, villages in Southern Italy often had a communal oven that everyone would share. Many places in the world still do. People would make their dough at home and take it to the oven to baked. To save fuel, all the loaves would be baked at once, and people would mark their individual loaves so as not mix them up with their neighbor’s.

Burnish Wheat

Burnished Wheat

Some people didn’t have enough flour at home and so they’d come to the oven to scrape off the burnt flour and they would mix it with the little flour they did have in order to bake enough bread for their numerous families. This flour came to be known as Grano Arso, and it’s an example of Cucina Povera (the food of the poor) which today is served as a delicacy in many upscale restaurants around the world. In fact the grano arso flour costs up to seven times more than regular flour in Italy.

Kneading the dough.

Kneading the dough.

Grano Arso has a strong earthy and ashen scent and its color gives the dough a dark grey color. The flour can also be used for making pasta, by mixing it with semola and kneading it into balls to then work into the shape of the pasta you want to create.

For our lesson in Kypseli, we made pasta in the shape of orecchiette, or little ears. This is a type of pasta that is famous in the Puglia region of Italy, and that is where we learned how to make it. By watching these ladies here:

It takes a bit of practice to start churning out the pasta like these ladies do, but the diligent students in our group worked all afternoon and made enough orecchiette to feed the ten people who came to learn and/or try some pasta made from scratch.

The instructions had to be translated into several different languages, but because of the various origins of our attendees, that was not a problem. Amharic, Arabic, Greek, and English were spoken during the class.

The fruit of our labor.

The fruit of our labor.

Nadia’s kitchen has marble counter tops, as many of the antique houses of Kypseli, which was ideal for making pasta by hand. On a marble counter the pasta sticks less and stone maintains a constant temperature when kneading, keeping the dough cool.

Making bread together is being used as therapy in the UK, the Together We Rise project uses bread making as a vehicle for social change.

Behind nutritious and delicious Real Bread, the process of baking by hand offers therapeutic, social and employment opportunities to the people crafting it. Together We Rise is a project to ensure that these benefits are enjoyed by many more people who, for one reason or another, have a tougher time than most of us.

Here in Athens, our activities are also therapeutic and are slowly building a community around the FoodLab that we hope will make it flourish.

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