The idea of a burnt pasta was a great one, and I really liked the way that the orecchiette and peas turned out earlier this week. But then it got me thinking about variations, and I started to want to play around with the idea of changing the flavours and having it come out more toasted instead of completely burnt. Like anything else, it's not a new idea: we use toasted flour in some meat braises to add a depth of flavour, and the Sardinians have Fregula, known as Sardinian cous cous which is made from balled up pasta that is dried and toasted. Google "toasted pasta" on the internet and you'll be told that you can take dry pasta into a new "stratosphere" by toasting it.
But just like the Grano Arso flour is not burnt pasta but instead pasta made from burnt flour, I am more interested in making a pasta where the flour itself is toasted before the actual pasta is made. I have a feeling that this will infuse a whole different flavour into the resulting dish and will give a lot more depth than toasting pasta during the actual cooking of the dish.
To toast your flour, you'll want to spread a quantity of your choosing onto a baking dish or some greaseproof, making sure that its evenly dispersed on the pan. Put your oven on a low heat and keep a watch on it, as you don't want any of it to burn. I erred on the side of less toasted until I knew my oven well enough to know how long I needed, and I would always recommend the same to anyone else. When you use the toasted flour in a pasta mix, keep it to about a 3:1 ratio of white flour to toasted flour, as the flavour can still be a bit overwhelming of whatever sauce you use. It does work really well with richer sauces, particularly those with an emulsion.
So as you know by now I am a Brit living in Italy and there are a good many moments when those two sensibilities collide in the kitchen. So if I'm being completely honest, I love the idea of a pasta that tastes like toast because a great bit of toast is one of my favourite things to eat. Toasted pasta has also made me think further, about a dish that would immortalize eggs, bacon and toast together, the holy trinity of the English breakfast. And there it came to me: a dish with universal appeal and one that is riffed on to varying successes, a dish that is ingrained into Italian culture and given iconic statues throughout the world. A dish whose origins are shrouded in mystery...Carbonara.
There are many stories surrounding the origin of Alla Carbonara, from coalminers (Carbonaro) to secret societies (Carbonari), to Sicily and back to American and English soldiers during World War II. Ginger will be back on Sunday with a history of Carbonara, and I will keep working on the idea.