Chestnut Pasta

Fresh chestnut pasta with butternut squash.

Pasta is made from flour, water, and sometimes eggs. What is flour? Flour is wheat ground to powder. Flour can be ground from things other than wheat. Corn flour gives us the tortillas from below Northern Mexico (wheat-flour tortillas are bigger near the U.S.-Mexico border), and rice-flour noodles swim in soups from Southeast Asia to Japan. Back to pasta. Messing around with different flours is one way to flavor pasta. And that is how we arrive at the chestnut pappardelle in the picture above.

This pasta was made from chestnut flour mixed with wheat flour. That makes the pasta taste a little wild and sweet. The pappardelle comes from Raffetto’s, a shop that has been selling fresh pasta in New York since 1906. (I wrote an article about this place!) The place has an ancient dough-cutting machine that clatters and creaks as you wait, watching your lemon or saffron or squid-ink or chocolate noodles sliced to order.

One of the best things about living near New York is the access to a galaxy of food markets where you can find anything. To me, the city’s markets are more of a lure than its world-class restaurants.

I can get still-hot corn tortillas. I can choose from 20 kinds of rice noodle. I can walk away with chestnut pasta for $4 a pound.

If you ever have a chance to try chestnut pasta, don’t think twice. Last week I pulled a pound from my freezer, cooked the stuff, and then mixed it with pre-roasted squash, Parmesan, thyme, almonds I smashed in a bag with a wooden spoon, and a shower of good olive oil. That cost me less than $8 for a surreal meal that could serve 4 people–and would cost more than $20 a person at a restaurant in New York.

So if you’re headed to NYC soon or live in the city now, I recommend a trip to Raffetto’s with a cooler and a wide-open mind. You’ll thank me when you’ve got a freezer filled with the good stuff.   -Chris

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