Autumn and Orzo
I love this time of the year! The leaves turn brown and slowly drift from the tree branches. The air is crisp. And walking around my neighbourhood in the evening I enjoy the smells of comfort food wafting from fogged up kitchen windows.
This is the time of the year that our slow cooker takes up pride and place on our kitchen bench. Slow cooked braises of cheaper cuts of meat warm your soul as the mercury drops. Hearty soups with fragrant flavourings fill the house with childhood memories of my grandmother's place. It's not long now until winters' icy finger will be tapping us on the shoulder.
As the night air cools, nothing get's the kitchen window steamed up more than cooking Pasta. I love Pasta! If it wasn't for the better advice of my wife I'd eat it every day - that and homemade pizza (I'll talk about pizza later)! Don't get me wrong - I enjoy all cuisines and after nearly 30 years in the business have enjoyed some great meals, insights and tips from some brilliant chefs, but Pasta brings it home for me.
Not just any pasta though. I think I've become a bit of a pasta snob. If I have time (not very often - in fact, hardly ever these days), I'll make it from scratch. If I need to use dry (which is pretty much most of the time), it has to be bronze extruded. Only bronze extruded pasta can give you the rough texture and porosity needed to make any accompaniment cling to it. It takes a bit longer to cook as well so it's more likely to be al dente.
Gragnano, on the outskirts of Naples is considered to be the birthplace of Pasta. It's certainly still considered to be the centre of traditional, artisan pasta. At one time it has been reported that up to 500 producers or pasta were based in Gragnano. Today only a handful survive! Of these Pastificio Faella is a real stand out. Pasta, real Pasta, from Pastificio Faella is still made in Gragnano in a small building right in the heart of the village.
So what is it that makes their pasta so famously good? First, Gragnano is blessed with a lot of good natural elements: Fresh water from the mountains overlooking Gragnano, clean air and abundant sunshine. Secondly, it's the production process which uses large bronze plates to extrude the dough into the myriad of shapes. This helps to give the pasta a rough surface that holds the sauce. They use long drying times at lower temperatures than the industrial versions that are made using Teflon and high drying temperatures. This more industrialised version produces a faster and cheaper product, but the flavour cannot compete with bronze drawn pasta.
Lately, I've been using Orzo in our slow cooker. A rough translation of Orzo means Barley, of which, it is believed, Orzo was originally made from. But more commonly these days, Orzo is Orzo and also known as Risone. Rice shaped, Italian Pasta. Orzo is also used extensively in Greek cuisine and is typically called Kritharaki. Faella Orzo has the distinctive, fine sandpaper finish on the surface typical of bronze drawn or extruded pasta.
At home, I find the most common rule with slow cooker cooking is, there are no rules. Basically, as long you have the time plonk the ingredients in, it's done. But Orzo, being small, doesn't take long to cook. So, it gets thrown in last. About 20 minutes to half an hour before serving usually works for me. You need moisture - for me, it's a good lug of wine and stock to get things going as well as San Marzano tomatoes and lots of garlic. A lamb or Pork neck for not much more than a few bucks a kilo can be transformed into a wintery, comfort food delight after about 6 hours in a slow cooker. I also like to throw in some Cacciatore Sausage for a good measure to get a nice gloss going from the fat.
Orzo in the slow cooker adds a nice body to whatever the juice is in the pot. But the industrial, big brand Orzo tends to go to mush.
Kirkfood carries Pastificio Faella, bronze extruded Orzo as well as, Bronze extruded, Spaghetti, Linguine, Spaghettini, fettuccine, rigatoni, tofe, Bucatini, Fusiloni, Lumaconi, Tagliatelli, Vermicelli and Penne.