These rigatoni are raw

Cristina Bowerman, with the help of researchers, is experimenting the use of (tasty) un-cooked pasta

The dish Cristina Bowerman presented at Identità

The dish Cristina Bowerman presented at Identità di Pasta: rigatoni filled with ricotta, herb coulis, herb caviar and fried herbs. The peculiarity is the fact the rigatoni are not cooked, but left in infusion for many hours and then quickly warmed up. Yet they are perfect on the palate: a new road the chef has decided to analyse

Identità Milano is such a kaleidoscope of information, techniques, meetings and lectures that it’s always best, after a few weeks’ time, to peruse the notes once again, look back at the pieces written on, because you can always get some new inspiration. Let’s take for instance this piece, from Identità di Pasta. The title was “Pasta: blended, overcooked, raw”, and of course the most surprising adjective of the three is the latter. Raw?

This is what we wrote at the time, in the words of Cristina Bowerman: “«I was thinking of how to add aroma to pasta before or during the cooking, so I put it in infusion in a bisque for 48 hours in the fridge. I then tossed it in the pan, but for a few seconds, and always below 60°C», it acquires colour, stays a raw food dish but the real news is this: it’s already a dish. It works! «Can an un-cooked pasta exist?» wondered Bowerman. She looked for the answer: «I asked scientists, researched the theme of starch rehydration». What’s sure is that it tastes good and does no harm. What are the advantages? First of all, it has a lower glycaemic index. Is the pasta easier to digest? There are no studies on the subject, but there will be, keep in touch”.

Cristina Bowerman at Identità di Pasta observed by Eleonora Cozzella

Cristina Bowerman at Identità di Pasta observed by Eleonora Cozzella

This is what has already been said. Cristina, would you tell us some more, now? She accepts without hesitation: «You’ve already explained the backstory. I almost tripped into this possibility of not cooking pasta, a bit by chance, passing through starch rehydration. Someone has probably already done this in the past. What I discovered, however, is there are no studies on the subject». That is to say: someone might have done this already, but without analysing the effects. Luckily Bowerman is a contemporary chef, on top of being (or: because she is) intelligent: hence she took the opportunity to study the topic knowing it would bring results. «I tasted it and immediately thought: “Wait a minute, something interesting is going on”. I had the right intuition». Then she knocked on scientists’ door.

«I knew Paolo Sanguedolce, R&D manager at Selezione Casillo, producing high quality flour. I asked him. At first, when I told him what I was (re)searching, he was sceptical. He then agreed with me: the chemical-physical principle to be studied was stimulating, it could at least turn out to be useful for the gluten free sector, which suffers from the problematic lack of texture in its products, after cooking». The Achilles’ heel that of course “un-cooked pasta” cannot have.

«Let’s be clear, it’s note like I’m saying: pasta should no longer be cooked [Cristina is also a balanced person]. I’d rather try to make some clarity on a different possible option, which derives from a fact: when using the same ingredients but processed in a different way, the resulting starch chain is different. What we still don’t know with certainty – at best we can try to guess – is how re-hydrated starch reacts “when raw”». For sure, the final glycaemic index is lower, given it’s the very cooking, with the transformation of starch in simpler sugar that causes its increase. Anyone who’s been involved with diets knows how a low glycaemic index is a very difficult goal to reach, and certainly not by eating pasta.

Sanguedolce is working on all these questions. His results will be ready «no sooner than in one month and a half». Bowerman also got nutritionist Stefania Ruggeri involved, who confirmed how this process can turn out to be fertile. Of course, should the advantages we’ve mentioned and which are now being tested be confirmed, we could also study some special pasta formats destined for non-cooking, so as to make the final dish even tastier, «yet in my tests, it was already good. Of course I made many tests, with different types of pasta and longer and shorter re-hydrations. There’s still lots to verify.

The other, more "normal" dish presented by Bowerman: gnocchi with dry pasta. A different way to look at pasta, but cooked in a normal way and then used to make gnocchi

The other, more "normal" dish presented by Bowerman: gnocchi with dry pasta. A different way to look at pasta, but cooked in a normal way and then used to make gnocchi

For instance, is extruded pasta better than the non-extruded one?» (extrusion is the process used by modern pasta factories. The dough is pressed and comes out of shaped holes called trafile. This allows the creation of a thick network of proteins which limits starch jellification lowering the glycaemic index).

In any case, Bowerman is convinced that when the tests will be ready, there could be a turning point: «Were I to give some possible conclusion already, I’d say we’re in line with the current trend of thinking of tasty yet healthy food, where aromas are respected but there’s less fat, less sugar. When I tasted this raw pasta on the palate, with its low glycaemic index, a light went on in my head: I worked for many years in the US, I know that many consumers over there are madly looking for products that are low in sugar. Perhaps it was this very experience that allowed me to understand the potential of this process». Should it have a continuation, it will give many advantages, regardless of the more predictable ones destined to people eating a raw food diet or those allergic to gluten.