Monday, July 6, 2009

A Visit to Morelli Pasta

I took a trip to San Romano last week to visit the small pasta facory of Morelli. It’s about an hour due west of Florence in western Tuscany. They’ve been making pasta there for about a hundred years — and that’s their second location! They moved here after a fifty year run in a small village nearby. Now if a hundred year old factory has you thinking cobwebs and cobble stones, you can scratch that image from your mind. While not exactly high tech — they still bag everything by hand, as you can see in the picture — it’s bright and shockingly clean, with a glossy green floor.

Even though the Morellis have been making pasta for almost 150 years we just started carrying them this summer, in the current catalog. I was especially excited about their pasta with wheat germ. It’s the only one of its kind that I’m aware of. Most pastas are made from fully refined flour where the germ is removed. In other words, most pasta is kind of like white bread. For a few of their pastas the Morellis add germ back in. The quantities of germ are relatively small — 3.2% for the tacconi and over double that for the ricciolina, which also has bran — so it is not overwhelmingly wheaty. You can catch wafts of wheat aroma when you boil it. The flavor is what I might call “gently rustic,” something you don’t want to cover up with too many other flavors .

Morelli is collectively run by siblings Antonio, Marco and Lucia, the fifth generation to have the honors. They are in their 40’s and 50’s, slim and trim (take that, Atkins diet). They split up roles. Marco handles the wheat buying side of the business. Antonio, the pasta making and sales. Antonio’s wife, Giovanna, manages all the export. Their father is still involved — he popped his head in and said hello — and there was even a teenage regazzo (boy) hanging around. Pretty solidly a family business.

I take it as a good sign that the family totally loves their pasta and eats it, as Giovanna told me, “every single day, often twice.” How do they like to serve it? I wasn’t surprised that the recipes were very simple, usually the case with folks who make foods with a lot of flavor on their own.

Antonio likes the ricciolina best, tossed with a bit of grated pecorino, olive oil and black pepper. Kind of like the Roman dish, cacio e pepe (sheep cheese and pepper), which is something I make a lot. Giovanna likes the paccheri (available at deli) with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil. She tosses the pasta in the olive oil that’s been cooked with a clove of garlic that then gets tossed out. She also really likes the tacconi simply with olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Tomorrow I’ll take you inside the factory for a quick tour.

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