Pasta's biggest problem is flour.
Over the last 20 years, restaurants have really evolved; we used to order everything from Cisco, from proteins to produce. Then, all of a sudden, chefs began to become a little more discerning and changed their lines of thinking to: "Why am I eating fava beans in September when there's no fresh ones right now?" Then, the whole farmer's market movement began, when we started heading down to the market for all of our fresh fruits and vegetables, which is awesome. And then we considered fish, aiming to source from fishermen who are only doing line-caught fishing. Even sourcing from farms shifted to: "I'm only going to get what I need, but if it is a farm that I'm sourcing from, it has to be a really well-thought-out farm." Now, we only want happy, stress-free animals that roam free, that are given red apples and mother's milk. But when we think about flour, our mentality is, "Oh, give me the bag of white flour, wherever it's from. Who cares?"
Guys like Chad Robertson, Dan Barber, Chris Bianco, and myself are really starting to think about wheat not as a commodity, but as a way to improve texture and flavor. So where can that lead us?
I think that we're headed into a territory that is guiding us to flavors, textures, and combinations that we'd never even thought of before. Now, we're really starting to unlock all of these secrets. It's no longer just the delicious Italian eggs that can make pasta taste great. When it comes to actually making pasta at home, I think that anytime anyone has to mix flour with anything else, they get really nervous about it, like, "Oh my god! What if there is not enough liquid?!"
That's where the intentions of my new cookbook, Mastering Pasta, lie: as a jumping off point for both the beginner and advanced cooks; its aim is to help make people realize that it's really not so hard to pull off. In order to understand pasta, you have to get a handle on wheat. Different kinds of flour should be treated like coffee beans. Would you use one-year-old beans that have been sitting on the shelf to make fresh coffee?
I've made pasta more times than I can count, but I'm not a big fan of the idea that every chef has one "favorite dish" that they like to cook. The fact of the matter is that food is really dependent on mood. If it's midnight and I'm just getting home from work, what I love to eat right then and there is Raisin Bran. But if it's mid-afternoon, my favorite thing isn't cereal. If I'm happy, sad, or with somebody, there is no constant item that I love making. At least it never works for me that way.
Bucatini is one of the hardest types of pasta to make right. When I went to Italy to focus on research for the book, everyone was talking about how hard spaghetti is to make right because it's long and has to be dried differently than, say, rigatoni.
And when it comes down to the process of making pasta, I love making egg dough, rolling it out by hand, then slicing it long. When I have a huge sheet that I roll out with a long rolling pin and slice it into fettuccini, pappardelle, or tagliatelle, it lets me have the most satisfaction. Of course, if I'm making a lot of pasta, I'm going to use an electric roller, but if I'm making it for my family, I think it's so much more rewarding to roll it on my own. It just feels good. It's like therapy for me.
Between technology—like food processors—and access to information on wheat and how to handle it, you can make pasta and understand what's going on, step back, and say, "Oh, that's fairly easy."