"I've been cooking for a long time, and it always comes back to pasta," Bruce Kalman tells us as he kneads, rolls and shapes trofie pasta (see the recipe).
The chef is a Jersey boy (his first job was at a Paramus pizzeria, no less), but life has taken him to Southern California, where he runs the Italian-flecked Union in Pasadena. This fall, he plans to open Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in Downtown L.A.'s ever-growing Grand Central Market.
"I'm specifically into Northern Italian cuisine, because it's soulful and delicious and handcrafted," Kalman says. "I like working with my hands—I feel there's a much deeper connection from you to the food and to the guest. It makes the experience very intimate."
Trofie pasta is, not surprisingly, from Northern Italy, and more specifically from the Ligurian city of Genoa, where it's traditionally served with pesto. In his updated version of the dish, Kalman makes the pasta with nutty spelt flour, then ingeniously pairs it with sweet roasted carrots and a garlicky carrot-top pesto.
"Spelt flour is lower in gluten and protein. It gives the pasta a softer, sexier bite," Kalman explains. "As a chef, one of my big beliefs is to use everything. We slow-roast the carrots, then blanch and chop the tops to make the pesto. You want it to be all about the carrots and the pasta. Everything else should be supporting ingredients."
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Making the trofie is easier than you think—the only equipment you'll need is a rolling pin. After the dough is mixed, kneaded and rolled thin, it's simply sliced into small strips that you roll between your hands, as if you're trying to warm them up (watch the video to see the technique). The resulting little squiggles hang on to the carrot-top pesto to give garlicky flavor in every bite.
At Knead & Co., Kalman will be serving old-school favorites like baked ziti and manicotti, as well as house-made cheeses, from-scratch butter and his famous giardiniere pickles. But he'll also be creating newfangled dishes, like the trofie, starring pastas made with fresh-milled flour.
"When you're composing a pasta dish, it's important that the pasta be the star," he says. "Even if you just eat the noodle itself, it should be fantastic."
Of the trofie, he says, "It's like a garden party in your mouth."
And it's one party we'd be happy to attend.
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