“Semolina and Double O,” Bradley projects above the clang and clatter of a typical morning in Michael’s Genuine’s back of house. Pouring a thick yellow stream of grain into a squat, heavy-looking machine, followed by a thin, white one, he continues, “So it’s 1500 grams of semolina, the coarser grind, for structure and bite, and 500 grams of Double O to absorb the liquid. The ratio is key.”
For all its artisanal allure conjuring images of La Nonna coaxing magic from dough with hands creased by the wisdom of generations, sugo stewing on the stove for hours in her small Tuscan cottage, great pasta comes down to simple math. These grandmas of the Old World know the formula. It’s imprinted in their memory bank, a kind of skill that doesn’t come easily, that is to say, quickly. It’s slow food in the strictest sense. The Lancaster, PA-based manufacturer Arcobaleno, Italian for rainbow, has captured this essence of perfect pasta and made it available in a machine. One specimen now calls Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and the Design District home thanks to Michael, to the joy of the kitchen crew.
“We add 25-30 percent liquid,” Bradley continues. “It can be water, it can be egg yolks. It can be squid ink and water. It can be beet juice and water. You can make colors and shit. We haven’t gotten there yet.” He flips the switch commencing a gentle hum. “You let it knead for about 5 minutes, and it’s done.”
The machine works as a kneader and extruder, using lead-heavy brass attachments as thick as hockey pucks to force freshly-made dough through a pattern of holes, each specific to a pasta shape. The brass is somewhat porous, responsible for the rough finish to the ridged shapes (“perfect for catching sauce”!) This metal also requires gentle cleaning; Bradley soaks them in water only, loosening the dough and preventing the absorption of unwanted clingers-on.
Michael was turned onto Arcobaleno by our friends at Philly’s master pasta-making restaurant group, the Vetri Family. Under the tutelage of chef Marc, his team including chef Jeffrey Michaud, have lived and breathed Italian culture and cuisine, especially in their home away from home, the northern city of Bergamo, taking sometimes more than annual trips for inspiration and education. “Arcobaleno makes a mean pasta extruding machine and hasn’t let us down in 10 years. I would recommend this to anyone who is serious about making pasta!” Jeff says. Just check out his spread at the chefs’ party that Osteria hosted for last month’s Great Chefs Event in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Serious pasta doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface! Our unit arrived about a month ago and has already been a game changer for chef de cuisine Niven Patel and sous chefs Jason Arroyo, Daniel Ramirez, and Manny Arredondo; it’s not only that you can taste the difference.
“Before we’d put the flours and the eggs in the mixer, knead the dough, let the dough rest and the next day, roll the pasta out with our sheeter – basically two rollers that squeeze the dough to a desired thickness – then you cut noodles from there,” Bradley explains. “It’s very limiting. You can only make flat noodles like pappardelle, fettucini, and linguini, and then filled pasta like raviolis. With this machine you can still make sheets, which is mind boggling that you can do that from an extruder. And then we can make forced shapes that come out practically dried, so like gnocchi sardi and gemelli rustica. Normally when you have a flour and water dough it needs to be super dry in order to keep its shape – if it’s too wet it will deflate and get flat. It won’t even make it to being dry. That’s the importance of having the water ratio in here be 30 percent. They say if you squeeze it and then break it and it’s smooth, then it’s done. Basically it needs time for the semolina to hydrate.”
Lunch and dinner menus now each feature a daily pasta, the likes of bucatini with crispy pork belly, thai chilies, kale, and poached pns farm egg and gnocchi sardi with shiitake mushrooms, house smoked bacon, cipollini onions, and piave vecchio, but Bradley swears by good old butter and parmigiano to really taste it. “Once you’ve had flour and water pasta made this way and cooked in salt water, it’s like the best thing you’ve ever had.”