Anything from golden Meyer lemon tortellini to the candy-like fuchsia of beet pacchari may be seen and tasted at the Knead & Co. Pasta Lab in Los Angeles, California. There, you can feast your eyes on the rainbow, order a dish incorporating these entirely unique pastas or take some home for your own cooking experience.
Bruce Kalman, an experienced chef specializing in northern Italian and Mediterranean flavors, is the mind behind the magic. He has partnered in two restaurants of his own: Union in Pasadena, which opened in 2014, and the Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market, which made its Los Angeles debut in early 2016.
“My first experience with a lot of fresh pasta was at Spiaggia in Chicago, then from there my pasta experience blossomed,” said Kalman. “And now having the opportunity to run my own restaurants, it’s constant experimentation with different local ingredients to make the best pasta possible. The key is our freshly milled flour from locally sourced grain.”
Kalman commented he is often inspired by new, seasonal vegetables on display at the local farmer’s market. This keeps pasta at Knead & Co. constantly changing and updating with the seasons.
The restaurant and market has even partnered with a local farm, and is building relationships with many others, to maintain an open line of communication regarding the quality of the harvests. Kalman also mentioned a partnership with sustainable fishermen and women who sell directly off the boat.
The result is an exciting array of unexpected pasta combinations—it isn’t anything you would expect to find at a run-of-the-mill Italian eatery.
“It’s a marriage made in heaven as far as I am concerned, kind of like peanut butter and jelly,” Kalman said. “It’s just playing with the right noodle shapes with the right vegetables. Some of the new pastas we have been making include a fall honeynut squash radiator, beet casarecce, wild nettle lasagnette and smoky-roasted pepper rigatoni.”
Of course, Kalman faces many of the same obstacles other farm-to-table operations face; most often, the obstacle is unpredictability. Weather can play a large role in the success of the farms —is there enough rain or sun? Is it too hot or too cold? There is also the risk of bugs and other pests who may chow down on the veggies before they can reach their full pasta-infused potential.
Kalman commented flexibility is key. At Knead & Co., it can turn a difficult day on the farm into a creative opportunity at the restaurant.
“Our solution is to make menu item changes based on these factors,” Kalman said.
This fall and winter, Knead & Co. is offering many seasonal, comforting menu options perfect for a chilly day. Guests will have a change to try a classic fall pumpkin ravioli with amaretti cookies and brown butter or a potato leek agnolotti with Parmigiano-Reggiano and black truffles.
In the end, Kalman hopes to make food that is simultaneously accessible, thoughtful and sustainable. Knead & Co. offers an experience reminiscent of a Italian grandma’s cozy kitchen, while also incorporating the fresh, colorful ingredients California-based farms offer.
He offered a few tips for making homemade pasta for those of us who are especially crafty:
- There are tons of great recipes online, and amazing books about pasta; just look for recipes from reputable chefs and try them, play with alternative grains like farro, buckwheat and spelt.
- Do not overhydrate your dough. Flour takes time to hydrate, so when you’re finished kneading the dough, it still shouldn’t look like a perfect ball of dough; experiment with it, and pay attention to the cause and effect (your dough looks perfectly smooth when you are finished kneading it, then 6 hours later it’s too wet).
- When working with the dough to roll it out, do not use too much flour. You end up adding flour to the recipe as it rolls out. Only dust lightly if the dough begins to feel tacky and stick to the rollers. NOTE: If you don’t overhydrate your dough, you should not really need to use flour when rolling it.
- There is no right or wrong way to make pasta, experiment and don’t get discouraged when the first 10 times you try to make pasta it doesn’t work.