My love of pasta is well documented. Any Italian restaurant opening has an instant leg up, and I'm not sorry about it. If my doctor ever told me I had to stop eating pasta, I'd start categorizing local bridges for flinging myself over in despair. I love few things more than pasta.
Like any serious addict, I must dole out the good stuff in reasonable moderation so as to not fall completely victim to its charms. Like any serious addiction, pasta has its benefits and its drawbacks. My food-baby sometimes stretches the elastic on my pants to disconcerting circumferences. Sometimes I must lie on the couch distended with food-baby, because there is nothing left to do. Movement becomes impaired.
When I stumbled upon sprouted whole wheat Levain fettuccine noodles from Dumpling & Strand I was intrigued. When I cooked them and ate them I was delighted.
Dumpling & Strand is the brainchild of Jeff Casper and Kelly McManus, two curious individuals with a yen for grains and pasta. Over the past 20 years, Casper has spent time at Pillsbury, General Mills, Cargill, the Culinary Institute, more. He detected a void in the pasta market, where whole grains were either being left out completely, or where whole wheat was utilized, it didn't taste good. Those with wheat intolerances suffered greatly, because you know — no pasta.
So these two curious souls got to tinkering. They got their own small milling stone and got to milling, like you do. What has resulted (and what continues to unfold) are two lines of fresh (never dry) noodles, an Asian line and an Italian line. Both lines have gluten-free selections.
The sprouted whole wheat Levain is a sourdough starter, one of those ferments that are so popular right now. The resulting noodles taste tangy, bready, springy, and alive. Paired with fennel pork in creme fraiche sauce in the Local Crate Box in which it arrived, it was by far the tastiest meal delivery recipe I'd cooked in three weeks of experimenting with those services.
More importantly, I had my beloved pasta without the dreaded food-baby effects. Casper and McManus don't make any claims in regards to health benefits or how their product may or may not affect gluten-eschewers, and they emphasize that a Celiac sufferer still wouldn't be able to eat their wheat-containing products. But, says McManus, "a sourdough culture can break down some of the proteins in wheat," a possible effect being less bloating or other gluten-intolerant symptoms after eating it.
Yet, more importantly still, I think I love this pasta even more than a traditional noodle. Instead of just a toothsome vehicle for sauce, it's very much its own thing — the main event. The duo say that could be due to its status as a "living pasta," being that the culture is still very much alive and fermenting once you get it into your hands (and mouth).
While Dumpling & Strand's incantation is "curious grains, curious techniques, and curious shapes," they still wish to assert their dedication to basics, so you'll also find a traditional ramen, a traditional Soba noodle (100 percent buckwheat, and 100 percent gluten-free), and a traditional rustic Italian-style egg noodle.
In the more "curious" department, they're developing a noodle with toasted faro with grain raised by a Minnesota farmer. Dumpling & Strand are planning to collaborate with Steve Horton (founder of the forward-thinking Rustica Bakery) and now of Baker's Field in Food Building, which will be the Twin Cities' first fully on-site milling and bakery operation. The collaboration will allow Casper and McManus more leeway when it comes to their milling, and their tinkering too.
"We like to go out into the world and gather bits and pieces," said McManus, "then bring them back and create something new."