Some of the worlds best Durum wheat is grown right here in the United States. Yet most dried pastas available in grocery stores are imported from Italy. Leah Ferrazzani of Semolina Artisanal Pasta set out to reverse this trend by hand crafting dried pasta, utilizing only American grown Durum wheat.
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
Two things: First, I wanted to feed people. Second, I wanted to make the kind of food I like to feed my family. Simple, locally made, organic whenever possible. And since I love pasta and couldn’t find something that fit that bill made here in L.A., I knew it was something I HAD to do.
Tell us about your products.
Right now I make three cuts of pasta: spaghetti, rigatoni and conchiglie, and I’ll be adding a couple more this year. My pastas are super traditional, made with organically grown Durum Semolina and water. That’s it. I extrude my pastas through bronze dies, which gives them a rough texture that helps them hold sauce. Then I dry them slowly and at low temperatures to help preserve the flavor of the wheat and the nutrition. Evan Kleiman described to aroma of my pastas as “almost floral” and I have to agree. There’s really so much more going on than in a bag of big batch pasta.
What Does Being A Small-Batch “Craftsman” Mean To You?
To me, being a small batch craftsman is all about relationships. My relationship to my ingredients, to the food that I make, and to the people who eat it. I care deeply about where things come from and how they are made, about flavor and texture, and want to ensure that each batch of my pastas is made to maximize all of those things. Keeping it small means I have control over that.
What is your favorite small-batch treat?
Ooh, so hard to say, there are so many. I really like Gindo’s hot sauces, made here in Los Angeles. And I love Carmela Ice Cream. Not together. Though that could be an interesting collaboration! And I swear by anything that comes off the mill at Grist & Toll.
What Drew You To Food?
I’ve been into food since I was a little kid. I moved from New York to California when I was 9 1/2 and I used to plan my trips back east around the foods that I missed: really good bagels, garlic knots and pizza, Italian ices, Chinese food…and that never stopped. I worked in cafes and restaurants from the age of 16 on, always in the front of the house, but always taking it all in. I think my current perspective on food really started to gel in college. I went to Sonoma State up in northern California, and I was surrounded by incredible produce and humanely raised meat animals and local artisans and winemakers. Having that connection to my food has stayed with me and informed all of my decisions ever since.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
My desire to make food is how I express my love for people. It’s nurturing and satisfying and sustaining but, I hope, without being overbearing. The chefs I’ve met and worked with along the way constantly inspire me—they’re too numerous too mention—but particularly Nancy Silverton. Her take on food, of course, but also because she’s a powerhouse and trailblazer for women in food, and I’m honored to count her among my mentors.
Do You Have a Favorite Product?
I love spaghetti prepared super simply like they do on the Amalfi Coast—just lemon juice, lemon zest and pasta water. You can really taste the pasta, and it’s so bright and pairs with everything.
Latest Ingredient Obsession?
I love bottarga and colatura di alici—they both add an umami quality and a briny freshness.
What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?
A really yummy chicory salad packed with anchovy, chicken liver mousse, and pork loin with pork belly and cranberry beans. It was my birthday!
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product?
My husband’s grandmother, Virginia. She was the family’s legendary cook, and I would love to sit and talk to her about love and feeding people.
What’s The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Gotten In Building Your Business? What Advice Would You Give Other craftsmen?
The best piece of advice I’ve gotten was from my dad, but it was long before I started this business. Keep it simple. I think things get overcomplicated way too quickly, and I try to apply this philosophy to my business and my life and I think it’s applicable to a lot of businesses.
What Other Local Food Craftsmen or Chefs Do You Admire?
I’m a huge fan of Nan Kohler' Grist & Toll. She has completely changed the way I think about whole grain baking and how good it can be. I can’t wait to find ways to integrate her flours in my pastas. I love the fermented love of Brassica and Brine’s krauts, and I have to give a shout out to my local coffee roaster, Yancy, at Antigua.
As for chefs, the list is big. I was thrilled to be paired with Kris Morningstar, I’ve been a fan of his cooking and his approach to ingredients since I first tasted his food at Blue Velvet downtown. My other chef crushes include Bryant Ng, who I worked with a Pizzeria Mozza, Suzanne Goin, Nancy Silverton, of course, Steve Samson, Zack Pollack, Micah Wexler, Ori Menasche, Gino Angelini, Jason Neroni, Chris Feldmeier, David Lentz…I think you get the point.
If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, What Would It Be?
I’d probably want a corned beef on rye with really good mustard from Katz’s. Or Khi Mao from Jariya, the Thai chef I worked with in Oregon. Or the egg and bagna cauda pizza from Mozza. Or really good hot and sour soup. Could I have all of those?
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
My favorite food experience was learning to make my grandmother’s rugelach a few years ago with my grandmother and my cousin. Her rugelach are one of my favorite treats, and it meant everything to have the chance to learn to make them her way. I don’t make them often, but when I do I want them to taste exactly like hers—because then I know she’ll always be with me.
What Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
I love being outside, whether it’s hiking or biking or climbing or kayaking, exploring new cities or sitting on the beach listening to the waves. I love philosophical talks with my husband over dinner. And I love introducing my kids to new experiences—their awe and excitement is inspiring.
What’s Your Favorite Kitchen Soundtrack?
It depends on the day. The Social Distortion radio station on iTunes is perfect for making rigatoni, but spaghetti needs something mellower—sometimes its bluegrass, sometimes it’s alt country like Neko Case and sometimes I just need some Paul Simon. I also have a string of podcasts that I love to listen to when the machine isn’t on—Radiolab, This American Life, Invisibilia, Good Food, Dinner Party Download, Startup, Death, Sex and Money and Bill Simmons.
What is your favorite recipe to make with your Rigatoni?
I love making the rigatoni with pulled pork sugo.
Come back later this week for the full recipe!
What other product in our February basket would you most want to try?
Oh man, that’s a hard choice. But I would really love to try the tomato jam. I can imagine slathering it on really good bread or with funky cheese on a burger. Mmm.