DSC_0616What do you get when you mix Chef Lynn Crawford and Catelli’s new ancient grains pasta line? Well, I guess the answer is a whole lot of fun and great food.

Last week Catelli launched their new Healthy Harvest® Ancient Grains pasta in Western Canada by inviting a group of food bloggers to a special cooking class with Chef Crawford. Crawford is the host of the Food Network Canada’s Pitchin’ In, judge of the Food Network Canada’s Chopped Canada, previous executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and New York, and the first female Canadian invited to participate in the Food Network’s Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters Season Five

I’ll be the first to admit, given the hard ass reputation that TV has conveyed Crawford with, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However I was pleasantly surprised with Crawford’s kind demeanor and pleasant attitude. In fact, Crawford was a heck of a lot of fun, sharing tips and techniques, and even spending some one on one time with me discussing food bloggers and cooking.

Crawford was of course quick to point out that food bloggers are always great cooks who are infinitely knowledgeable in the culinary arts – not! See this post from the early years of Calgary Foodies to see where I take on a similar sentiment.

Even though you would expect Crawford to despise food bloggers the way most chef’s do, she was fun and entertaining the entire evening.

The evening was an introduction to Catelli’s new Ancient Grains pasta, which to my surprise turned out to be a great product. Why was I surprised? Simply put, most whole grain pasta sucks. It is often rubbery when cooked, and doesn’t have the texture that your normal semolina pasta has.

DSC_0539Ancient Grains on the other hand turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The ancient grains (quinoa, teff, amaranth, millet and sorghum) create a more pleasing texture than your normal whole wheat pasta. In fact, it might just be my new go to pasta when I’m not making it myself from scratch.

One thing that interested me about Crawford’s commentary on Catelli, is that she claims it is her go to pasta, and for that matter was her go to long before she became a Catelli ambassador. Given that she is known for her candor, I believe this to be true and not just a statement she is making due to her affiliation with the company.

Catelli offered to provide a year supply of pasta to put up as a contest prize for Calgary Foodies readers. As our readers know, we don’t write about anything we don’t believe in, and we certainly don’t write articles because a restaurant or company gives us free stuff. So, we approached Catelli about donating the year supply to the food bank, and they graciously accepted. Thank you Catelli!

DSC_0824Check out Chef Crawford’s pasta cooking tips below.

  1. Watch your cooking time: Pasta should be cooked according to the cook time guide on the package to achieve the ideal al dente texture. For a professional twist, cut one to two minutes off the suggested cooking time, drain and finish off cooking your pasta in the sauce.
  1. Skip the oil: There is no need to add oil to your cooking water. Despite popular belief, this actually takes away from the pasta’s final texture and ability to adhere to the sauce. Skip the oil and embrace the starchiness of your pasta.
  1. Water your pasta: When cooking pasta, use a large pot. As basic as it sounds, it will make a difference in the outcome of your pasta. You will need one litre of water to about 100 grams of pasta.  Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and help keep the noodles from sticking together.
  1. Think salty sea: Add a generous amount of sea salt to the boiling water to ensure your pasta is well seasoned. You may even want to taste the water before adding your pasta to make sure there is enough salt.
  1. Avoid rinsing: For hot pasta dishes, never rinse the pasta after cooking in order to retain the starch and enable warm sauces to better adhere to the pasta.
  1. Create the perfect pair: Delicate pasta shapes go well with delicate sauces, and heartier, ridged shapes pair well with richer sauces and ragus.  For example, try long thin pasta, such as spaghetti, with a classic marinara sauce. Penne, ziti or rigatoni lend themselves to thicker sauces with more texture, such as a ragu Bolognese.
  1. Embrace the texture: Whole grain pasta has a hearty, firm texture that’s perfect for cold or chilled recipes and marinates well in tangy dressings. The firmness of the noodles also provides a good base for both crunchy and juicy fresh vegetables.
  1. Top it off: With a nutty, rich flavour, whole grain pasta can take on other strong, complex flavours. Ingredients that pair well with whole grain pasta include garlic, chili, anchovies, rich pesto sauces, and bitter or dark leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard and radicchio.
  1. Take the heat: When preparing hot pasta recipes, keep your serving plates or bowls warm in an oven set to a low temperature until you’re ready to serve. This will ensure that your final dish stays nice and hot.
  1. Crank up the flavour: Whole grain pasta is an easy base on which to build a healthy and delicious meal. Incorporate a lean protein, plenty of fresh vegetables, and seasoning with big flavours in the pasta for an even more nutritious and satisfying dish.