Last summer when August rolled around, I had a couple of weeks to work from home, at the moment when the tomatoes in the newly built raised beds were ripening faster than I could use them (this was just days before Late Blight took out my entire crop of sixty gorgeous plants, like most of the rest of the tomatoes in the North East, but I was still giving tomatoes away to everyone I knew, and anticipating a bumper crop). The basil, as a result of the warm wet summer, had turned into small trees with woody trunks like I have never seen before. It was time for a long lunch on the lawn with friends. The stage was set for pasta with the freshest, most glorious summer sauce I could make.
Only one thing was missing: great fettuccine.
On the wall of my kitchen is a photo from May 1930 that accompanied my great uncle Louie’s patent application for his newly perfected pasta machine. Demonstrating how the machine worked was none other than my grandmother Flora, dressed to a turn, apron and hairnet included. The photo happened to catch my eye just then (thank you Nonna) and I had an inspiration: it was finally time to learn to make pasta myself, and make a good meal into a truly great meal. I gathered up my sources, cook books and laptop, and sat on the porch for a good long read about how to make fettuccine. The more I read, the more I understood that, like every good meal, fine ingredients held the key. The type of flour and its grind were essential to making it right. 00 durum wheat semolina flour (00 signifying the finest grind, semola di grano duro the type of flour) made the most supple, best tasting and best textured fettuccine. Even though many sources said to use whatever was at hand, if I was going to make it, I was going to make it as good as possible.
Home, when I am not in New York City, is an old farmhouse in the northern Catskills. For this meal, dry pasta or freezer case pasta were out of the question. I started my search for the perfect pasta flour close to home at the enormous and well-stocked Price Chopper, about 20 miles away. No luck there. Next stop was an Italian deli, about 25 miles in the opposite direction, owned by a lovely woman from Frosinone, a town between Rome and Naples (we’ll save the story of how Lucy ended up in the Catskills for another day). No luck there either and the better part of a day was gone.
The closest big city is Albany, about 40 miles in yet another direction to the city line, leading to endless strip malls with miles of supermarket aisles, and plenty of Italian groceries peppered through the area. The next day I headed in with my friend Michele and checked out any number of likely suspects. We struck out repeatedly. Our last stop was the Food Co-op, a hippie-goes-commercial establishment with really good ingredients. There at last was durum flour, but no indication of how finely milled it was. I measured out a few cups, paid and left.
As we drove back into the hills, I mused about how difficult and far reaching the search for one good ingredient had been, and I wasn’t even convinced I had gotten the right thing. I also realized that even in New York City, where I could certainly find the perfect flour, I would have to turn more than a few stones in the process. For months leading up to my pasta flour odyssey I had been searching for a new career that combined my skills as a creative director and marketer of fine products with my passion for good food. A few days earlier I had come perilously close to signing a contract to buy a derelict old hotel and restaurant (God stepped in, in the form of my mother, who said “Are you out of your mind?”). The sun set ahead of us as we climbed into the hills, and it suddenly struck me in a light bulb moment: If I was searching for a hard to find, high quality ingredient, so probably were lots of other people who wanted to make memorable meals at home. And they were spending countless hours searching near home and on the web. What if there was a single source for those elusive and always best quality ingredients? What if it were called…The Ingredient Finder?
And so The Ingredient Finder was born, as the source for hard-to-find, best quality ingredients from around the world. Since then, I and a group of extraordinary people have refined the idea, searched for great ingredients and great chefs to help and inspire you to put it all together in your own kitchen, and renowned sommeliers to enhance your meals with the perfect wine selection. We’ve done everything we can to make the process easy and fun for you, and will continue to increase our selection of ingredients and content. I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for here (and please tell us if not and we’ll do our best to find it for you), and that you’ll also find ideas and ingredients that will open new doors for you in your culinary exploration and help you achieve ever greater successes in your kitchen.
Enjoy The Ingredient Finder, your passport to making memorable meals at home.