It’s All About Community
Food and artisanal products. There is no debating the sourcing interconnection of farmers, suppliers, and tradespeople and the merchants, chefs, and vendors that procure. Thinking locally and embracing a community ethos, Leah Ferrazzani of Semolina Artisanal Pasta in Los Angeles lives her life. You can see and feel it in her pasta production, in the things she stocks in her shop, and in the way she cooks for those she loves.
Leah started Semolina Artisanal Pasta at home in Southern California, using the laundry room for pasta drying. At the time, she was a working mother busy with toddlers, carving out time needed to develop her craft with practice and extensive research on materials, equipment, and methods. Her focus then and now is creating the highest quality, non-perishable pastas that she and others could have on hand to make cooking easier. Later, she found a space to combine pasta making and selling storefront products, mirroring what she would have in her own home pantry. This manifests her beliefs that “there is nothing more valuable than pulling together a pantry dinner” and it is more important to source the best ingredients as close to home as possible.
Italian and Italian-American cooking are all about the magic of simplicity, using the freshest ingredients and classic methods to produce delicious food without it having to be particularly complicated. Leah observes that, “it’s really the most Italian thing to do, to use what is readily available in your backyard.” Historically however, in the traditional world of pasta making there has been the perception that the only way to make the most authentic, best product is to source directly from Italy. Leah strives to alter this notion. “We have really great artisans, craftspeople and farmers here with fantastic climates suited to the things they grow. I spend a lot of time finding the people that care about the same things that I do and are inspired by the slow food movement. Those people are focused on flavor, texture, and quality. You don’t have to buy imported.”
As the sole owner of her business and for a long time the only pasta maker, Leah calls the shots. She proudly and justifiably says, “The brand is my vision. I have no investors or anything like that. It is all bootstrap.” When working on sourcing and growing over the past 10 years, Leah realized that local could mean expanding her immediate community. Sometimes that means not all of the ingredients she requires are available from vendors in her area. As her “local” community expanded further into Northern California and Oregon for pantry items, and into North Dakota and Montana for flour, she always looked for like minded people. “We try to find the products that adhere closely to the values that I embody.”
Nowhere is her commitment to community more apparent than flour sourcing for her pastas. Leah exclusively uses US grown and milled semolina flour. The term semolina refers to the specific milling of the flour made from the very hard winter wheat variety, durum. All of the bran and germ are removed from the wheat berry and it is very coarsely ground on a roller mill, giving it the look of a fine cornmeal rather than flour. There is desert durum grown in Arizona and California, and northern durum grown in North Dakota and Montana.
Leah explains that there can be California grown wheat in what she uses, but for now the majority of the wheat she sources comes from North Dakota and Montana, primarily because there is no one in California currently milling the grain to her standards for pasta production. Through persistence and outreach in her larger community, Leah is sure she will meet her ultimate sourcing goal of producing a 100% California grown and prepared product. She works closely with the California Wheat Commission, continually building more relationships getting her closer to fulfilling that ideal.
At Semolina Artisanal Pasta, Leah and her small team make both fresh and dried pastas. Leah believes her slow drying process adds to the taste and texture of their dried pastas and therefore usually reaches for those. At Simple Feast we use the fresh pastas which have delicious flavor and the quick cook time we offer our customers. But, we also see the power of the pantry and suggest you have the dried variety on hand. As Leah says, “I think it is really important whether people are eating a complete plant-based diet or just trying to work it into their routine to remember that what makes pasta great is its broad appeal. It doesn’t limit anyone.” We wholeheartedly agree!