Food & Drink

From Field to Fork: Pasta Dave presses for excellence

By From page A16 | November 27, 2013


Pasta maker Dave Brochier shows off a traditional chitarra, which creates a pasta that is particularly absorbent with sauce. Dan Kennedy/Courtesy photo

Dave Brochier makes pasta with all the love and craftsmanship you’d hope for … and then some.

He can regale you for hours about the nuances of pasta. Take chitarra, which he tells me was first made in Abruzzo, Italy, in the 14th century. It’s properly known as spaghetti alla chitarra, the latter being the instrument, similar to a guitar, through which the sheet of fresh pasta is pressed.

“Its rough exterior holds sauce really well,” he explains. People mistake it for spaghetti; it’s actually square. He shows interested shoppers all the production steps on his iPad at his stall in the Davis Farmers Market. A famous Italian chef once suggested that fresh chitarra is like linen, while spaghetti is silk. Brochier fashions other types of pasta as well.

Of course, it all begins with the dough. The hard, mass-produced pasta we all know is made with flour and water usually. The fresh pasta marketed in supermarkets may well have eggs, but it’s mass-produced, involving gallons of generic eggs and machinery like a Teflon meat grinder, which extrudes endless spaghetti.

Pasta Dave, as he markets himself, uses fresh Vega eggs, which are sold at another stall in the Davis market. He also incorporates California olive oil, salt, water and, of course, a high-quality flour — semolina for chitarra.

His pasta is 115 calories per ounce, so it’s not a pasta you’d heap high on a plate. Good thing. “Pasta is not inexpensive,” he explains, referring to his own. “There’s a lot of cost in the eggs, and I use primarily yolks.”

Hand-made in small batches, it all begins with the dough, which sits for five hours. “You want to give it time to rest and hydrate, through osmosis. Moisture travels deeper into the flour. It gives glutens time to relax, and you end up with a better product.”

He can wax on about the changing hues of the fresh yolks through the seasons, as chickens feed differently. His is a perishable end product appreciated for its nuances, in sharp contrast to the one-pound box of supermarket spaghetti in your pantry.

I met Dave long ago, in the kitchen at Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento. That’s where his passion for pasta took shape.

Dave studied engineering in college and has a mad love for cycling as well. In his late 20s he owned a bike shop in Cameron Park. He moved on to Performance Cycling, opening stores for them, and then Sports Rack. But a nascent interest in cooking school drew him to Mulvaney’s to see what it was really like in a restaurant kitchen that worked with everything fresh and local.

He was assigned to make fresh pasta. He soon discovered that this was what he’d been looking for. Cooking school wasn’t necessary. He could bring his engineering precision, his artisan’s eye, to his work at every step along the way.

Dave moved on to make pasta at Tuli’s, also in Midtown Sacramento. From there it was a hop to Taylor’s Market in Sacramento’s Land Park, an iconic independent high-end grocery that caters to locals. He lives nearby with his wife, Sheila, who’s earning her master’s in educational psychology.

In Taylor’s back room he turns out pasta for that store; for Ella, a downtown Sacramento restaurant; and for his fans at the Davis Farmers Market.

He varies his stuffed pasta, agnolotti, a style that originated in the Piedmont region of Italy. One has spigarello. Kale is the trendy vegetable in the United States right now; spigarello is its bitterish counterpart, popular in Puglia in southern Italy. Braising takes the edge off, and ricotta accepts it well to create a stuffing.

In our house, his agnolotti stuffed with baked kabocha squash are popular. But customers’ favorite is one made with roasted corn, mascarpone and thyme. “That’s the one people really love,” Dave says.

Mass-produced pasta is generated through compression, in contrast to being stretched in artisan batches. Not using fresh eggs from the shell — that matters, too. “Those are the differences you taste,” he says.

— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at [email protected]

Dan Kennedy

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