A humble grain with a complex – and painful – place in Italy’s history.
What Is It?
For centuries in southern Italy, after wheat was harvested, the fields were subsequently set ablaze and plowed under to prepare the soil for replanting. In the time between burning and plowing, poverty-stricken residents with limited access to grain would scour the charred fields, salvaging any edible remains to grind into flour – the fine, brown-gray flour known as “grano arso,” or burnt wheat flour, is the result of that labor.
These are pulled rather than rolled, giving them eye-catching irregular shapes and dramatic length.
Grano arso, to some, is an unyielding reminder of acute poverty in the region and the shame that often results – a time that many who lived through it would prefer to forget. To others, especially younger generations, the grain is a symbol of resilience and resourcefulness; it represents an era when those who came before fought to survive by any means necessary.
What Do I Do With It?
Due to its thorny past, grano arso wasn’t seen for decades, only returning to shelves recently to celebrate the tenacity of those who struggled and to continue the culinary traditions of the region. The wheat itself is special: nutty, smoky flavor and a charcoal color lends instant depth to anything you add it to. The flames burn off most of the gluten; try it in place of all-purpose flour to add a toasty undertone to bread and pasta.
Amazon.com is the easiest way to get your hands on grano arso, but if you have a favorite Italian market, it may be something the shop can order for you.