Teesside Café Owner Launches Gluten-Free and Vegan Pasta Supported By Local Olympian
After closing the doors to his Norton restaurant Café Lilli due to the lockdowns, Roberto Pittalis decided to use his time to create high-protein, gluten-free and vegan pasta
Trying to find a unique way to engage his customers once the lockdown restrictions lifted, Roberto considered the amount of people who over the years have come into his restaurant and asked for gluten-free options, as well as the continued high demand for gluten-free foods. ‘I wanted to make sure the restaurant had a unique product,’ he says.
‘The best flour to make pasta with is legume foods, so beans in general, and I tried to find a recipe to make pasta from this kind of flour, which is not easy because without any gluten there is nothing to bind the pasta together,’ he explains. ‘As soon as the product hit the hot water it disintegrated, so after loads of research, first in the UK trying to find producers of organic flour, then in Italy where they use legumes, especially in the part of Italy where I come from which is Sardinia, I wanted to see if there was anybody who handmade pasta with legumes.’
After Roberto completed his research he started to develop his recipes for his restaurant, but it took two to three months to get the pasta to the high quality he wanted. Once he started serving his gluten-free, high-protein and vegan pasta in his restaurant, he realised there was scope to create an even bigger business. ‘The pasta wasn’t originally designed to be distributed or to be available for sale, but that started after I realised the success in the restaurant and the demand was high,’ he says. Roberto later decided to launch his own website selling pasta online so that other gluten-free pasta lovers could enjoy his produce.
Unlike gluten-free pasta which can be bought from supermarkets, Roberto explains that his fresh pasta differs in taste, texture and the time it takes to cook. ‘The pasta cooks relatively quick – literally one to one and a half minutes in hot water – because the pasta is fresh and fresh pasta generally cooks quicker than dry pasta. The taste is relative to the flour I use, so if I use chickpea flour it will have a distinctive taste of chickpeas, if I use yellow peas which is another flour I use, the taste will be distinctive of yellow peas and the same will be for green peas,’ he explains.
Now The Pasta Man produces three different types of gluten-free pasta with yellow peas, green peas and broad beans. ‘Next month I will be developing a recipe with a chestnut flour which will be available on sale at the beginning of next year. I keep searching around the UK, because all the flour I use is from the UK, so I’m searching all over the country to find this type of flour,’ Roberto continues.
Not only is the pasta gluten-free and vegan friendly, it also has high nutritional value. ‘The green pea is rich in 17.7 grams of protein per 100 grams of pasta, whereas the yellow pea pasta is rich in 20 grams of protein every 100 grams of pasta,’ Roberto explains. ‘The pastas are relatively low in carbohydrates compared to normal pasta, plus they are low in fat and high in fibre.’
These nutritional benefits have attracted the attention of professional athletes such as local Olympic sprinter Richard Kilty. ‘Richard is a big lover of pasta and bread, but after lots of testing from Team GB in London they realised he needed to reduce the amount of gluten he eats, so when he came to the restaurant he mentioned this and I told him about the new product I was making,’ Roberto says. ‘He asked to try the pasta and he loved the product, to the point where every week I supply him with a bag of pasta to eat at home. He was also really interested in the reduction of gluten and increase in protein from the pasta,’ he adds.
It was difficult for Richard when he was first told he needed to reduce his gluten intake, and Roberto and Richard have now teamed up to promote The Pasta Man’s products and the natural benefits the food can have for athletes and gluten-free eaters. ‘All the products on the market are made from a combination of seven or eight different flours added together with gums to bind the pasta together. My pasta is made purely with beans and water. There is nothing else in my pasta – I don’t add any colorants or additives, just 100 percent flour and water,’ Roberto says.
Going forward Roberto wants to continue exploring more varieties of flour to increase the range of pasta products he offers on his website. ‘Anything which is organic flour, I’m interested in developing a recipe. With traditional pasta, except from the shape, nothing else changes. Whereas with my pasta, once I change the flour everything changes. The most important element is the flour, not so much the shape. Obviously I do different shapes, but in my opinion, that’s where the key is – changing the flour changes everything, the level of protein, fats, fibre and carbohydrates.’
As well as his online shop, Roberto has created The Pasta Man car which has started to travel to a variety of food markets and festivals across the North East. ‘You can also hire The Pasta Man car with a chef and member of staff and we can organise private events,’ he says. Getting the name out there about his gluten-free, vegan and high-protein pasta is something Roberto is passionate about, and he hopes he can continue to develop further recipes with a range of UK-based organic flours so there are more delicious fresh pastas to be enjoyed.