Keeping it Italian: 'A Past' Asciutt' Pt 1
Misconception Americans have about Italian food #32b, Section 2:
Fresh pasta is superior/preferred to dried pasta, the latter being merely a convenient substitute for the unskilled and lazy.
Many times I have heard people say, "But fresh pasta is definitely better." Well, not exactly. I will start by saying that fresh pasta is a more Northern tradition, while dried pasta is a more Southerly thang.
The absolute Mecca for fresh pasta is without a doubt, Emilia-Romagna. That being said, all regions, no matter their Latitudinal persuasion, boast their own fresh pasta. (In Naples, they have eggless scialatielli, made with regular flour and water, typically dressed with frutti di mare...yum!)
Dried and fresh pasta have two very different but equally important uses. For example, no Italian in her right mind would EVER make a puttanesca with fresh pasta (click here to read DoBianchi's excellent history on this misunderstood sauce). On the other hand, who ever heard of dried ravioli? Spaghetti/penne with fresh tomatoes would not be the same without perfectly al dente, high-quality dried pasta.
Since I am a girl of the south, on both sides of the Atlantic, we'll concentrate on the latter. (In my series Keeping it Italian, we'll focus on how to get the good stuff right here at home.)
There are a few indicators of quality to help you navigate a grocery isle (stay away from anything that says "noodles" unless you're making Asian food, please.) The most important is the surface of the pasta, whatever shape it may be. It must-a to be ruvido (that means rough), not like sandpaper, but a bit like the fine side of a fingernail file. This helps the sauce adhere to the pasta, clinging to the hope of making your mouth happy.
Buy one of those bags of 79 cent "noodles" when you buy your good spaghetti. You'll feel the difference!
The second, which reveals itself only after cooking, is the integrity of the pasta. If it falls apart when you stir it with the sauce, it is too old. It may have been a fine bag of love in its prime, but it's a sign that your grocer isn't turning over his stock.
One more thing, and this is a personal preference, but I believe with my entire Texan being that all "cut" pasta (penne, ziti, rigatoni, etc) should be ridged, or rigata. There is nothing uglier than a plate of smooth penne, espesh when one or two are broken. Why have Lays when you can have Ruffles? Why would you forgo the extra fun of added texture for the flat and boring landscape of liscia (smooth)?
Back to business...
Must we spend 5-7 dollars a pound on Rustichella d'Abruzzo to get it right? Maybe. This is terrific pasta, but this starch's humble purpose in the kitchen becomes a luxury when it should be a nutritious and everyday option.
In most supermarkets you can find DeCecco, which is a fine product, though industrial, but I use it regularly. My favorite, however, is I SapORI di Napoli (this is a bit of a word-play, sapori means flavors, the capitalized ori is the plural of oro, which means gold). I found in this brand what I had been looking for since I returned from Italia. It's made in Caserta (just outside of Naples) and feels like a true artisan pasta.
Otherwise, Garofolo is great AND made in Gragnano. This Southern Italian town is home to panuozzi, eponymous fizzy red wine, and it is molto famous for its dried pasta...
Please stay tuned for Part 2 where we'll talk about cooking the pasta!