Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


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.

**Digression alert**
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!

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Blogger Annika said...

sigh... I bought that very brand of pasta in Amalfi last summer...

3/25/2009 12:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info- I'm all thumbs when it comes to pasta 411!

3/25/2009 12:52 PM

Blogger Sicilian said...

I do use DeCecco, but Barilla is also good.
We rarely made home made pasta, but I do have fond memories of Raviolis.

3/25/2009 7:00 PM

Blogger Do Bianchi said...

Thanks for the shout out TB! :-) The dried vs. fresh pasta is one of those classic misunderstandings known as the Atlantic Ocean. Great post... and please keep the digressions coming!

3/26/2009 7:34 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

annika--sapori di napoli or garofalo?

dirty--stay tuned! i'm full of it.

sicilian--i like barilla for specific purposes, soups, etc

2B--you poor thing, you have to hear this all the time!

all--i didn't fit this in to the post, but "'a past' asciutt'" means "dried pasta" in neapolitan dialect. in italian it would be "la pasta asciutta"

3/26/2009 7:51 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your preference to ridged short (cut) pasta, apart paccheri, that I prefer smooth.

3/26/2009 8:20 AM

Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I never saw Garofolo until I moved here. it's my favorite mass market dried pasta. De Cecco is great as well and when either are on sale I buy a bunch.

I used to buy Barilla in the States. Don't love it here. Not sure why.

3/26/2009 11:37 AM

Blogger Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi this is such a good post..Your right nothing worse than shiny smooth penne....I recently did a post about our preferred pasta here in the uk...and it was Garofalo and if I cannot buy this will use DeCecco. Or when we are in London, we visit some great Italian deli's and find pasta we cannot find or buy anywhere else, little bit more expensive but oh the tast is soo good!

3/26/2009 12:54 PM

Blogger Texas Espresso said...

HA! I was going to talk about this very thing on my blog as I was writing about sauces. We totally use DeCecco on a regular basis and have tried others "to see" and they suck. At least what I can find in my local store without going to Central Market.

Great post!

3/26/2009 9:44 PM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

luca--paccheri are usually smooth, i know, but they do make them ridged so i must disagree!

nyc--it's 'cause barilla doesn't taste good compared to what you can get in italy! garofalo IS the way to go

anne--glad you agree! smart lady, you are ;)

texas e--let me know when you post, i don't have one of them fayncy readers.

3/27/2009 7:36 AM

Blogger James Taylor said...

Great post, although I found your unprovoked penne lisce attack a tad harsh. It's true that dried pasta is often unfairly looked down upon by certain people. The important thing to remember is that none of these people are Italian. As for favorite brands, when I lived in Italy I used to eat Barilla, De Cecco and Voiello regularly and without any complaints. If it's good enough for millions of Italians every day of their lives, it's good enough for me.

3/27/2009 12:06 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I have found that Americans, in their incessant quest for authenticity, tend to seize on aspects of culinary tradition to the exclusion of others and trumpet them as "the truth." (I am not immune to this. I've been checked before on amy things.)
I have to say that there is something, deeply wrong, with smooth penne pasta. I'm glad you agree.

3/27/2009 2:22 PM

Blogger Alfonso Cevola said...

you guys have gone pazzo for pasta!

i luv luv luv bucatini. but am even more craze for candele. I love Candele!

3/28/2009 3:03 PM

Blogger Simona Carini said...

As a kid I loved lumache, because of the way some sauce gets inside them. I have never had scialatielli. I have another kind of eggless fresh pasta on my to do list: we'll see what happens. Looking forward to the continuation.

3/29/2009 2:02 PM

Anonymous J.Doe said...

WhenI was in Italy I used the store brand (Esselunga) but in the US I would not use the store brand where I go.
I also prefer penne rigate but smooth pasta does have it's place. I could not even imagine fettucine rigate. Yuck.

3/31/2009 7:16 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

simona--lumache and tubetoni/ini are SO good, especially with piselli when they get stuck inside

jdoe--i'm talkin about cut pasta and ridges...fettucine rigate? even I would think that was weird ;)

3/31/2009 7:45 AM

Anonymous Eating for Beginners said...

I think I now know why the guys at my local Italian gourmet store (they hail from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and love to give a lady a hard time) have given me a raised eyebrow when I insist I need fresh pasta. I always thought they were just being obnoxious...! Excellent info, and I'm happy to know about your blog (and hope to meet you before too long!)

4/07/2009 1:51 AM

Blogger Tracie P. said...

EFB--thanks melanie! now don't you be puttin' tagliatelle in your puttanesca :)

4/07/2009 8:07 AM

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4/08/2009 11:34 PM

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