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All About Pasta

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#1 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 10:56 AM

While driving through Iowa last year we passed the giant Barilla pasta plant. I have to wonder how the Italian executives are enjoying living in Ames, Iowa after leaving their offices in Parma, Roma and Milano. I have tasted both the Italian version and American version of Barilla side by side and there is a major difference. The American version has a softer texture and is much more difficult to cook ‘al dente’. While Barilla is no ones benchmark of great pasta the comparison does raise many questions about the raw materials used in production. After all the wheat used in both is durum wheat semolina. I would assume the machinery used is the same.

De Cecco remains my dried pasta of choice in the USA as it is so readily available and consistent. Are there American brands (not fresh) that can maintain an ‘al dente’ texture as successfully as Italian brands? If so, what are they?

I will also say the same thing about the cheap imported Italian brands as they also go from undercooked to overcooked without ever hitting the right point.
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#2 Chef/Writer Spencer

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:05 AM

While driving through Iowa last year we passed the giant Barilla pasta plant. I have to wonder how the Italian executives are enjoying living in Ames, Iowa after leaving their offices in Parma, Roma and Milano. I have tasted both the Italian version and American version of Barilla side by side and there is a major difference. The American version has a softer texture and is much more difficult to cook ‘al dente’. While Barilla is no ones benchmark of great pasta the comparison does raise many questions about the raw materials used in production. After all the wheat used in both is durum wheat semolina. I would assume the machinery used is the same.

De Cecco remains my dried pasta of choice in the USA as it is so readily available and consistent. Are there American brands (not fresh) that can maintain an ‘al dente’ texture as successfully as Italian brands? If so, what are they?

I will also say the same thing about the cheap imported Italian brands as they also go from undercooked to overcooked without ever hitting the right point.

I think you answered your own question...Dececco is probably the best you can get in The United States....

#3 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:11 AM

You're probably right. I always think I am missing one.

By the way, those of you in England, does this hold true there too?
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#4 guajolote

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:11 AM

There was a poll here about this around October. I'm pretty sure Dececco didn't win, although it's what I usually buy.

Isn't a lot of Italian pasta made with US/Canadian wheat?


#5 Jonathan Day

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:11 AM

I read somewhere that the type ("hardness") of flour used in dried pasta differs between America and Italy because different strains of wheat are grown in each country -- I cannot remember the source of the assertion.

De Cecco was the only workable dried pasta that I found when I lived in Chicago, and back then (1980s) it was hard to find. I am sure it is more common now.
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#6 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:14 AM

There was a poll here about this around October. I'm pretty sure Dececco didn't win, although it's what I usually buy.

Isn't a lot of Italian pasta made with US/Canadian wheat?

Yes they import a lot of wheat. So the question may be - do they make it differently for the American market?
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#7 Jonathan Day

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:14 AM

In the UK most of the dried pasta you find comes directly from Italy; this is true both in Italian speciality shops and in the supermarkets. The supermarkets' private label pastas are not bad; Sainsbury's even has some high-end lines of artisanal pastas, e.g. strozzapretri and those Sardinian pastas whose name I forget. Not as good as what you can get from esperya.com, but not bad.
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#8 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 11:19 AM

I read somewhere that the type ("hardness") of flour used in dried pasta differs between America and Italy because different strains of wheat are grown in each country -- I cannot remember the source of the assertion.

De Cecco was the only workable dried pasta that I found when I lived in Chicago, and back then (1980s) it was hard to find. I am sure it is more common now.

This is true, but it is my understanding that Barilla is paying farmers to grow a specific variety - not just buying off the market. I suppose it like wine - just because you transplant the vine does not mean the wine is the same.

As far as Chicago goes you can even buy De Cecco at Jewel now.
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#9 Jim Dixon

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 12:29 PM

Rustichella del'Abruzzo is nearly ubiquitous here in Portland. It's a more traditional dried pasta..brass or bronze dies, slow air-drying, etc. These pastas really do taste better, hold the sauce, and have a noticeably different taste and texture. They are more expensive, typically $4/lb or more.

I imported some pasta made for Don Alfonso that was similar, but I didn't really want to expand my little business beyond olive oil. The most interesting was a shape called candele lunghe (I think that's the right spelling...means long candles). These were tubes about 3/8 inch dia and 18 inches long, very dramatic looking. When I asked Ernesto Iaccarino how they cooked them at the restaurant, he said they broke them up.

The biggest problem with these artisinal pastas is that it's hard to go back the industrial stuff.

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#10 wingding

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 12:36 PM

Rustichella D'Abruzzo is imported to the U.S. by Manicaretti Inc.-www.manicaretti.com.I love the stuff-it's worth the money.Maybe you can contact them and find out a local source.

#11 Ron Johnson

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 01:00 PM

I like Belvedere. De Cecco is most consistent and easy to find. When I lived in St. Louis it was Ravarino e Freschi.

#12 nightscotsman

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 01:06 PM

Trader Joe's sells a premium pasta imported from Italy. I don't remember the brand, but it's made from Italian durum wheat and they use bronze dies and low pressure, then dry at low temp for three days. The surface texture is much rougher that other commercial brands. Comes in a hand-wrapped, yellow paper package with a cellophane window. About two bucks a pound. I don't tend to eat a lot of pasta, but I've been wanting to give this stuff a try.

#13 tissue

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 02:06 PM

I tried the TJ one. It's pretty good but takes a little longer to cook.

#14 Jason Perlow

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 02:14 PM

Many people will say I am crazy, but I actually think Ronzoni is pretty decent. We keep Barilla and a few others in house -- mainly for shape variety. De Cecco is also pretty good.

At a certain price level, most dried pastas are pretty much equally good.
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#15 Ron Johnson

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 02:58 PM

Comes in a hand-wrapped, yellow paper package with a cellophane window. About two bucks a pound. I don't tend to eat a lot of pasta, but I've been wanting to give this stuff a try.

Soem friends gave me a package of this. It was great. I have been looking for it ever since, but we don't have TJ's here.

#16 Rail Paul

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 08:17 PM

Trader Joe's sells a premium pasta imported from Italy. I don't remember the brand, but it's made from Italian durum wheat and they use bronze dies and low pressure, then dry at low temp for three days. The surface texture is much rougher that other commercial brands. Comes in a hand-wrapped, yellow paper package with a cellophane window. About two bucks a pound. I don't tend to eat a lot of pasta, but I've been wanting to give this stuff a try.

I'm always impressed by nightscotsman's comments, so I made haste to Trader Joe's.

pasta is called "Tusancia" and is packaged in a tan paper wrapper with a see-thru window. The Florham Park NJ shop had six varieties, I bought a Tacconi. That's a 1 inch by 1 inch piece, with fluted edges. Rough finish, about 1/8 inch thick. 500g cost 1.99 or about 1.79 per pound.

Other varieties included a taglietelle, a fluted thing about four inches long, a penne rigati, and a vermicelli. The label says "authentic handmade Italian pasta" on the front. In the back it says "via statale del brennaro, 357" and S. Giuliano Terme (P) for Tusacania Ospedelaletto

UPC fans may appreciate 36320 10001

It had a very al dente, toothy taste to it. Took 20 minutes at a low, rolling boil. Served with melted butter and lightly browned garlic alongside grilled giant scallops with a dash of pesto from last summer's garden. Had a mix of frisee and spinach with it.
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#17 indiagirl

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 08:33 PM

Da cecco's here too. And I was extremely pleased and gratified to see it being used at a restaurant in Rome - perhaps I should have left immediately but the food was pretty good!

We sometimes get bucatini(?) - fat, hollow spaghetti - made by that other ubiquitous brand with the transparent, cellophane wrapping and the dark green logo .... aah. Can't remember. I'll come back and edit when I do ...

Anyone else here get suckered into paying eight euros to go to the museum of pasta in Rome?

#18 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 08:58 PM

I read somewhere that the type ("hardness") of flour used in dried pasta differs between America and Italy because different strains of wheat are grown in each country -- I cannot remember the source of the assertion.

The product in question is, specifically, durum. My understanding is that Italy imports most of its durum, and that the US is the largest source, followed by Canada and Australia. There is also some coming in from Greece, Spain, Turkey, and Syria, or at least that's what I've read. In any event, durum specifically and wheat in general do not, as far as I know, display "terroir" to the extent fruits like grapes do. So if there is a difference between pasta from Italy and pasta from the North America, it is likely attributable to post-harvest processes: either the milling of the durum or the specific practices with regard to pasta-making.
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#19 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 09:25 PM

It is clear there are many wonderful small Italian producers and De Cecco is king of the big brands. However, is anyone in the USA making serious pasta (other than fresh)?
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#20 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 March 2003 - 09:42 PM

I've not tasted any truly fantastic artisanal pasta from anywhere but Italy. As to the question of why, I assume it's because nobody will pay $4 per pound for pasta from anywhere else.
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#21 Suzanne F

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Posted 20 March 2003 - 12:58 PM

Many people will say I am crazy, but I actually think Ronzoni is pretty decent. We keep Barilla and a few others in house -- mainly for shape variety. De Cecco is also pretty good.

At a certain price level, most dried pastas are pretty much equally good.

I will back you up on Ronzoni. At least as far as American brands are concerned. All the others I've tried don't cook up right, are too gummy, or have no flavor whatsoever.

As for readily-available Italian, DeCecco all the way. Consistently correct timings, and good flavor. Everytime I used to hear those commercials touting Barilla as "the most popular pasta in Italy," I think yeah, but isn't Budweiser the most popular beer here? :rolleyes:

#22 Craig Camp

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Posted 20 March 2003 - 01:00 PM

As for readily-available Italian, DeCecco all the way. Consistently correct timings, and good flavor. Everytime I used to hear those commercials touting Barilla as "the most popular pasta in Italy," I think yeah, but isn't Budweiser the most popular beer here? 


Hai capito! The perfect comparison.
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#23 Craig Camp

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:29 PM

Trader Joe's sells a premium pasta imported from Italy. I don't remember the brand, but it's made from Italian durum wheat and they use bronze dies and low pressure, then dry at low temp for three days. The surface texture is much rougher that other commercial brands. Comes in a hand-wrapped, yellow paper package with a cellophane window. About two bucks a pound. I don't tend to eat a lot of pasta, but I've been wanting to give this stuff a try.

I'm always impressed by nightscotsman's comments, so I made haste to Trader Joe's.

pasta is called "Tusancia" and is packaged in a tan paper wrapper with a see-thru window. The Florham Park NJ shop had six varieties, I bought a Tacconi. That's a 1 inch by 1 inch piece, with fluted edges. Rough finish, about 1/8 inch thick. 500g cost 1.99 or about 1.79 per pound.

Other varieties included a taglietelle, a fluted thing about four inches long, a penne rigati, and a vermicelli. The label says "authentic handmade Italian pasta" on the front. In the back it says "via statale del brennaro, 357" and S. Giuliano Terme (P) for Tusacania Ospedelaletto

UPC fans may appreciate 36320 10001

It had a very al dente, toothy taste to it. Took 20 minutes at a low, rolling boil. Served with melted butter and lightly browned garlic alongside grilled giant scallops with a dash of pesto from last summer's garden. Had a mix of frisee and spinach with it.

On the recommendations here I went and tried out this pasta from Trader Joe's and I have to say it is excellent, richer and more complex than De Cecco. The rough texture catches the sauce perfectly.

One thing about the cooking - I can't believe 20 minutes was the right time.

Here is how I cook dried pasta:

Bring as much cold, fresh water as you can to a full boil - at least 5 to 6 quarts for 4 servings. I suggest covering the pot.

When it comes to a boil add 1 tbls. Sea salt per 100 grams of pasta. 100 grams serves one person as main dish, 75 grams for a first course. Never add oil to the water – the sauce won’t stick.

When the water returns to a full boil add the pasta, stir and cover until the water returns to a full boil. Stir lightly every minute or so.

When the pasta is just al dente pour a glass of cold water into the pot, then drain. Do not drain the pasta so much it is very dry. Add to the sauce and sauté briefly to finish cooking the pasta.

The Tuscancia Tacconi took 12 minutes to reach the al dente point
.
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#24 sammy

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:33 PM

I've not tasted any truly fantastic artisanal pasta from anywhere but Italy. As to the question of why, I assume it's because nobody will pay $4 per pound for pasta from anywhere else.

Unless of course it was prepared by a French chef.
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#25 johnjohn

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:38 PM

When the pasta is just al dente pour a glass of cold water into the pot, then drain. Do not drain the pasta so much it is very dry. Add to the sauce and sauté briefly to finish cooking the pasta.

Why do you add a glass of cold water to the pot.

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#26 Sandra Levine

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:41 PM

To stop the cooking

#27 Fat Guy

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:50 PM

I've seen this recommendation made based on the premise that it limits the cooking process so the pasta remains al dente, but my own experience cooking pasta does not support this method's efficacy. If you use good pasta, the step should not be necessary. If you don't use good pasta, nothing will help. Still, it's better than rinsing the pasta under cold water! In addition, as with a roast, it's usually a good move to undercook the pasta a bit because it will receive additional heat when you combine it with the sauce.

I try to use in the neighborhood of 8 quarts of water as a bare minimum for cooking pasta, even if I'm cooking less than a pound. (In almost all cases, however, I cook a pound at a time.) The more water you use, the better, because it comes back to temperature more quickly after the addition of the pasta.

I also think one should add salt based on the quantity of water, not the quantity of pasta, and that it should be added in far greater quantity than any cookbook recommends. The water should approach salt-water from the ocean in taste.
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#28 Jonathan Day

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 02:57 PM

And as Craig says, it makes a big difference if you sauté the pasta in the sauce for a moment rather than just pouring the sauce over the pasta and combining the two.
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#29 Craig Camp

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 03:04 PM

I keep the glass of cold water next to the pot. As soon as I taste the pasta and it is done - in it goes. Just a small extra step that helps - not critical. Obviously more boiling water is better, but I don't use the same pot when I am just cooking for my wife and I that I do when cooking for more than 4. This is why I adjust the salt to the pasta. I just don't think it is necessary to bring 8 quarts of water to a boil to cook 200 grams of pasta. Concerning the salt - the rougher the pasta surface the more salt flavor it will retain from the water. With very smooth commercial pasta you need a lot of salt to get any flavor at all on the pasta.
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#30 Fat Guy

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Posted 24 March 2003 - 03:06 PM

And as Craig says, it makes a big difference if you sauté the pasta in the sauce for a moment rather than just pouring the sauce over the pasta and combining the two.

In most instances I do both: I saute the two together so that the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, and then once the pasta is in the serving bowl I top it with additional sauce.
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