Originally pasta in Italy was a conception of sheer genius. It began with growing the highestquality hard wheat and the name given to this specific type of wheat was durum from the Latin meaning hard. After the pasta maker had purchased exactly the right grain the next important stage was finding the right miller to mill the grain to a certain precise specification and not to a fine powdery flour but to something called semolina which is derived from the italian for `semi milled and is quite unlike flour as semolina I is made up of tiny coarse corncoloured granules with sharp edges.
The skill of the pasta maker was to then carefully mix the semolina with cold water. Then after the mixing came the shaping and the pasta was forced through special bronze dies which gave it a specific texture. After that the pasta was dried in openwindowed lofts where either the mountain air of sea breezes or both depending on the region could circulate. This carefully monitored drying process could take up to two days. It was this natural drying process along with the specifications above that produced a quality of pasta that had captured within it all the nuttiness and flavour of the wheat grain but also a special texture. The semolina and the effect of the bronze dies produced a roughness at the edges which in its grand design would provide wh
Modern pasta (and clones)
What happened next was that soon everybody outside Italy wanted to eat pasta too and once this kind of mass production was underway corners were cut profit margins came into play soft flour was added hot instead of cold water there were nylon dies speededup hotair quickdrying and the whole process underwent a shift from quality to competitive price wars and then it was the `sliced white herewegodownwardspiral all over again.
But something else has crept into the frame at the same time and that is the misguided and false conception that fresh pasta is better than dried. Yes italians do make and eat a very small amount of pasta fresco but is is a different concept; one that more usually involves a filling as in ravioli or cortellini.But in this country and in America pasta fresco has gone crazy. Its now afar cry from the original described above and its a strange paradox to clone a product that has a natural shelf life of two years then make it and sell it as fresh then add something that will give it a longer shelf life and at the same time call the resulting slithery slimy gloop made with soft flour and eggs pasta.
The case for goodquality dried pastaIf you want to enjoy cooking and eating pasta at its best then my advice is to buy goodquality dried pasta. Yes it does cost more but were not talking about great luxury here; were talking about a main meal for two people that might cost $2 instead of $l. There are a few artisanal pasta makers in Italy who still make the real thing and a supplier is listed on page 232. The only fresh pastas I ever buy tie ravioli stuffed pasta shapes or lasagne sheets which are I think of a far better quality than most of the dried packs.
Once you taste quality dried pasta it will be very hard for you to return to the industrially produced alternatives. Its not just the flavour: the firm rough texture not only puts it way out in front but actually helps you to achieve that al dente `firm to the teeth texture that is the mark of wellcooked pasta. Poor quality often ends up sticky and soggy. So when you buy your pasta make sate it says pasta di semola di grano duro durum wheat semolina pasta. There are certain dried pastas that contain egg pasta aU uovo which add richness but I now prefer the original semolina and water version and like to keep the richness confined to the sauce.
How to cook perfect pastaThe easiest way to communicate this is to give you a list of what is absolutely essential.
1 Always use a very large cooking pot.
2 Always make absolutely sure you have at least 4 pints (2.25 litres) of water to every 8 oz (225 g) of pasta with 1 level tablespoon of salt added.
3 Make sure the water is up to a good fierce boil before the pasta goes in. 4 Add the pasta as quickly as possible and stir it around just once to separate it. If youre cooking long pasta like spaghetti push it against the base of the pan and as you feel it give keep pushing until it all collapses down into the water.
5 You dont need to put a lid on the pan: if its really boiling briskly it will come back to the boil in seconds and if you put a lid on is will boil over. 6 Put a timer on and give it 10-12 minutes for topquality pasta but because this timing varies according to the shape and quality of the pasta the only real way to tell is to taste it. So do this after 8 minutes then 9 and 10 and so on. This only applies when you cook a particular brand for the first time. After that you will always know how long it takes. Sometimes you can give it 1 minutes less boiling and then allow an extra minutes cooking whilst you combine it with the sauce.
7 Have a colander ready in the sink then as you are draining the water swirl it around the colander which will heat it ready for the hot pasta.
8 Dont drain it too thoroughly: its good to have a few drops of moisture still dinging as this prevents the pasta from becoming dry. Place the colander back over the saucepan to catch any drips.
9 Always serve it on deep warmed plates to keep the pasta as hot as possible as it goes to the table. 10 For spaghetti the very best way to serve it is to use pasta tongs (see the photograph opposite) and always lift it high to quickly separate each portion from the rest. 11 If the pasta is going to be cooked again in a baked dish like macaroni cheese for example give it half the usual cooking time to allow for the time in the oven. 1213esto pronto!In italian this means soon and quickly. Always work quickly as pasta wont hang around if it cools it goes sticky and gluey so drain it quickly serve it quickly and eat it quickly.
How to eat spaghetti and other long pastas This is how I describe this in the Cookery Course. `The big mistake here is trying to wind too much on to the fork at once. Select just two or three strands with your fork and coax them over the rim of the plate. Then holding the fork at a right angle to the plate simply wind the fork round and round so that those few strands extricate themselves from the rest and are twisted round the fork in a little bitesized bundle. Easier said than done youre thinking? But remember practice makes perfect.