(photo: incorporating olive oil, garlic, and parsley with spaghettini)
Update: Congrats to Susan for winning the contest. The giveaway is closed.
Back in September of 2009, in my overview of dried pasta entry
, I made the claim that dry pasta is NOT
inferior to freshly made pasta (this is the type of pasta which I often make at home with my classic, hand cranked, Imperia pasta machine
). Don’t get me wrong, I love homemade pasta, especially ravioli, but I don’t exactly look forward to the work effort involved to make it at home. There’s the making of the dough, the flattening of the dough into sheets, cutting the pasta, and finally flowering and air drying the product. The process is messy and unless you make large quantities it’s tough to justify making pasta at home on a consistent basis (this is just one home cook’s opinion, of course).
Enter the revolutionary idea of dry pasta. OK, maybe the idea of pre-packaged pasta isn’t revolutionary but it’s one of those food products that actually makes sense to acquire in an already completed fashion (read: not making it at home from scratch).
Dry pasta has it’s origin in 8th century southern Italy; specifically, in Palermo, Sicilia. The most accepted theory of pasta being introduced in Italy is not via Marco Polo and China, but rather in Sicilia via one of the many Arab conquests of the 700’s (this was a time period when the Middle East, part of North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula all came under Arab rule). Moreover, as the web site LifeinItaly.com
Like so much of southern Italian life, the Arab invasions of the 8th century heavily influenced the regional cuisine and is the most accepted theory for the introduction of pasta. The dried noodle-like product they introduced to Sicily is most likely the origins of dried pasta and was being produced in great quantities in Palermo at this time. The modern word “macaroni” derives from the Sicilian term for making dough forcefully, as early pasta making was often a laborious daylong process. How it was served is not truly known but many Sicilian pasta recipes still include other Arab gastronomic introductions such as raisins and spices like cinnamon. This early pasta was an ideal staple for Sicily and it easily spread to the mainland since durum wheat thrives in Italy’s climate. Italy is still a major producer of this hard wheat, used to make the all-important semolina flour.
By the 1300’s dried pasta was very popular for its nutrition and long shelf life, making it ideal for long ship voyages. Pasta made it around the globe during the voyages of discovery a century later. By that time different shapes of pasta have appeared and new technology made pasta easier to make. With these innovations pasta truly became a part of Italian life.
(photo: Rustichella pasta line up)
Fast-forward 700 years or so and there are an abundance of dry pastas on the market in both the US and in Italy/Europe. The very best dry pastas are manufactured in Italy and are made with locally grown Durham wheat. The hard Durham wheat is what yields semolina flour, which is used in all types of quality dry pastas. In the US, the most common pasta brands are Ronzoni, Barilla, Colavita, De Cecco, etc. Of the brands found in the typical US supermarket, De Cecco, in my view, is the best choice. You can see De Cecco’s quality via it’s color and firmness out of the package and once you cook up a batch of linguine fine, for example, you can taste the quality in the semolina flour used.
One readily available “luxury” pasta found at most Italian specialty shops (as well as Whole Foods) is a brand called, Rustichella d’Abruzzo
. Rustichella sits along side other premium pasta brands such as Martelli, Latini, Benedetto, and Setaro. The premium pasta brands command prices as high as $8.80 for 18 ounces (Bendetto), for example. Rusticella pasta commands a price of about $6.60 per 18 ounces (a little over a full pound) and is priced in the middle of the luxury pasta segment.
I, along with various relatives from Calabria and Sicilia, had the pleasure of tasting 10 distinct Rustichella d’Abruzzo pastas, including Bucatini, Trofie, Cencioni, Paccheri, Linguine, Spaghettini, Penne, Rigatoncini, Trenne, and Farafalloni. All of the Rustichella products are handmade and use Italian Durham wheat and spring water. And according to Rustichella bronze moulds are used during the extraction process yielding a pasta with a course exterior texture (the logic here is that the condiment or sauce can better adhere to the pasta). Another product differentiator according to Rustichella is that their “drying process is slow and takes place at a low temperature (up to 50 hours and at temperatures of around 35 degrees) which is the opposite to the industrial process, mass produced pastas, of 4/5 hours at 90 degrees.”
(photo: getting ready to chop garlic and parsley)
(photo: raw garlic)
(photo: parsley ready to chop)
(photo: slowly frying some sliced garlic and red pepper flakes with extra virgin olive oil)
The first pasta I tried was spaghettini with a simple alio e olio sauce (olive oil, garlic, and parsley). I choose a simple sauce because I wanted the pasta to be the star and the Rustichella spaghettini didn’t disappoint. Unlike mass produced pasta brands, the Rustichella spaghettini had a wonderful texture and had none of the “cardboard-like” taste found in brands like Ronzoni. The spaghettini also had some wonderful nutty and malty flavor components, especially when sampling it without the sauce or condiment. When I did mix the alio e olio with the spaghettini the pasta quickly absorbed the extra virgin olive oil and the tiny bits of parsley, garlic, and red pepper flakes hung closely to the pasta. The idea of the sauce “sticking” or melding with pasta is a key concept and I look for this trait in any pasta. A high quality pasta should also allow for the sauce to integrate into the overall texture of the product (think of those nasty cream cheese and celery appetizers you may have consumed at cocktail parties; the celery, however unfortunate, is a vessel for cream cheese, just like a good pasta, fortunately, is a vessel for the sauce or condiment).
(photo: adding salt to pasta water at the boil)
(photo: measuring pasta)
(photo: drain pasta and save some of the starchy water for the condiment)
Next, I sampled the Paccheri (smaller, and plain, rigatoni – no ridges) with a tomato sauce
and again the pasta shined. I was looking for the tomato sauce to slide off the pasta or for a little more blandness because of the larger size of the Paccheri, but the flavor was tremendous (kind of like a clean and crisp Sauvignon Blanc).
My extended family sampled the rest of the Rustichella pastas and all but a few of the pasta critics enjoyed the high quality and texture of the product. Some of the more critical comments from family members centered on price point and similarity to De Cecco pasta. More specifically, one Uncle couldn’t justify price versus flavor (he was hinting at value and while he thought the product was of high quality he had concerns about why it was priced 2-3x that of other, typical, Italian brands like De Cecco).
(photo: do you think he will grow to like pasta?)
Pasta Content Giveaway!
As with any food experience the ultimate judgment comes by way of the consumer of the product and his or her relation to other, similar, products they’ve sampled. So, Scordo.com has teamed up with Rustichella d’Abruzzo to offer one lucky Scordo.com reader a pasta sampler gift package consisting of 1 package each (4 total) of the following pastas: Linguine, Spaghettini ,Penne, and Paccheri. I’m looking for you, the “end pasta user”, to be the ultimate critic! Here are the details on the pasta package giveaway contest:
– What you need to do to enter: 1. leave a comment under this post on a favorite pasta brand and shape (no, it doesn’t need to be Rustichella!) and 2. sign up as a fan of Scordo.com on Facebook here
or Scordo.com newsletter
, it doesn’t need to be both). If you’ve done both already, then I’ll ask you if you can please re-tweet the article on Twitter and include the article URL: http://bit.ly/ceTiVa and @scordo
in your tweet)
– Only one entry per person please.
– The contest is open until 12 midnight on 2/6 and a single random user will be picked via Random.org. The winner will be announced immediately on Twitter (so please follow me
) and on Scordo.com by 5PM on Monday, 2/8.
– Please use a valid email address when leaving a comment so I can contact you just in case you’re the lucky winner (I’ll need your shipping address).
– Manicaretti Italian Food Imports will send out the pasta package to the single contest winner during the week of 2/8.
That’s it, so please sign up for a chance to win a sampler package of, quite possibly, one of the best food products on the planet (i.e., pasta)! If you can’t wait to sample Rustichella pasta you can buy it online here
Also, be sure to search Scordo.com for a ton of pasta recipes!