'Nothing else, not opera or Renaissance art or Roman ruins or even pizza, so
exemplifies Italy as pasta.'
Burton Anderson, Treasures of the Italian Table
Americans often approach pasta as little more than a convenient way to
convey large quantities of sauce from plate to palate. But for serious Italian
eaters, the point is the pasta as much as it is the sauce. Although few
Americans know it, good pasta actually tastes good.
Perhaps the reason most of us don't think much about its flavor is
that our culture has relatively little experience with this food. At the beginning
of the twentieth century, American pasta consumption was so small that, per
capita, it barely registered at all. By 1930 it was up to nearly four pounds per
person per year. In the early 1980s, the amount had risen to more than
eleven pounds a year. Today the average American consumes about twenty
pounds each year, but we still have a long way to go to keep up with our
Italian counterparts—we eat barely a third of what they do.
Italians divide pasta into two categories. One is pasta fresca,
or 'fresh pasta.' Usually made at home or in the kitchens of quality-oriented
restaurants, fresh pasta is made with flour and eggs. Many dishes rely on its
softer texture and richer flavor. My focus is on what Italians call pasta secca,
or 'dried pasta': how to buy it, how to cook it, and best of all how to eat and
Back in the 1980s, when fresh pasta was all the rage in America,
most folks falsely assumed that fresh and dried pastas were simply two
different versions of the same thing. They are not. They serve twodifferent
purposes in Italian cooking, and you can rarely substitute one for the other.
Pastas Past: A Tangled but Tasty History
Though their prominence in North America is relatively recent, noodles are
hardly a new form of nutrition. The ancient Hebrews ate them. The Chinese
have been serving noodles since as early as the first century A.D.; by the
tenth century, noodle shops were popular in much of the country. Nearly
everyone knows the tale of Marco Polo, who supposedly brought pasta back
to Italy from China at the end of the thirteenth century. The story has been
largely discredited; in various forms, noodles seem to have shown up in Italy
long before Mr. Polo's trip. It's likely that both Indians and Middle Easterners
were also eating noodles extensively by the twelfth or thirteenth century. The
inventory of a Genoese merchant made in 1279 shows stocks of macaroni.
By the start of the fifteenth century, dried pasta, usually then referred to
as 'vermicelli,' was commercially produced in Italy.
Pasta's enormous popularity in Italy dates to the early eighteenth
century, when new machines made even wider commercial production
possible. Naples became the main source of pasta in the modern era. The all-
important hard durum wheat was well suited to the soil, and daily cycles of
hot mountain winds alternating with milder sea air created an ideal climate for
drying the pasta. By the end of the century, the number of pasta-making
shops in the town had grown nearly fivefold.
Dried pasta was at that time eaten primarily by the Italian upper
class. Much like coffee or chocolate, dried pasta was a manufactur item,
which meant that it had to be paid for in cash and was hence too costly for
everyday eating. For the most part, noodles were eaten for dessert.
British travelers brought pasta back home from Naples, and from
there it made its way to North America. Thomas Jefferson is said to have
shipped Neapolitan pasta back to Virginia in 1789. A year earlier a
Frenchman opened a pasta factory in Philadelphia. Although there were
hardly any Italians in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, by 1910 there were nearly 4 million. As their population grew, pasta
making in America boomed. Italian- Americans still generally opted for the
imported product because it was made from the harder, tastier durum wheat.
Much American-made pasta started with inferior softer wheat, often
deceptively colored yellow to give it the look of semolina.
Less Sauce, More Flavor
To grasp why Italians put so much emphasis on the flavor and texture of the
pasta they put on their plates, it's important to understand that in Italy the
serving ratio of sauce to pasta is far lower than in most of North America.
Italians generally offer smaller servings, lightly tossed with a sauce or simply
served with a dollop atop the noodles. By Italian standards, the sauce should
accent, never overwhelm; no upstanding Italian chef would ever drown a pasta
dish in sauce. With this guideline in mind, it only makes sense that the
pasta itself has to have a flavor and character of its own.
Calphalon Stainless Pasta Fork Calphalon Nylon Utensils feature a unique "grip-anywhere handle" that lets you decide where to hold it. Crafted from 18/10 stainless steel with heat-resistant soft-touch silicone accents, these utensils give you a perfect balance of durability and comfort. Innovative head designs make dozens of cooking tasks easier. This is the perfect tool for draining and serving pasta. One large weep hole in the bottom of the fork drains water away quickly, and the extra-long handle keeps your hands clear from steaming pasta. The long tines of Calphalon's nylon and stainless steel pasta forks grip pasta securely. Your noodles never had it so good. Nylon is heat resistant to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Lifetime warranty.
VillaWare Pasta Machine Motor Save prep time and elbow grease with this powerful, quiet, 2-speed Motor. Instantly automates your hand-crank pasta machine, freeing your hands to guide pasta dough through the rollers and cutters. Pasta Machine Motor works with VillaWare's Imperial and Al Dente pasta machines. Made in Italy. Pasta machine not included.
VillaWare Al Dente Al Dente Pasta Machine, Chrome This Pasta Machine is constructed out of chrome-plated stainless steel, a handsome, durable machine for making fresh pasta at home! Use it to roll out your dough, then use the cutters to make strands of spaghetti and fettuccine. Features include an easy-turn plastic handle on one side and a dough roller dial on the other, plus a stainless steel with plastic clamp so it can be attached to your countertop. Other cutting heads are available.