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     Choosing Great Dried Pasta
       excerpted from  Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More Copyright © 2003 by Ari Weinzweig

    Choosing Great Dried Pasta

    The basic process for producing dried pasta is fairly simple. Flour and water are mixed into a dough, the d is extruded through metal dies to create a multitude of shapes and sizes, and the freshly pressed pasta is then dried to preserve it. Finally the pasta is packed and shipped for sale. But while the basic recipe is consistent, there are drastic differences in quality from one noodle to the next. How can you tell which ones are at the top of the market and which are only at entry level? There are three key indicators.

    1. Better Pasta Tastes Better

    I'm not talking about the finished dish, just the noodles, au naturel, in the nude. A good pasta should be able to stand out with only a little olive oil or butter, and maybe a light sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    2. The Importance of Texture

    Texture is another piece of the pasta puzzle; the integrity of the noodle after it's been cooked is critical. Poor-quality pastas can literally fall apart in the pot; turn your back and they turn soft and mushy in a matter of minutes. Well- made macaroni, on the other hand, is supposed to have texture; when you take a bite, you should know you're eating something significant. The difference is evident as soon as you open the box or bag and lay your hands on the raw pasta inside the package. Grab a fistful of commercial spaghetti. It's shiny, slick, and as straight as a set of plastic pick-up sticks. Or feel a bit of mass-produced elbow macaroni. It's lightweight, brittle. The stuff seems ready to shatter at the touch. Now heft a handful of top-grade pasta made by an artisan producer. It's solid. Heavier. More substantial. Its surface is rough, like a set of sun-washed and wind-worn seashells gathered on the beach.

    3. Better Pasta Smells Better

    Aroma is the third essential element in distinguishing excellent pasta from run-of-the-mill. And when you drop a handful of top-notch noodles into boiling water, they release an enticing whiff of wheat. No, it's not overpowering, but it's definitely there. In fact, if you go into a small pasta plant, the first thing you're likely to notice is the smell of the grain. It's a lot like the scent of a good bakery. The air is warm and humid, perfumed with the aroma of milled wheat.

    Grain, Not Flour

    You may have noticed that in proper pasta parlance, Italians always refer to 'grain,' never to 'flour.' Don't dismiss this distinction as merely semantic — Italian pasta makers are adamant about it. I once made the mistake of using the two terms interchangeably. Speaking to a third-generation maker of traditional pasta, I inquired about the source of the flour he was working with. He immediately gave me a look of deep disgust, as if I'd suggested we sit down to a bowl of SpaghettiOs. 'It's not flour. It's grain!' he corrected me sternly. 'Watch.' He grabbed the arm of his unsuspecting salesperson and pulled him closer. Cutting open a paper sack of yellow semolina, the pasta maker pulled out a fistful and then proceeded to smear it all over the sleeve of the guy's powder blue suit. I stood there stunned, feeling guilty for ruining the poor fellow's outfit. Flour—far more finely milled —would have quickly embedded itself in the cloth. But the pasta maker smiled and, holding firm to the man's arm, brushed it off easily. Since mi semolina is granular in structure, like sugar, only minimal markings were left as the grain fell to the floor. 'See?' he said questioningly. 'Sì,' I replied with a smile. Lesson learned.


    Calphalon Stainless Pasta Fork
    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
    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
    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.

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