Gragnano pasta

In recent years, a growing number of Hollywood stars have approached Italian cuisine, entering in a prestigious way on the world of restaurants.

Sting: winemaker and Italian cuisine lover

The list includes top names such as Francis Ford Coppola, Sting, Lady Gaga, Robert De Niro, Danny De Vito, Sylvester Stallone, Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and others that would be too long to list: other than and exotic food, ethnic restaurants or fast food, Hollywood, at least in the kitchen, rewards the Made in Italy.

But if in Italy cuisine is so important, the undisputed queen on the table of every Italian, the first dish par excellence and cult approved unanimously by kids and adults, is without a doubt the pasta that, in all its countless formats and condiments, has for Caesar’s descendants an incomparable appeal than any other dish.

The Italians are known as “mangia spaghetti” and, in fact, pasta is one of the most widespread Italian gastronomic symbols in the world and the fresh one is the flagship of numerous national dishes.

The many sizes and innumerable stuffings give life to a multitude of different kinds of pasta spread in each region.
Tagliatelle, tonnarelli, cavatelli, lasagne, orecchiette, paccheri, fusilli, gnocchi, cannelloni etc but also stuffed pasta such as ravioli, culurgiones, agnolotti, tortellini, cappellacci etc.

Wheat field

The common denominator in all types of fresh or dried pasta is given by the wide spectrum of flours that can be used for the doughs, ranging from soft wheat flour (from which milling is obtained integral flour, flour type 2, 1, 0 and 00 – usually used for home-made pasta -) to the flour of durum wheat from which milling are obtained whole wheat flour, semolina flour and semolina flour re-milled) passing from the chestnut flour, spelt flour, buckwheat flour, burnt wheat, etc, while the variables are water or eggs as well as dyes such as spinach, cuttlefish ink, tomato paste, carrot concentrate, etc.

The stuffings, instead, are related to the territory and seasonality, but can also be the result of imagination or personal taste.

Pasta is not just a dish for gourmets or to eat for goodies (of course that helps), but if consumed within certain quantities and with the right seasonings, becomes an absolutely balanced and complete dish, a healthy feeding included in the Mediterranean diet.

The success of a good pasta is not simple, has some unmissable passages, skipping one makes the difference between a quality pasta and a crap.
The good pasta must be rigidly composed by wheat of excellent quality, in defect, even the best pasta maker, has no hope of positive results.
That said, the task of pasta maker is creating the dough, giving it the appropriate shapes and sizes and properly dried it.
Do all above seems easy, but for those who propose themselves in the pasta’s market with excellences products, it is extremely complicate.

Bronze extruded

Take for example Gragnano, the place par excellence of dry pasta obtained EXCLUSIVELY with the bronze extruders.
To achieve those results is necessary to know perfectly the products, use, I repeat,  bronze extruders, that are the only ones able to guarantee the porosity of the extruded kinds of pasta that become perfect, once cooked, to collect the seasoning sauces, but it is also (and especially) in the duration of the drying times and the controlled temperature values that the goodness of the pasta is decided: by varying them, the obtained products are completely different for consistency, flavour and the ability to keep the texture in cooking.
Slow drying at a moderate temperature enhances the goodness of the product to the detriment of the ability to keep the texture in cooking which, instead, is obtained by fast drying at high temperatures.
Most of the crap kinds of pasta are “cooked” twice: the first time from 90 to 115 ° C in the pasta factory during the drying phase and then around 100 ° C in the pot at home.
Incredibly, the drying temperature is greater than that of the cooking water.
The drying systems called HTSt (High Temperature-Short Time, VHTs (Very High Temperature-Short Time), or even AT and AAT (with or without steam injection), allow to reach very high temperatures, thus reducing the processing time thus saving noticeably on costs, but in the other way it changes the nutritional value and arouses some perplexities among nutritionists.

What is the difference between bronze and teflon extruders?
The drawing process is the same, however, the quality and the goodness of the product derived from the choice of the material.
The bronze extruders exert traction on the mixture that produces on the surface micro lesions which, as a result of the drying process, give the pasta that typical rough and porous character, while the teflon extruders, commonly used for the fast production of cheap pasta, makes the surface of the dough smooth with the consequence that the condiments are not retained as the dough is “slippery”.

This explains the difference between two kinds of pasta: those of Gragnano is a bit more expensive not because of the brand but for the highest quality of traceable products in the doughs, the use of bronze extruders and meticulous care in the phase of drying; the cheaper pasta, probably well presented and sold at popular prices, are composed with untraceable products, processing and drying in the fastest and most profitable way for the producer.

Cheaper or expensive? This is a personal decision, I prefer to eat pasta one time per week… but the highest quality pasta.

Cooking pasta

This is the Chef time who must know both the product purchased from pasta makers and its origin.
In Naples (but almost everywhere in the world except for some countries allergic to good cuisine 🙂 ) it is used to cook the pasta in boiling salted water, in the proportion of 1/10(100 g of pasta 1 litre of water).
To understand if pasta is “al dente” there is a universal method: drain, for example, one macaron, open it with a fork and, if in the section there is a very thin white line, is cooked “al dente”; of course, following the personal taste, can be decided shorter cooking, but if pasta is cooked more long the recommended time, can not talk about pasta al dente and in Naples, it would directly be thrown into the garbage bin.

Thickened pasta

Seasoned or creamed

If we were to season the “Mandilli de saea” (literally silk handkerchiefs), sheets of lasagna seasoned with Genoa pesto sauce should be seasoned away from the fire, it is unthinkable to cook parmesan and pecorino cheeses (contained in the pesto) to avoid an indigestible sauce.
But if we want to season the same pasta with a meat sauce? I would say that it is advisable creaming it. During cooking, the pasta yields its starch, seasoning it in a pan with the sauce allows the pasta to yield part of its starch which is a natural thickener, goes to make the sauce denser which, added to a little cooking water makes it creamy and goes perfectly seasoning all the pasta. Obviously, the pasta must be drained 3-4 minutes before that one indicated in the package since the creamy will start in the pan where the pasta, with little cooking water (just the one necessary to not stick to the bottom), will its starch, after which it will be added to the selected sauce to arrive at the end of creamy when it is still al dente and not over.

What kind of pasta?

For the Neapolitans, great pasta masters and more, connections like “candele spezzate” (translated means broken candles) and Genoese sauce (its the famous ragu of Naples), are absolute and indissoluble, but I think about the choice, unlike other factors come into play, first of all, is the taste for one format instead of another: for example, I do not like the pasta called butterflies (its shape is similar to the famous lepidopter), a very popular format in a lot of other Italian restaurants.
I like all the kinds of pasta, first of all, the one coming from the pasta factories of Gragnano, for which I have an indescribable passion, but not even the butterflies of Gragnano could change my mind.

La scarpetta

The “scarpetta”

Along with the pasta is accompanied by “la scarpetta“, a typically Italian gesture with which the goodness of a course is honoured by collecting liquids from the dishes with a nugget of bread.
Loved by many and detested by the maniacs of the “Galateo” (etiquette) that absolutely does not prohibit it, but relegates it only to informal occasions “and using the fork, “la scarpetta” has now clearly regained dignity, so feel free to try it: you will like it and no one will be amazed.

What do we mean by “la scarpetta“? Translated mean “the tiny shoe”, but the etymology of the term is still uncertain.

Obviously speaking only about pasta is reductive, moreover, we will talk about it in the next articles

Enjoy your meal

“If it is true, as Alexander Dumas (father) says, that the English live only by roast beef and pudding; the Dutch by baked meat, potatoes and cheese; the German by sauer-kraut and smoked lardon; the Spanish by chickpeas, chocolate and rancid lardon; the Italians by macaroni, there will be no wonder if I return often and gladly by them, also because I have always liked them; indeed I was very close to gain the title of Mangia macaroni.”
(Pellegrino Artusi)