“What’s for dinner?” Is the question of the day, every day. We want comfort food that is reasonably fast, doesn’t require buying new ingredients, and will satisfy everyone. There are 350 answers, and it’s all in the sauce.
Spaghetti, Macaroni, Orecchiette, Ziti, Bucatini, Capellini, Tagliatelle, Penne, Rigatoni, and over 340 more.
“In Italy, Pasta was created as a vehicle to get the sauce to the mouth,” says Giuseppe de Martini of Pastaficio di Campi in the little village of Gragnano. This is the home of the world’s most meticulously created and packaged pasta. Centuries ago, it was here that the Roman Legions stored their grain. Gragnano, (pop. 27,000) supplies 15.5% of the Italian export of pasta, and has received the protected geographic designation of origin (DOP).
From its humble beginnings of flour and water, pasta has become the world’s most popular food. Is there a country or a people whose cuisine does not have traditional dishes made with pasta, either filled, rolled, twirled, or cut? At last count, there are 350 types of pasta world-wide. But, until I tasted the pasta in Gragnano, it was all more-or-less the same to me.
Now, after this visit, I will never look at a plate of pasta the same way again. “What is your secret?” I ask, as we walk through the sparkling clean factory. The answer is: Teflon. They do not use Teflon. Here, they use an artisanal bronze die and the extrusions through shape makers are made of bronze. Teflon makes the process work ten times faster and gives a very smooth and slippery surface and interior, so the sauce slides right off. Bronze makes a rough interior and those tiny micro fractures increase the surface contact to the water and the sauce. Those tiny rough particles make an emulsion with the sauce and it coats the pasta. The sauce stays on the pasta and not at the bottom of the bowl. Therefore, more sauce is carried to the mouth.
The Google Maps information on the packaging is fascinating. On each box there is a production date code. Put that code on your website and Google Maps takes you to the field. There is a picture of the farmer, a picture of the field, the day of seeding and the day of harvesting. It is a total tracking system. Each box of pasta has the photographs of the people who work at the plant, the heart and soul of the pasta-makers. A little fun read while waiting for the water to boil. This pasta, like art, takes on a new meaning when you understand it.
Now, as I sit at my dinner table, an aromatic plate of Spaghetti Limone, Parmigiano Reggiano e Pepperoncino before me, I am the last link in fulfilling the documented destiny of a sheaf of wheat. Some responsibility!
Every shape was made for a particular sauce, and that’s the best way to get the most out of your pasta!
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.