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Pasta

Sunday, 7 December 2008 | Tags:

Fresh or dry, and a multitude of shapes and flavours, pasta is a popular food enjoyed by two-thirds of North Americans at least once a week. Since the labels on pasta packages essentially all say the same thing, we noodled around some stores and restaurants to find out what really goes into making the perfect pasta.

The Basics

  • The difference between dried and fresh pasta isn’t about quality or authenticity. Dry pasta and fresh pasta come from different areas of Italy.

    • Dried pasta is made fresh from flour and water, then dried and kept without refrigeration. Dry pasta often tastes better than fresh because the drying process removes much of the starch that makes fresh pasta heavy and chewy. In every case, a box of good quality dried pasta is far better than any mediocre fresh pasta. Dried pasta keeps indefinitely when stored in a dry place out of direct sunlight.

    • Fresh pasta is made with eggs and flour, which means it requires refrigeration. Fresh pasta tends to be softer in texture and more delicate. It is best with light cream sauces or fresh ingredients, like uncooked tomatoes. Pastas, such as fettuccine, flour and egg noodles, are best when fresh.

  • Buying quality fresh or dry pasta can make all the difference to your meals.

    • Fresh pasta should be cooked shortly after it’s made, which is why many people like to make their own. The longer fresh pasta stands around, the more brittle it is. Skip any packages that have shards of dried pasta floating around in them – it’s no longer fresh.

    • Dried pasta should be a bright amber colour and have a subtle nutty flavour. Good dry pasta won’t stick together. The surface should be matte, with a consistent look, and should be bouncy and springy when cooked. The more you need to chew, the better the pasta.

  • Good quality pasta should not stick together when cooked.

Other Considerations

  • Many think the best pastas are made from semolina flour, which is ground from durum wheat, giving the pasta a light yellow or golden color. Most European pastas are made exclusively from semolina flour.

  • Pastas made from a combination of semolina and regular wheat flour tend to be softer and starchier, and are mostly be produced by of North American factories.

  • Colored pastas get their pigment from added beet, spinach or tomato flavors, but lose these flavours when boiled. Buy for presentation purposes only.

  • One and a half pounds of fresh pasta serves four people generously.

TEST CRITERIA

We set out to determine if there’s a difference in taste between fresh, dried, local and Italian-made pasta by inviting some pasta-loving Italians to a taste-off of these pasta products, cooked up by famous chef and author Umberto Menghi:

  • Deli pasta, fresh
  • Oliveri, a popular packaged brand, fresh
  • De Cecco, Italian, dried
  • Catelli, North American, dried
  • Generic brand, North American, dried

Taste Test

  • De Cecco was the favourite of 80% of the testers.

  • Generic got one vote.

  • We didn’t taste a huge difference between the dried generic and the dried brand name pastas.

  • We all found the fresh stuff tasteless and slightly mushy.

OUR TOP PICK

Surprisingly, all of our testers preferred the taste of dried pasta to fresh. AND they preferred the brand that came from Italy: De Cecco. So even when not in Rome we prefer Italian pasta!

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