WHAT IS PASTA AND HOW IS MADE
Pasta is one of the basic ingredients of the Mediterranean diet and is a food of ancient origin, which some scholars agree come from the Chinese civilization and introduced in Italy by Marco Polo on his return to Venice.
Pasta is a dry ingredient normally made from flour, semolina, eggs, water, and salt and in some cases dried vegetables are added to give it a particular colour or taste turning them into “Special Pastas”. In general as an ingredient is considered part of the healthy foods group, this of course does not take into account the sauces of which is normally accompanied which can be calorific and in some cases unhealthy.
The most commonly known pasta is the so-called “egg pasta”. It takes this name because is made with 00 flour, water, eggs and salt and has a yellowish colour. This is typical from the North of Italy and in the international food scene this recipe has become the norm.
However, in the South of Italy pasta is made very differently. In the southern regions of Italy such as Naples, Puglia, Sicily and especially Calabria pasta is made using only semolina flour, water and salt. This combination produces a whiter, lighter and an easier to digest ingredient avoiding the heaviness of the egg pasta caused by the combination of 00 flour and eggs. Because southern regions especially Calabria has not had the same international exposure this method of making pasta has not had the same recognition or acknowledgement than the 00 flour and egg recipe.
Within Italy however, southern pasta makers especially those from Calabria have superseded and taken the art of pasta making to another level producing one of the best products in Italy now being sought by Northern Italians and slowly being noticed in the international food scene .
The key of the Calabrian artisan pasta relies on the quality of the semolina, the antique production techniques and very importantly the drying process which gives the ingredient that very high-quality texture and flavour only similar to fresh pasta when cooked.
Every drying time will depend on the pasta shape; they can go from 10 hours to 48 hours. For this process to be successful and produce the quality that any Italian expects the dough needs to go through 2 drying stages:
- The first stage is where the pasta loses 1/3 of its water content. This process creates a thin layer over each shape making the product to have the correct conditions to hold its shape throughout the entire process.
- The second stage which is the real drying process the shapes are placed in large net trays inside a structure similar to a cupboard with holes on each side. The shapes are then subject to cycles of hot air ventilation and left to rest in a high humidity environment so the water of the most inner layers flows outwards and evaporates. Times and temperatures vary depending on the pasta shape but normally they range between 60° and 70°. Of course this product process is only found in real artisan pasta. Industrially made pasta is dried in very hot ovens for a period of less than 12 minutes resulting in a thin and fragile product.
Another factor in the quality of pasta is the material of the molds from which the dough is put through. In order to produce the millions of different pasta shapes we nowadays find special molds had to be created, the best ones are made of bronze. This material creates a rough surface over the dough when passing through it, this “roughness “ is what makes the sauce stick and stay in the pasta. The best past will be made using these molds and the packaging will say “Trafilata al bronzo”.
So, the actual production of artisan pasta is a slow process that requires skill, technique and patience but be sure that at the end you will enjoy the best product you can get if the process and the skill of the pasta maker are good, resulting in a product of superior quality, flavour, texture and digestibility that sets it apart from an industrially made product and from the heaviness of egg pasta.
Calabrian and Southern Italian pasta also fits perfectly in any vegetarian or vegan diet and can be part of a healthy cooking style if made with healthy sauces that contain large amounts of vegetables, fat-free meat, oil and the avoidance of those pre pre-made sauces which contain artificial additives and large quantities of salt.