Skip to main content

Pasta, the long and short of it.

I have probably had this conversation with more people than just about any other subject in Italian cooking. The usual comment is, "Isn't all dried pasta basically the same"? "Are the imported pastas really worth the extra money"?
Well, let me get the first question out of the way. Yes, if you are looking at a reputable brand, which we will discuss later, they should all be made with 100% Durum wheat semolina and water. As for the second question, well that requires a bit of explanation.

If the ingredients are basically the same, then what could contribute to a better tasting pasta? I believe there are a few fundamental differences. One, the wheat used should be 100% Durum wheat semolina, not durum flour. This is one the most basic differences. And, how does this effect the final result? If a pasta is made with durum flour, it will tend to be starchy and not really hold up to be al dente when cooked. This durum flour is commonly used in American pastas, and is cheaper. Remember, just because it says it's the number one pasta in Italy, it doesn't mean that the basic recipe is the same as in Italy.

The other major difference is the speed with which the pastas are dried. This appears to be a very fundamental difference and from my taste test really does effect the final result. Bottom line, the slower the pasta is dried, the better it will hold up to cooking and the better it tastes. The easiest way to describe it is, it has body and depth of flavor. Your artisan pasta brands from Italy will have been dried very slowly on racks.

Finally, the higher end Italian brands most often use bronze dies to extrude the pasta, and thus the surface texture is a little rougher, which means it holds the sauce better.

So, where does this leave us? I have rated a few of the pastas I have personally tried. Some are expensive, but others are more reasonable. I suggest you try a few and find one that you like. It really does make a difference.

Basic Can't Go Wrong Pasta

De Cecco - This is probably the easiest to find of the premium pastas and it is good quality and reasonable. It's the blue box. Available in most grocery stores.

One Step Up Pasta

Martelli - This is the one in the yellow bag and is normally available at Williams Sonoma and some other higher end retailers. A very good choice with wonderful flavor. Great when you just want a pasta with butter and cheese. Available online at

Rustichella D'Abruzzo - This is one of my absolute favorites. Amazing taste and texture. This is the pasta that really changed my mind about how good a higher quality pasta could taste. Available at Amazon.

Faella - Not easy to find, but really top notch. This is pushing into the premium brand category. Available online at

The Best Of The Best

Columbro - One of very best and not easy to find in stores, but easy to find online. It is expensive, but the flavor is like nothing you've every tried. This is a special occasion pasta. Available online at

Preparing your pasta

Now that we have reviewed the pastas, let me share a few fundamentals to make sure your pasta turns out perfectly.

1) Use a lot of water. Do not skimp on the water. Pasta needs to be able to move around the pot. You do not need to add olive oil to the water.

2) Salt the water heavily. This will infuse the salt into the pasta and then most will be poured away, so no need to worry about it being too salty.

3) Choose the right pasta for the sauce. Use thin pastas, like spaghetti and linguine for oil based and cream sauces and larger shapes for more robust sauces like marinara.

4) Do not add too much sauce. The sauce is a complement to the pasta, not the other way around. If there is one thing that ruins good pasta, it's too much sauce, because it covers up the flavor of the beautiful pasta.

5) Finally, do not overcook. Follow the directions and check it at the lowest time and then check every minute from then on. Example, if it says to cook from 8-12 minutes, then check at 8, 9, 10, etc.

6) Scoop out a little of the pasta cooking water about 4 minutes before the pasta is done, and set it aside. I use a Pyrex measuring cup.

5) Finally, to finish your pasta, drain it and add it back to the cooking pan, add a bit of sauce, a bit of the reserved pasta water, then a bit of cheese and stir until it starts to glisten. Add a bit more cheese on top and serve immediately. Cold pasta is a travesty.

Most of all, enjoy!


Popular posts from this blog

Norfolk Style Seafood

This is such a good recipe and so simple to make. The story behind this recipe is interesting. When I was a young boy, we used to go to a seafood restaurant in Washington DC called O'Donnell's. They had wonderful food, and most importantly, they had Buck.

Buck was a gentle giant at 6' 2" and was always talking to me about his recipe. He had invented this style of cooking seafood and had even developed special pans which could be used over open flame and then it could be delivered to the tables still sizzling. He was rightfully very proud of this. 

After being there quite a few times, Buck shared his recipe with me and told me to keep it a secret. Since this was over 40 years ago, I guess I can reveal it now. 


1/2 lb Shrimp, Jumbo Lump Crab or Langoustines, raw and shelled
2 Tbsp Butter
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Dash of Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Few dashes of Tabasco
Splash of White Wine
Salt and Black Pepper

Heat your pan until fairly hot, then add butter an…

Turbot Poached In Puttanesca Sauce

I wanted to build on the puttanesca sauce I posted yesterday to show how a versatile sauce can be used to prepare multiple dishes.

I got the idea to poach some fish in the puttanesca sauce, as I found some really nice turbot at the market.

1 large finely chopped Onion 4 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped 2- 28 oz. cans of crushed or diced Tomatoes, or whole tomatoes that are lightly chopped in the processor.
3 Tbsp Olive Oil 3 tsp. Red Pepper flakes or a few whole red peppers
4 to 6 Anchovy filets ¼ cup of Capers, (Try to get the salted capers and prepare them by rinsing and then soaking for 30 minutes. it's worth the extra effort, as the flavor is vastly superior to the brined capers). ½ cup pitted Kalamata Olives Freshly ground Black Pepper
1 lb Turbot, cut into four pieces. You could substitute Cod, Hake or Monkfish.
Note: You will notice that there is no salt in this recipe. When you consider the olives, anchovies and capers, you really don't need additional salt. If you omit…

French Seafood Stew aka Bouillabaisse

I've always enjoyed bouillabaisse, but I've never tried making it. I assumed (wrongly) that it was very complicated. 

It is really simple to make and I have minimized the ingredients below, to make it even easier than a classical preparation. However, if you want a classic Bouillabaisse, just add in the optional ingredients listed below
Bouillabaisse is basically a fisherman's stew and reflects what seafood was caught fresh that day. There are many variations of this classic dish from Marseille.

I like to start with the classic preparations and then branch off from there. If you find a set of common ingredients, then you can start to craft your own recipe and make it your own. 
I love cookbooks and read them like novels. I always basically know the recipe I want to prepare, but I find that looking at multiple recipes and sources, gives me the best results. This is loosely based on Ina Garten’s Seafood Stew. 
4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 large Onion, chopped  1 teas…