Sunday, August 06, 2006

taste test: pasta

People often ask me, so what do you cook at home? I fear they expect effusive descriptions of, say, a fusion of Japanese and French techniques applied to Southern Californian produce, but instead I usually end up mumbling something like "um, ...pasta?"

Which is actually quite true. The two people I cook for daily are both happiest when there is pasta on the table. Plus it is admirably suited to the kind of "all in one dish" meals that makes most sense after a busy day.

Although I am very bad at stocking and typically shop on a day-to-day basis, I do make sure there are always several boxes of dried pasta in the pantry. When buying them I am invariably faced with the dilemma: do I go for the ubiquitous Barilla brand or do I choose a pricier more "artisanal" make? Pasta is pasta; is one type really all that superior to another?

I decided to resolve this question once and for all. I rounded up three different kinds of dried spagetti: the aforementioned Barilla for 1.59$, the Latini mark purchased at an Italian grocer for 4.99$, and Benedetto Cavalieri from William Sonoma's selection at a whopping 7$. I cooked the spagetti according to the designated time for each in salted water and added olive oil before twirling it around a fork. Latini and Cavalieri seemed to have a slightly better taste and texture but not dramatically so. It was only when I swathed the spagetti in a sauce of San Marzano tomatoe and grated Parmigiano that the differences really came to the fore. Latini won hands down.

Probably it had something to do with the surface of Latini's pasta which looked rough and porous in comparison to the smooth and glazed appearance of the other two. When cooked the ridges became barely visible but I think it allowed each strand of pasta to hug the sauce which actually seemed to amplify the flavors, making them deeper and more vibrant.

Intrigued, I started experimenting with the Latini brand. According to their website ( Latini pasta is made from carefully selected varieties of quality Italy-grown wheat. It is slow dried at low temperatures so as to not eradicate molecular structures and preserve the durum's flavors and aromas. It therefore makes sense to use the absoption method in cooking the pasta so as not to lose any of it, or use the pasta water to finish the sauce. Or even, come to think of it, drinking it as a broth as one does with cooking water after eating soba, or is that going too far?

But more than the character of durum wheat, I find compelling this pasta's capacity to valorize the qualities of the sauce with its caressing attention and receptiveness. People are like that too I suppose; Latini is the one who knows how to give love.


Blogger Juniper said...

This is interesting! I will have to look out for Latini at the supermarket.
Although living in Italy, I've never actually seen that kind of pasta on sale here. We usually go for either Barilla or Agnesi, I daresay those are the best selling ones. And if there's something better than that, I MUST try it! :)

1:03 AM  
Blogger motoko said...

Juniper, if you manage to get a hold of Latini I would love to hear what you think!

1:25 PM  

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