Please Explain: Pasta

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pasta is a staple of Italian food, but noodles are also an important part of Asian cuisine. Pasta is versatile, comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes, and on this week’s Please Explain we’ll find out how it’s made and ways to cook with it. Joining us: Ron Palladino, pasta expert and Fresh Pasta counter general manager at Eataly, and Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen and author of several cookbooks, including The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, Pasta e Verdura, and the editor of Pasta Revolution.  


Jack Bishop and Ron Palladino

Comments [21]

Ron Palladino from Eataly NYC

Dear Listeners,
First of all, thank you very much for listening to the WNYC radio segment – it was great fun for me personally. I really enjoyed it, and I’m so glad to see that the topic I’m absolutely and utterly in love with, pasta , is close to the hearts of so many people!

This being said, let’s tackle the whole wheat debate. First and always foremost, eat what you enjoy! Just because my personal preference leans one way doesn’t mean anyone else’s has to. I have tried dozens of different ratios with whole wheat pasta, everything from 100% whole wheat to just 10% whole wheat and 90% semolina. The taste (to me) is overpowering for most sauces, excluding a tomato base. This is why alternative grains, such as Kamut or Farro, are becoming more and more popular not only in Italy but also here. They are extremely healthy for you and have a significantly milder taste. You can use much higher percentages of these flour in a dough then you would with a whole wheat. So, they become even healthier than a pasta that may be labeled as whole wheat but is really only 50%.

A few listeners have raised the question of pasta and sauce pairings. There are a few classics parings I can share, and they are share the same concept of balance. A sauce should never over power the pasta your cooking it with, and there shouldn't be much if any sauce on the plate when your finished eating. My all time favorite pairing is Gnocchi with Pesto. The potato dumplings should be soft and creamy, the sauce bright and sharp from the basil and raw garlic. Often, pasta shapes and sauces evolve side by side. Filled pastas give the clearest example of of this. The Piedmontese classic Agnolotti del Plin is made by folding and pinching thin pasta dough around a braised veal and pork filling. The process creates little dough pouches around the filling. Agnolotti are traditionally served in brodo (broth). The dough pouches hold the brodo like a bowl so you're sure to get a little broth with every piece of pasta. More modern shapes, such as Vasuvio, aren't associated with specific sauces. This is when we fall back on the cardinal rule, balance! For those who are unfamiliar with the shape, its a sort of cork-screw that resembles Mount Vesuvius from one side and sea-shell from the other. They are a great representation of the sea side city of Naples that cradles Mount Vesuvious. This pasta pairs pair just as well with a hearty bolognese as it does with primavera. Because it's more modern it is a little more open to the cooks interpretation. So If you are having few guests over from the old country you're less likely to cause an uproar based on your sauce selection.

*I will always make my first recommendations based on authenticity. But again, the most important thing is: eat what you enjoy!

Thanks again for your questions, and feel free to stop by at Eataly or post any other questions here if you have some more!

Jun. 03 2013 12:26 PM

Hope you'll have another Food Friday series soon! I've really enjoyed all the weeks of this great series! This pasta segment was very interesting and informative! Thanks!

May. 19 2013 02:22 AM

Good posts here.

It would be good if we could hear the guests respond to emjayyay's points.

May. 19 2013 12:49 AM

While I'm complaining, the Eataly guy gags on whole wheat pasta. That's like saying San Francisco Sourdough is the only kind of bread and anything else you have to spit out, like for example whole wheat sourdough bread. I'm from San Francisisco and I get it, but alternatives are OK in their own right. (The Trader Joe's part whole wheat soudough with the various seeds is great by the way).

Same thing with whole wheat pasta. Barilla, the ITALIAN company makes whole wheat and also Barilla Plus, which is made with lentils (I think) and other stuff in addition to the semolina and has much more protein and fiber and omegas than regular pasta. It's different, but it's OK too. Obviously if you eat pasta with just butter or olive oil and a bit of parmesan, the type of pasta makes a bigger difference, but different kinds are just that: different. Put your tomato based sauce and some meat-a balls (American invention - USA USA!) on your spaghetti and the differences in pasta are less obvious, obviously.

The gluten free pastas are OK too. The Test Kitchen guy likes Jovial brown rice based pasta, which I haven't seen. The typical corn based ones are OK too. The Eataly guy mentioned spelt pasta, which as someone pointed out here, is not gluten free. Then he said bad reaction to wheat is often just from old wheat, which is ridiculous. And that you should try stuff. No, you shouldn't. If you have an immune reaction to gluten, it may show up as dermatitis or other symptoms. It's not like a food allergy which can show up immediately with hives or your bronchia closing up (and in some cases of course kill you). Let's just say he's a self-described pasta expert.

May. 18 2013 01:52 AM

I only heard part of the program, so forgive me if I am restating info.
This concerns the comment that pasta from the "big producers" such as De Cecco and Barilla are comparable to those produced in the US. I can tell you why.

A few years ago, we visited the DeCecco pasta factory in Abruzzo and it was so fun and interesting.

The reason for this is that pasta imported to the US has to follow the US guidelines, so De Cecco has a production line in their plant dedicated to producing pasta for the US market. The guidelines were set up some time ago, when all flour products in the US had to be made from enriched flour.

Other countries, such as Canada, receive the same pasta as produced for the Italian market, but our archaic rules, which think we are undernourished, requires that the original recipe be reconfigured.

Barilla pasta is produced by a different process and in fact, they now have a factory outside Rochester NY, where pasta for the US market is all those microwavable meals that would make Italians shudder.

One of the most fun shopping experiences of my life was the DeCecco Factory story. It also included some of the boutique brands they produce.

The factory is in an obscure part of Italy and a tour needs to be prearranged, but so worth it, IMHO.


May. 17 2013 04:48 PM

The on air comment about gluten sensitivity being about the wheat going bad or whatever he said is I believe yet another myth. Gluten sensitivity is about gluten. If you have some questions about your actual sensitivity to gluten go to an immunologist. There are skin tests for food allergies and blood tests for evidence of inflamation of various kinds. You don't have to guess.

May. 17 2013 01:58 PM

I'm pretty sure the relationships between the various shapes of pasta and the types of sauces that they are typically associated with is pretty much tradition and whatever works for you is OK. Some shapes like rotini will hold more sauce than others. Other than that, it's all the same thing after all. You put it in your mouth and you are mushing up the same pasta a and sauce or whatever.

May. 17 2013 01:53 PM
mary ellen from wantagh, long island

SCAR makes a great gluten free product - all of their pastas!

May. 17 2013 01:51 PM
HMI from ParK Slope

Beteter than the Jovial rice pasta, IMO, is the Trader Joe version.

May. 17 2013 01:45 PM

Spelt is /also/ NOT gluten-free.

May. 17 2013 01:43 PM
JM from Trader Joe's

Whole Wheat Pasta seems relatively better as a cut pasta, like fusilli.

(I prefer durum semolina flour for all pastas.)

Whole Wheat fusilli dressed with olive oil, tossed with sauted garlic, onion, and greens or brussel sprouts, and sprinkled with cheese (like feta) so far is the most palatable way I've had whole wheat pasta.

May. 17 2013 01:31 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I use pasta water in soups--it adds body & flavor (esp. if I made pasta primavera!).

And I completely disagree w/the caller who didn't like the flavor & texture of whole wheat pasta. To me, refined-flour pasta (& other products) have less flavor & almost no texture. The texture is so uninteresting I had to make up a word for it: plabbly. Maybe the caller isn't cooking the good stuff long enough--it does require a few more minutes than the plabbly kind.

May. 17 2013 01:30 PM
Peggy from Morristown nj

2 drops -tiny drops- of olive oil will prevent the water from boiling over when making pasta. I can detect no difference whatsoever in texture and taste. However my friend, Italian and an excellent cook, will not even try it because it seems so non-traditional. Any thoughts?

May. 17 2013 01:28 PM
Mark from East Rockaway, NY

One of your guests spoke of pasta's ability to "soak up the sauce." I remember my mom boiling the spaghetti (Ronzoni spagatini #9) and then adding the sauce at the table.
I recall, 60 years later, the leftovers which were stored in the fridge until the next day tasted much better with the sauce and pasta combined than the original. Was that my imagination?

May. 17 2013 01:25 PM
B from NYC

As someone who sometimes konks out, and sometimes doesn't, I am now theorizing that increased gluten reaction, and difference from Italy, may be the fact of GMO (wheat etc).

May. 17 2013 01:24 PM
Sebastian from Greenwich

My family lived in Italy when I was young. When we moved to the United States- my mother continued to make pasta- especially on snow days! Snow days meant we all helped to make fresh pasta and we'd have tagliatelle drying from boom and mop handles all over our kitchen. I try to continue that tradition with my kids.

May. 17 2013 01:22 PM

Do either of the guests have a favourite go to pasta recipe that is posted online? Noodle recipe, not sauce.

May. 17 2013 01:20 PM
emjayay from Brooklyn

There is no reason to believe that fresh pasta is "easier to digest" than dried. Unless possibly if you eat it right from the box. And if you drink enough water with it even that shouldn't make any difference. Non-scientific cooks believe a lot of myths which have been busted by some authors.

May. 17 2013 01:19 PM
Sarah from manhattan

Can your guest explain the origin of the name Strozzapreti, or "Priest Chocker?"

May. 17 2013 01:18 PM

What about pasta made from rice or corn? Its history?

Pasta made with various vegetables, like spinach?

May. 17 2013 01:18 PM
Hal from Brooklyn

Please explain the relationships between the various shapes of pasta and the types of sauces that they are typically associated with.

May. 17 2013 01:17 PM

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