Pasta is one of the great joys of life. My life certainly, and lots of Italians. And you too, right? I love to make it from scratch but I also love cooking best quality dried pasta, which is so misunderstood. You can read more about why we should eat pasta, and why we certainly shouldn’t view it as anything near a guilty pleasure on another post that I wrote – Blasting Pasta Myths – Reasons Why You Should Eat Pasta.
Pasta Production in Italy
Pasta is made all over Italy with many regional variations extending to the flour used, whether just water or water and eggs are used, or just eggs. Shapes differ, how they serve it differs widely too. In general, the North makes more fresh pasta, and the South has more dried.
This is fiercely protected in terms of the dried pasta that you purchase from Italy. There are laws governing it: dried pasta must be made using durum wheat semolina flour, and egg pasta can only be made with durum wheat semolina flour and a minimum of 4 hens eggs weighing 200g without shell, per kilogram of semolina. Croissant production is also regulated in France, incidentally, and more on that soon.
Pasta Production in Abruzzo
Abruzzo has a long history of producing some of the best Italian dried pastas (along with Gragnano in the South). In central Italy to the East of Rome and Lazio, Abruzzo is on the opposite coast on the Adriatic Sea, with sea and mountains, snow and sunshine, and a wonderful food culture dotted regionally among small towns and villages. I have been to Abruzzo twice. A gorgeous spot, under the tourist radar and who knows why? You need a car to get a round, as is the case for much of Southern Italy below it, it is worth the effort.
Pasta in production & drying at the Rustichella pastificio
The terroir (the mountains, hills, spring water, soil and proximity to the sea) is important here. The flour produced from the local grains, combined with the local water sourced from the mountain springs produced great pasta. The prevailing winds and humidity in the hills ensured that, in season, the pasta could be dried at a pace that produced dried pasta of a superior quality that could be used throughout the year. Slow drying allows fermentation which creates more intense flavour, and also makes pasta more digestible. Some of our best foods (in terms of flavour and ease of digestion) are a result of preservation and fermentation, pasta is an excellent example of this.
How Dried Pasta is Made, from Grain
Once the grain is harvested, it is cleaned, tempered and milled. To make the pasta, the flour is mixed with water and kneaded. No salt is added at any point, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to salt your pasta water properly. This is how you season it. When the dough is ready the pasta is extruded through bronze dies and then dried in the prevailing winds. Traditionally, the pasta was arranged on racks and dried naturally as the wind blew through the long rooms lined with windows on either side of the pastificios (pasta factories). This is now managed using a technical process in a climate controlled room, and takes approximately 24 hours for a high quality dried pasta. The wheat production is seasonal, and so pasta was (and remains in some places) a seasonal product. We are used to seeing it on shelves all year round, and so we forget that.
The First Harvest in Abruzzo
I went to Abruzzo last summer for the first harvest or Primograno (first grain) at Rustichella d’Abruzzo. A family owned and run pastificio producing high quality dried pasta in Abruzzo since 1924 (starting in Penne, yes, there is a town called Penne!). Four generations later, Gianluigi Peduzzi wanted to bring back the flavour of the pasta that he remembered from his grandfathers mill in Penne, using 100% Abruzzo wheat derived from four specific heirloom varieties which can be traced back to the wheat used in his grandfathers time. Four different primograno pastas are made with this heirloom flour, which is grown by 14 farmers over 60 hectares near Pianella in Abruzzo.
To celebrate we had dinner (with lots of pasta, naturally!) and then watched the Pupe dance. A large papier mache doll with a man dancing inside to music, and fireworks flying off her head.
Wonderful, and only in Abruzzo.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo hosted my stay in Abruzzo, but all editorial is my own, as always. Primograno is a seasonal product, and when in season, it is available at Odysea online, who also sell other Rustichella pastas, which I recommend (and use in my kitchen). Irish readers, I bought some Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta at Sheridan’s when I was last home (the orecchiette is superb!), and I just checked, and some Rustichella products, including pasta flour, are available online.