Things are stirring in the pasta world, and we're not talking about the sauce.
The new tune today is not so much whether black pasta complements green pesto, or if urchin is really an OK stuffing for capelletti.
It's not the pronunciation of the tongue twisters, tagliarini, agnolotti or ruote with proper diphthong reflex. We've got it now, I think.
What intrigues pasta diners today is the debate. It's about dry vs. fresh--fresh vs. dry. And why?
It's the sort of debate Italians have pondered il convivio- fashion--at the table--with a few laughs, song, jeers, tears, or perhaps rage, resulting in a duel or two, triggered no doubt on a Sunday afternoon when Mamma would emerge from her kitchen, hands and hair encrusted with flour paste, carrying a huge bowl of fresh pasta.
We asked a few Italian pasta experts their opinions, which were delivered, usually without much prodding, in a barrage of words and strong emotion.
It all started after hearing from architect Alberto Lensi, who also is co-owner of Pasteria, a small pasta restaurant on Melrose Avenue, that only dry pasta is worth its price.
"And what's wrong with fresh pasta?" we asked.
"What can you say about glue? Flour and water you use when you were a kid to paste paper, not to put in your stomach," said Lensi.
And he wasn't the only one.
"Dry pasta is a work of art," rhapsodized Carlo Kovarich of Carlo Kovarich Brokerage Co., a longtime importer of Italian food products.
"Yes, you can cook fresh pasta in two minutes, but I think dry pasta made by a good pasta factory is better. Why? Because dry pasta is a miracle of the Industrial Revolution. You've got industrial engineers studying the product and improving it to a degree where it's turned out with ultimate texture, color and taste," he said. "When pasta is extruded at very high atmospheric pressures, it is actually precooked so that the grain becomes a beautiful color of gold when intensified by cooking."
"You can tell from the price which is the better choice," Lensi added. "Fresh pasta costs 5 cents a serving while a good-quality dry pasta, like De Cecco or Spigadoro, is 25 cents. Besides, you get more healthy fiber from semolina used to make dry pasta," he said.
Then there was Piero Selvaggio of Valentino and Primi restaurants with his preference for dry pasta, even though Primi is well known for its fresh pasta dishes. "You know how we Italians love fantasy, and dry pasta is a perfect example with its exciting shapes of half moons, half arms and legs, mini ears, shell, butterflies and bows," said Selvaggio. (Actually there are over 600 varieties of shapes and sizes of dry pasta, according to a National Pasta Assn. report.)
The fresh pasta enthusiasts didn't have trouble expressing themselves, either.
"Dry pasta?" asked executive chef Vito Gnazzo of Rex Il Ristorante, screwing up his Roman nose with a look of disdain. "Maybe it could be good, too, but it is something you don't make yourself. Fresh pasta gives you freedom to control its flavor, texture and nutrition. I like to have control over a product."
Emilio Baglione, of Emilio's in Los Angeles, has typically romantic notions about fresh pasta. "Fresh pasta is intimate, romantic, made by hand, usually by your mother," he said. His recipe for Pasta alla Chiattara, a specialty of his native Abruzzi, was made by hand on guitar strings before the advent of machines. The fresh pasta is served at his restaurant today.
Stefan Orsini, who operates Osteria Romana Orsini, a typically Roman restaurant in West Los Angeles, serves only fresh pasta (with the exception of traditionally dry pastas, such as penne, linguine and spaghetti). He considers fresh pasta more nutritious. "Its freshness makes the difference. It has no preservatives, is nutritious with eggs, and it smells and looks alive," he said. One of the dishes on his menu is one that his mother created and his wife prepares at the restaurant. The recipe, named after his wife, Nuccia, is given here as Orsini's Zitoni Sora Nuccia. It contains smoked mozzarella, tomatoes and olives and is made with fresh zitoni (small tubes), a pasta especially popular in Rome.
Most of those asked, however, conceded that the fresh and dried macaroni products were different, producing unique results in a cooked dish.