At the Market: Buying Pasta
Not all pasta is created equal. Take a closer look next time you're scouring the shelves of your local grocery store. Since dried pasta is made solely from wheat and water (naturally), a great pasta depends on its process.
A strong, good-quality, high-protein flour makes for the best pasta flour, or semolina. Hard durum wheat gives pasta a firm texture that maintains even through the drying and cooking process to give your dishes a desirable al dente bite with fresh-bread flavor. Some brands, in an attempt to be cost efficient, will blend this great wheat with others. Always be wary of blends.
The extrusion process (when the pasta dough is shaped) is another important part of the pasta-making process. The difference is easy to spot, too! Most brands use Teflon, or plastic, are to shape their pasta, because it is a quicker process. Unfortunately, this leads to a product with a super-smooth surface—not what you should be looking for in a quality pasta. Instead, look for artisanal pastas that use "bronze dies" or "bronze plates." Bronze creates a pasta with a rougher, grainier texture. This allows the sauce (or even just extra virgin olive oil) to hug your pasta, marrying their flavors to give you the best in each bite. Smooth pasta doesn't stand a chance!
A pasta's drying process plays a significant role in its quality. Traditionally, pasta was dried in the sun. To replicate this artisanal method, quality pasta is dried for a long period of time at low temperatures. Lesser brands use high-heat treatments for the sake of time and money, which destroys the delicate nutty flavor of the flour, essentially cooking or "plasticizing" the product. A long, slow process creates a pasta with optimal flavor and texture when cooked. Check your packages!
So though it might seem overwhelming to scour the shelves in search of the perfect pasta, it's worth it! Read your package labels and choose carefully. We recommend an imported Italian pasta with a visibly rough texture and a light blond color (the bold yellow is an indicator of hight-heat drying.)