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Most of us growing up in “non-Italian” families grew up with dried pasta. For me, it was every Friday night with fish sticks. How funny that is still a vivid memory of my childhood. Now, I can’t say the same is true for those that grew up in a true Italian family. I’m sure nonna or mamma made fresh pasta. Perhaps not every day – but probably on special occasions. Growing up I never tasted fresh pasta.
When visiting Italy, and now living here, I always got the impression that fresh pasta was somehow better than dried pasta. I believe my opinion is changing.
Eggs and flour make up fresh pasta. Usually all-purpose flour or “00” high-gluten flour. The dough is kneaded like bread and then rolled out with a rolling pin. You can also put it through the rollers of a pasta machine. Your shapes are then created.
Cooking fresh pasta is different in the fact it takes less time to cook, usually just a few minutes. But I think that it just depends on what you are serving. Fresh pasta is best served with delicate sauces where the pasta itself will be the star of the show. This means sauces made with cream, tomatoes, cheese, butter, herbs, and olive oil.
Normally, you will find fresh pasta more expensive than dried. Perhaps that’s why most people tend to assume fresh is better than dry?
Stay with me…
Dry pasta is made from finely ground semolina flour and water. The dough is then pushed through various shaped molds. The pasta is dried at a low temperature until all moisture has evaporated. This takes several days. If properly sealed, dried pasta can last for quite a long time.
This type of pasta is best suited for hearty dishes with heavy sauces – like a ragu. That’s not to say that this is the law. Dried pasta has more sauce variables available than fresh because it is a firmer less delicate pasta.
An important note about dry pasta. Research before purchasing and see if the brand uses a bronze extrusion. This is a superior way to make (cut) pasta. Another thing to consider is the texture of the pasta. When COVID began, there were photos posted on social media of the pasta aisle in Italian grocery stores. The pasta aisle was empty except for a few bags of smooth pasta. The bags with texture or ridges were gone! Why? The ridges give the sauce something to “cling” to.
Sauce and Geography
A big rule to remember. Your choice of pasta depends largely on the sauce. Dried versus fresh is mostly determined by how you are going to “dress the dish.” Dressing the dish refers to the sauce. The choice of sauce, in Italy especially, depends on where you are located. In Italy, your location on the peninsula.
It’s a well-known fact that the northern part of Italy has historically been more wealthy than the south. Invented in the north were thicker, fresh pasta like pappardelle and tagliatelle often served with butter-based sauces. In Emilia Romagna, the land of Parmigiano-Reggiano – cows have beautiful grasslands to make amazing butter and milk. Hence, these are the types of sauces found here.
In the south, however, butter sauces are not the norm. Here tomatoes and the most delicious olive oil is in abundance. A hearty pasta is usually found in the south. That does not mean that fresh pasta is not used here – on the contrary. But it’s the heavier sauces that will be prevalent on the menu.
Neither kind of pasta is superior to the other. They’re just different! In the end, it is up to you. But I will say, I’ve looked in many cupboards of friends in Italy and they have plenty of dry pasta on the shelves. But – what I have learned is that buying high-quality dried pasta makes all the difference in the world. After trying some of the brands above – it will be difficult to go back to purchasing the store brand. Perhaps I’ll leave that for use in soups and stews.
Just a personal note…
An ancient discussion that will never be won. In our house – sauce is sauce. Gravy is for meats and mashed potatoes and is usually brown in color. Enough said.
It all comes down to personal taste. Both kinds of pasta are made from the same basic ingredients. It comes down to flour and water. Fresh pasta can contain eggs, and how many depends on the size batch of pasta you are making. But does dried pasta contain eggs? No. Dried store pasta is without eggs for many reasons. Water is cheaper than eggs.