The Perils of Pasta: Fresh or Dry

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Some of my best memories are borne from a great bowl of pasta. Sometimes this has meant freshly made pasta from the Italian deli or homemade pasta from friends in the home. Sometimes it’s meant dry from the stock of grocery store varieties. It’s nice to have options and with pasta it’s all about the flavor and texture needed for a particular dish that accentuates the opting of fresh or dry. It’s a matter of personal taste and mine has been finely honed over the years emerging from experiences that run the gamut.

Some of my favorite San Francisco dinners were the ones that took place around my friend Robert Birnbach’s chaotic kitchen table after watching he and his son painstakingly feed white strings of the lightest pasta dough through a roller, creating an elegant and light linguine tossed with nothing but a homemade pesto to go along with the purring of their fat white cat and the sounds of Allen Ginsberg reading poetry from the living room radio.

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Or the nights spent at my friend Rick’s house in Santa Monica where he specializes in cooking for his consistent stream of goddess girl friends and the pasta beneath the savory shrimp is always super fresh and eclectically rolled, bought that day from Bay Cities Deli, mere hours old, along with a sinful and rich custom scampi butter.

Fresh pasta is best when its job is not to be the carrier of lots of items but as a fluffy textural beauty accentuated by a few hints of subtle ingredients. Like ravioli, always better frail thin, when the pockets containing the filling drape loosely and finely over rich innards of depth in a non-competitive and non-clunky fashion.

But then there are times when a drier version makes more sense. For some odd reason, I can’t stand my tortellini fresh. When fresh, it’s skin gets so loose and the insides tend to topple out. I like my tortellini hard and al dente with a tight little tummy packed with a meaty pocket of cheese and other fillings. Barilla is the only company who I’ve discovered gets it right for my palate. Their dry farfalle has been my obsession of late.

I asked Marcel Vigneron (former Top Chef and Top Chef All Star contestant and noted chef) what a simple rule of thumb was for choosing fresh or dry, to which he replied, “Fresh for papardelle, ravioli, agnolotti and any other style you can hand crank but dry for things like orechiette, shells and bucatini in which you need the pasta to have strength.”

I still haven’t convinced the Cute Gardener to buy a pasta roller even though he eats the stuff three to five days a week but I have a feeling that has more to do with my propensity to want to make the fresh dough coupled with my Lucille Ball knack for making a grand mess.

I confess that while writing this at 9 a.m., I have just finished off my own bowl of pasta. On days when I take my 30-mile morning bike ride, I like to use a bowl of whole wheat, plainly dressed pasta as my gasoline. It becomes my main meal for the day and gives me energy to burn late into the afternoon.

Pre-Biking Fuel Breakfast Pasta

4 ounces dry, whole-wheat linguine
2 tbls. chopped green olives
1 tbls. minced sun dried tomatoes
1 tbls. feta
1 tbls. grated pecorino
1 tsp. olive oil

Simply cook the pasta around 8 minutes to an al dente chewiness and then toss with the remaining ingredients.

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