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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dinner Is Served: Pasta Explained

The Luxurist wants to disabuse everyone of the notion that the Chinese invented pasta.

It was documented in Italy before Marco Polo headed east. That doesn't mean the Italians had it first. The earliest reference to noodles appeared in the Jerusalem Talmud of the fifth century A.D.

Pasta is still made by hand at the family run Martelli factory in Tuscany. (Photo: gessato.com)

More important than where it came from is knowing what makes pasta made in Italy better than pasta that isn't, when to use fresh pasta rather than dried (and vice-verse), and what Italians know about cooking pasta that Americans don't.

Food authority Corby Kummer has been writing informed, highly useful essays principally in The Atlantic for some 30 years now on topics ranging from rice pudding to red sauce to eggs.

The secret to flavorful eggs isn't freshness, it's what the chicken ate, says Kummer.

Not the same old, same old: Egg yolk spaghetti at two-Michelin starred Ristorante Cracco in Milan

The Luxurist recalls an essay Kummer wrote many years ago on how to make risotto. He reported that one of his Italian friends threw the rice and broth into the pot all at once, rather than slowly adding small amounts of hot liquid to the rice over a period of 20-30 minutes.

The darn thing turned out the same either way. Or maybe not. The Luxurist read this article a long, long time ago and cannot be sure, because the essay cannot be found on the web.

But I digress.

What you can read on the Internet is Kummer's memorable 1986 piece on the origins, manufacture,  and correct uses of pasta.

Pasta with Peccorino cheese and black pepper, served in a crisp
Parmigiano shell at Roma Sparita in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome

Still pertinent and valuable today, it's a classic that combines careful research on production methods with lots of practical advice on finding the best Italian brands and preparing them properly.

When Kummer wrote his article 25 years ago, Americans believed al dente pasta wasn't sufficiently cooked and all sauce came from a jar.

Women also wore very wide shoulder pads back then. (And not just on Dynasty.) But, again, I digress.

We know a lot more today about how to cook and consume pasta in the Italian manner.

That the Chinese didn't invent it, well, that is another matter.

Read Kummer's pasta essay here.
To read more articles by Kummer, mostly on food, click here.
To learn more about the Martelli pasta factory, click here.

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