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Pasta With a Pedigree

It’s not just sauce and cheese that makes a dish

You’ll find dishes on the menu at Roman’s that feature pasta made from all-Italian durum wheat.
Melissa McCart is the editor for Eater New York.

Chef partner of Charlie Bird in Soho and Pasquale Jones in Little Italy, Ryan Hardy is passionate about pasta — especially dried pasta.

“People often think that fresh pasta is best when in fact it’s quite the opposite,” he says. “And we often think dried pasta is all the same, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

With so much pasta on restaurant menus, it’s fitting that this week’s The New York Times profiled pasta maker Pastificio Felicetti, a family-owned, Italian company using Italian-grown durum wheat to make more flavorful dried pasta that’s seeing increased demand.

How is all-Italian dried pasta new? Turns out, there’s fudging in the packaging of lots of mass-produced pasta. When packaging reads something like, 100% durum wheat, made in Italy, it’s usually a blend of Italian and imported stuff. What’s new is consumers’ access to all-Italian grain pastas made from smaller producers that deliver a broader range of flavors and textures.

The Times points to Mark Ladner’s upcoming Pasta Flyer as a place to go that will offer Italian-wheat pasta. But good pastas have been in the market for awhile, with restaurants like Roman’s in Brooklyn that swear by them. Chef David Gould uses a brand called Martelli, made from wheat grown in Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, that he’s been sourcing from an importer, the Bronx-based Gustiamo, for several years. The pasta company makes 400 tons of pasta a year, compared to a company like the Parma-based Barilla, which produces well over 80,000 tons a year for the U.S. alone.

“We like the shaping and the thickness,” says Gould of Martelli. “Maybe it has as much to do with the machinery. But it also has quality and substance.” There’s always one or two dishes on that showcase Martelli, like spaghetti with lentils or fusilli with cabbage, prosciutto, and fontina.

Over at Charlie Bird, Hardy, who sources several pasta brands, uses Martelli in dishes like spaghetti all’olio with sea urchin from Maine, with few ingredients so the flavors of urchin and pasta aren’t muddied.

At Lincoln in Lincoln Center, chef Jonathan Benno uses Tumminia Busiate, an ancient type of durum wheat that miller Filippo Drago has reintroduced among Italian varietals. “Tumminia, since it is an ancient wheat that was never genetically manipulated,” says Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo, “is very digestible and even suitable for people with some wheat sensitivities.”

On the current menu, Benno offers busiate alla Trapanese, the corkscrew-shaped pasta with San Marzano tomatoes, eggplant, almonds and Pecorino Siciliano. “The whole wheat busiate has a nutty flavor [and] an al dente bite,” he says, “and the corkscrew shape grabs any sauce you prepare with it.”