Throughout Italy, there are two main categories of pasta: pasta fresca (fresh pasta) and pasta secca (dry pasta). Fresh pasta, which is found mainly in Northern Italy, is pliable in texture, includes eggs, and is made by hand with the intention of being eaten right away. Dry pasta, which is attributed mostly to Southern Italy, is rigid in texture, made with hard durum wheat flour (a.k.a. semolina), and will keep in your pantry.
Pasta secca is what most of us associate with pasta, and it’s often what winds up on the family table. Thanks to the mass production of boxed brands, many cooks have come to associate all dry pasta as an industrial, mechanized product. But this isn’t always the case: while dry pasta is extruded by machine, there are still small producers making more carefully-crafted versions of pasta secca.
One such is Marella, the house that produces our new line of Williams-Sonoma dried pastas. It’s crafted in the Apulia region of Italy, made using the finest locally-grown durum wheat and natural vegetable dyes. Artisanal extrusion techniques and days of gentle drying help to achieve a porous pasta that holds sauces well.
To make the pasta, dough is rolled in workable sheets by a machine. For striped pastas, multiple layers of colored pasta dough are unrolled by hand; the rainbow pasta dough is then cut into slices, which are stretched by a machine. Uniquely shaped pastas, like sombreroni (big sombrero hats) are all shaped by hand. The pastas are then fired a low temperature to avoid breakages in the point of tension. All of Marella’s pasta is packaged and tied up by hand.
“One of the things I was most impressed about when I traveled to the factory was the way in which our pasta is dried,” says Shane Brogan, head of Williams-Sonoma’s food team. “Our ovens are set to mimic the setting sun, which allows the moisture to stay in the pasta longer than grocery store pastas. The texture is so much better when you’re making it at home: the pasta puffs up more when you cook it, and you can actually taste the flavor of the ingredients.”
To tell whether a dry pasta has been made by a small producer, look for clues in the texture and the color of the pasta. The pasta should have a slightly rough texture and a dull pale color, as opposed to a shiny, golden amber hue, which comes from cooking wheat quickly at a higher temperature.
In the mood for pasta? Shop our dried pastas here.