Look out courgetti, pasta is back. It’s been a tough couple of years for lovers of lasagne and linguine. We’ve had to hold our nerve while both carbohydrate and gluten, the chief constituents of that lovely bowl of noodles, were reviled by health fiends.
Pasta’s main ingredient, white flour, has taken a place alongside sugar on the clean eaters’ blacklist.
Now, I’ve nothing against a spiralised carrot. But when Matt Christmas, chef at the legendary Wandsworth restaurant Chez Bruce, tweeted that an order of courgette linguine had been sent back, because the customer had expected courgetti, not pasta, enough was enough.
Has no-carb become the new normal? Are we throwing out the bucatini with the bath water?
Recent pro-pasta studies have bucked the trend, like the one that showed that reheated pasta was less fattening and treated more like fibre by the body – though if my kids are reading this, take note: the jury is still out on whether leftover chow mein constitutes a healthy breakfast.
Then, earlier this month, we heard from scientists in Italy, research indicating that slimmer people ate more pasta. Maybe Sophia Loren was right when she said, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
Pasta on the menu
Happily for us fettuccine fans, it seems that the British aren’t so fickle as to give up on one of the great dishes of the world just because a few bloggers struck it off their Instagram list. London’s hottest new restaurant is Padella, which boasts an almost exclusively pasta menu.
At the beginning of September, Turin’s favourite pastificio (fresh pasta shop) and restaurant Savurè opens in Shoreditch.
It’s not just London, either. Last week, Pasta Loco, owned by Dom Borel and Ben Harvey, opened in Bristol, with a menu including the likes of a linguine carbonara with a lardo-wrapped poached egg.
According to Tim Siadatan, who along with Jordan Frieda (son of Lulu and hairdresser John Frieda) co-owns Padella and Islington favourite Trullo, “low carb has definitely reached its zenith, although people are more conscious about their carb intake. Pasta is still people’s favourite section of the menu at Trullo. So we were pretty confident that people were still up for pasta when we opened Padella – and it turns out we were right.”
The best selling dishes are pici cacio e pepe – hand-rolled noodles with cheese, pepper and olive oil and beef shin ragu on pappardelle. But with the weather warming up, lighter dishes feel right. “I don’t fancy beef shin on a hot summer day,” admits Siadatan. “Tagliarini with white and brown crab, with chilli lemon parsley olive oil, is the perfect summer dish.”
Fresh or dried?
For the pasta itself, Padella, like Pasta Loco, makes all of it fresh. Not that there is anything wrong with using dried. “People think that fresh is better, but that isn’t necessarily the case,” says Siadatan. Texture, when it comes to pasta, is everything. So that bargain basement “economy” dried pasta, which I’ve often cooked up for a family supper, is out. “They use the wrong kind of flour – it’ll never be properly al dente because it will go straight from being undercooked to mush.”
When it comes to choosing between dried and fresh pasta, think texture. Good-quality dried pasta has more “bite” than fresh, making it perfect for creamier sauces. Siadatan rhapsodises about a seafood dish he ate in Sicily recently, where the “bite of the pasta was just perfect”.
In contrast, fresh pasta is essential for filled pastas like ravioli or tortelloni, but it also has a silkiness that takes well to hearty sauces – think of how good a slow-cooked game ragu is with the satiny slither of fresh pappardelle.
Where to buy it?
As for fresh pasta from the supermarket, the consensus among pasta experts I spoke to was “don’t bother”. Stodgy and dull, it isn’t truly fresh, with a shelf life of weeks. The solution is to make it yourself, or do as many Italians do and leave it to the experts, buying from a local pastificio that makes and sells its pasta on the same day.
Simona Di Dio, a native of Campania in Italy, set up Caruso Pastificio to make fresh pasta in Kent. She insists that Italian flour is key for fresh pasta, but not necessarily the 00 flour often sold as pasta flour. “I never use 00 flour for tagliatelle. You want the sauce to stick to the pasta, so coarse, yellow semolina flour is perfect. But when you are making filled pasta, you are looking for delicacy, so you use 00 flour.”
All of which might make it sound complicated, but in the end it is as simple as pasta and sauce. As Siadatan says, “You can eat regally with pasta. Bang for buck, I think it’s the greatest food on the planet.”