I’ve never met a dish of pasta I didn’t love. Accompanied by some crusty bread, a mixed green salad and a glass of wine, I’m content. The only thing I insist on is that the pasta I buy be made using traditional bronze dies and not modern nylon dies.
The process of making pasta is straightforward, but the results can vary wildly, depending on the type of flour used, the type of die that’s used and the time the pasta is left to dry. Superior quality dried pasta can taste nearly identical to fresh.
The best artisan pasta is made with durum wheat, a hard wheat with a high protein and low starch content. The wheat is ground then mixed with water to form dough, and then that dough is pressed through a form, or die, to make a specific shape. The pasta is then dried for two to three days (or longer), then packaged.
During extrusion, a bronze die rakes the surface of the dough, leaving the pasta with a whitish cast and a rough surface that allows sauce to cling to it. Lesser quality pasta made with a nylon die leaves the pasta smooth, shiny and yellow. Smooth pasta and sauce don’t mix.
Further, good quality pasta won’t cloud your cooking water. Cloudy water is a sign of starch being released into the pasta water. That could mean that a lesser quality flour or softer flour was used to make the pasta.
So, when you make the recipe I created for pastafits.org, buy a dried pasta that says “100% Durum Wheat,” “Slow Dried,” and “Made with Bronze Dies.” You will see and taste the difference.
Fettuccine with Shrimp, Bacon and Kale
in a Creamy Parmigiano Sauce
Preparation time 30 minutes; makes 4 servings
4 cups kale, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
4 ounces fettuccine
4 pieces bacon
12 medium shrimp
¼ cup finely chopped garlic
¼ cup white wine
½ cup low-sodium beef or chicken stock
¼ cup reduced fat sour cream
2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano, plus additional for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the kale until the leaves are softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the kale and reserve, keeping the water going for the pasta. Cook the fettuccine according to package directions. Drain and reserve.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and when cool, crumble the bacon. Pour most of the bacon fat out of the pan (leave enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Heat pan to medium. Add the shrimp and cook on one side until pink, about 30 seconds, then turn the shrimp. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, another 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook until most of it has cooked away, about 1 minute. Add the kale, pasta, stock and sour cream. Toss everything together, then stir in the cheese and bacon. Divide between 4 bowls and serve with additional Parmigiano if desired.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.