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There’s more to pasta than spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce. Miranda France takes a look at what’s cooking.
Thank God for pasta. It is cheap. it keeps for months and even the most hesitant ofcooks can rustle up something with it. I'll wager more than one bout ofempty-fridge gastronomic blues has been dispelled by the inevitable. happy discovery of a half-finished. half-forgotten packet ofpasta at the back of the cupboard. Caught in a halfway-house somewhere between ‘real meal' and ‘fast food‘. pasta has long been deprived of the reverence such a versatile and rewarding food deserves.
Now there are signs that the British. notorious for their lack of culinary interest. are doing more imaginative things with it. Small businesses. specialising in both fresh and dried pasta. are thriving. as discerning consumers shun supermarket spaghetti in favour of the wide range of pasta available in good Italian delicatessens.
Maurizio Meoni recently set up
Gourmet Pasta in Edinburgh and has
been bowled over by the demand for his fresh pasta. ofwhich he makes several batches a day. This is not just a British fad. he says. back in the very bosom of Italy business is booming. ‘I recently read an article in a leading Italian newspaper which said that fresh pasta sales are increasing by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. while dried pasta sales are stable.‘
There are various ways of making pasta. ranging from a frugal flour
and water mix. to the lavish recipe suggested by French gastronome Ali-Bab in his 1907 Gastronomic Pratique. He recommended the use
of 18 egg yolks to 500g of flour for ‘an
absolutely exquisite noodle pasta of incomparable finesse‘.
When pasta is being made by a machine — either commercial or domestic— durum wheat (semolina) should be used. It gives a resilient dough which stands up better to the rigorous machinery. Durum is very expensive. and many firms use cheaper flours. so. when buying. it is worth checking on the packet. Surprisingly. Maurizio reckons Canadian durum to be the best. As far as he is concerned. the advantages of fresh pasta are in the ingredients. ‘You don't use the best eggs in the market to make a pasta which is going to last 15 days. I touch only grade A eggs. This is fine if you can sell your pasta immediately.‘
With their 65 years‘ experience of selling pasta in Glasgow. the Fazzi brothers recognise this to be a vain hope; they only sell fresh pasta if someone orders it. However. all their filled pasta products — ravioli. tortellini and canelloni — are made from fresh pasta. Since. unlike some larger firms. the Fazzi brothers use fresh eggs. not dried ones. in their mixture. you would be unlikely to be
able to tell the difference.
Down at the tiny Pasta Cosmo factory in Leith. tagliatelle and lasagne are made twice-weekly by two beautiful shiny machines which look rather like giant expresso coffee-makers. (‘osmoTamburro sells some of it fresh from the family‘s shop in Marchmont. although. in general. he is sceptical about the charm of fresh pasta. ‘I know that fora time London had a lot of fresh pasta shops. but I think it was a phase. The real fresh pasta is
made by housewives in Italy with small hand machines. The only advantage in buying it is the shorter cooking time. Fresh pasta is a headache for restaurants. because they can only keep a small quantity and they have to use it right away‘.
Cosmo supplies most of Edinburgh‘s Italian restaurants with their pasta. made with 100 per cent durum and fresh eggs. ‘The Italians here love our pasta‘. he says. ‘I think it’s something to do with the Scottish water.‘
I Cosmo Pasta Shop 28 Warrender Park Road.
The Tamburros sell a range ofdried and fresh pasta. as well as a stack of delicious ready-made pasta-based meals.
I Gourmet Pasta 54 Morningside Road.
The only shop in Edinburgh to specialise in fresh pasta. which is made on the premises. Wholemeal and egg-free pasta is also sold. as well as sauces and condiments.
I Valvona & Crolla 19 Elm Row. Apparently young Italians still arrive in Scotland with a few lire in their pockets and a scrap of paper bearing Valvona & (frolla's address. It is the Mecca of those who love Italian food and wine. They also sell hand machines at £3 1 .89 for making tagliatelle and spaghetti for which you can buy ravioli and spaghettini attachments at £21 .89 and £11.39 respectively.
I lnhouse Edinburgh 28 Howe Street. lnhouse specialise in avarier of pasta accoutrements. including large pasta pots at £190. tongs at £4.75. ravioli tins at £9.95 and cutters at £1.50.
78 The List 27 July — 9 August I990