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Chef Recs on Boxed Italian pasta


Most homecooks don’t have the time or patience to make pasta from scratch—and boxed pasta is often the appropriate choice—so, we’ve asked the experts for their best recommendations when it comes to buying and using dry pasta. Here are their opinions and rationale—and a few tips.



Name and title: Mike Obarka; executive chef

Restaurant: Ristorante Lombardo, Buffalo

Preferred pasta: Rustichella d’Abruzzo

Number of years in use: 10. I’m never going back.



“We don’t keep dried pastas on the regular menu, but we always have at least one dried pasta among our specials. And I always have one long and one short shape in the pantry. This pasta is ideal for Spaghetti alla Carbonara. The simple silky sauce requires a pasta with a good toothsome bite. It also has the texture to hold the sauce perfectly.”



“Dried pastas are, for the most part, best used when you are making a dish that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, like pomodoro, oil-based sauces, pestos, and the like. But to be honest, that’s just a matter of opinion. They’ve been arguing about the best use of pastas and sauces on The Boot for centuries, and I don’t see that coming to an end anytime soon. So, I suppose, when it’s all said and done, do what you like, and what makes you happy. Don’t let the pasta intimidate you. It’s only food.”



“Rustichella has a cooking time of fifteen to twenty minutes depending on the shape. These hold at al dente longer. If you pull something off the shelf that takes three minutes to cook, move on. Not surprisingly, you get what you pay for with pasta, so if it is a little more pricey, you’re probably going in the right direction. That said, when I’m slumming it at home, I go with De Cecco or Delverde. The subtleties in quality get lost on my daughter Maddy, but she’s only seven, so she has time.”




Name and title: Anthony Ragusa; managing partner

Restaurant: Giancarlo’s Sicilian Steakhouse; Williamsville

Preferred pasta: Anna

Number of years in use: 2



“Our Pasta Saratoga. We use penne for this dish, which consists of crumbled housemade sausage, a spicy pomodoro and

Parmigiano sauce, fire roasted red peppers, and fresh ricotta cheese. There are a few strong flavors in this dish, and the simplicity of the Anna penne complements them well.”



“We decided to go with the Anna brand after countless tastings and samplings.  We were impressed with its structure and simple flavor. It also has a lot of versatility. Anna pasta maintains a firm, al dente structure (when cooked properly), and goes well with a variety of sauces.



“When it comes to ingredients, a quality dry pasta does not require much more beyond high grade durum wheat semolina and water. In Italy, dry pastas are not just for mass production. The art of drying pastas is centuries old, and, for particular shapes, it is often preferred to fresh pasta. Unfortunately, mass production has devalued high-quality dry pasta.”




Name and title: Jay Manno; owner

Restaurant: Frankie Primo’s +39

Preferred pasta: Barilla and De Cecco

Years in use: Almost 2; since we opened



“We mostly use fresh pasta, but we use dry for our tableside carbonara because the process takes a few minutes and we need the pasta piping hot to cook the egg. What pasta anyone likes is pretty subjective. We like the taste of both Barilla and De Cecco; it stays firm and doesn’t get gummy.”



“They hold the heat best and we like the taste.”



“The one thing a lot of people don’t understand is that fresh pasta cooks in less than half the time, but it never really gets al dente in the traditional sense, because it’s never been hard in the first place. For that bite, you just have to use dry pasta.”




Name and title: Jeffrey Cooke Jr.; co-owner and chef

Restaurant: This Little Pig; Clarence

Preferred pasta: Rustichella d’Abruzzo

Number of years in use: 4



“The only menu item we use dried pasta in is our macaroni and cheese. This is actually a great dish to highlight the texture, shape and 'grip' of this pasta!”



“I prefer Rustichella d’Abruzzo because it’s made with a higher quality grain blend and is extruded through bronze dies. The combination of their dough and the bronze die causes a barely perceptible rough texture on the pasta that allows sauces and brodos to cling to it better. It’s not slippery like you might find more popular brands to be.”



“Most people don’t know that dried pasta is the heartbeat and soul of Napoli, Italy. People think that dried pasta is not traditional, but it is! There are historical accounts and artwork showing the rooftops of this seaside city covered in drying pasta to be shipped out from their port and to feed sailors on their voyages.


Most also don’t realize that shaped dry pasta is a relatively modern innovation. Because it requires so much energy, tough machinery, and exact mechanisms to make, it really only became commonplace with the advent and mainstreaming of electric power.”




Name and title: Joe Brace; cafe chef

Restaurant: Elm Street Bakery, East Aurora

Preferred pasta: Barilla

Years in use: 3.5



“I run a traditional mac and cheese on Fridays and Saturdays at lunch that utilizes this noodle perfectly. We’ve sold out almost every service.”



“We use Barilla because of its consistency. It’s an all around great product that holds up during the cooking process. It’s taste and texture, when cooked properly, stay true. With other pastas, the structure of the noodle tends to be compromised. I hate broken noodles.”



“I don’t know if a shopper should look for anything specific when it comes to dry pasta. Obviously maybe staying away from the five-for-a-buck sale. You want a bit of authenticity. I think a lot of it is trial and error. A little pasta goes a long way. It’s a good thing to remember when purchasing pasta at the grocery store. How many people am I feeding? Do I need the two-pound box of cavatappi pasta to make Grandma’s goulash for three people? Has anyone ever used the gluten-free noodle to make lo mein before? Again trial and error.”




Name and title: Phil Limina; executive chef

Restaurant: Tappo, Buffalo

Preferred pasta: Barilla and Gondola Macaroni Company



(On Gondola) “Wendy from Gondola makes me upwards of seven cases of dried egg fettuccine, which I use with our white clam sauce and our Fettuccine Alfredo. It really brings something special texturally to those dishes. I also feature their fresh tagliatelle pasta in the Truffle Pasta dish we offer year round (Italian black truffles in summer, French black truffles in winter). These thick cut tender boiled-to-order noodles really tie the dish together.



(On Barilla) “Our specials often feature fresh pasta, but we rely on Barilla dried pasta because of the sheer scale of our operation. We use a durable pasta product with no egg content because it appeals to most demographics of our customers (vegan, vegetarian), but also because, in my personal opinion I feel that it holds up a little better (breakage and freshness) than pasta made with egg.”



“I have always found Barilla to be a very reliable and extremely inexpensive brand, but it’s also something my guests are familiar with, and that’s important, since locals are extremely sensitive about Buffalo-style Italian food.”




Name and title: Ritchie Brothers; chefs

Restaurant: Osteria 166, Buffalo

Preferred pasta: Rustichella d'Abruzzo

Years in use: 4



“At Osteria we make a great deal of our pasta in house, including spaghetti, tagliatelle, etc. We love the way the fresh pasta brings out the flavor of the sauces. But for dry pastas, we look for unique cuts and high quality. Take for example our dish of sausage and campanelle, which features our housemade sausage, broccoli rabe, and Rustichella d'Abruzzo’s campanelle.”



“We discovered this brand at a food show and fell in love with the texture and the way it holds the sauces. It’s a special product our distributor imports for us. It’s dried at a lower temperature and production utilizes brass dies, so it’s got great texture and holds its shape.”



“Most people overcook their pasta. When a homecook makes pasta, it’s very important that the pasta be treated with respect. A key tip is to try to keep your pasta yellow. When it’s overcooked, it the color becomes almost white.”


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