Until recently I nearly always bought the shop branded (Waitrose admittedly) value pack of spaghetti, and didn’t think too much about it – other than to ensure I didn’t overcook it. But thanks to a morning spent at the pasta-making premises – pastificio – of L’Oro di Gragnano, I have seen the error of my ways. From now on I’m going to be a pasta nerd, searching for the magic phrases ‘extruded through bronze dies’ – trafilata al bronzo -and ‘dried at low temperatures’ – essiccazione lenta a basse temperature – on the packaging.
I now know to look out for Gragnano mentioned on the label, as this is another good way to spot decent pasta. The town, to the south of Naples, has been an important dried (non egg) pasta-making centre for centuries.
The lovely Filomena Sorrentino decided to set up L’Oro di Gragnano a couple of years ago, aided and abetted by her husband Alfonso Del Sorbo who is the Pastaio; Mauro di Benedetto in charge of marketing; and Rafaello Romano who heads up Research and Development. Patrizia and Alfonso manage the production line. And that’s everyone in the company.
The company takes its pasta seriously: they are involved in a project with the agricultural research centre of Campania to develop the best possible durum wheat for pasta making. As it is, they source their wheat from Campania and Puglia. They want strong flour with around 14% gluten content, which is then slowly mixed with water to allow the elasticity to develop. The water in Gragnano is pure and low in minerals, its source the Monti Lattari mountain chain of the Sorrento peninsula.
This pasta dough is then extruded through bronze dies. In industrial factories, the components are made with Teflon (or other non stick substances), which results in smooth pasta. Aficionados don’t want this: pasta has to be rough textured, to ensure sauce clings to it. And bronze is a porous, grainy metal, ideal for doing just this. Each pasta shape has its own die.
Once formed, pasta is gently bounced though a hot air drier, then put onto large wire trays to be dried in an oven at very low humidity (11%) and temperature (45 to 48C, compared to industrial norms of 70C) for at least a day – how long depends on the pasta shape. Industrially made pasta is dried in a few hours. The slow approach ensures better flavour and means the pasta retains its nutrients.
The end result? A chewy but not tough, great tasting pasta.
Via Nuova San Leone, 53
80053 – Gragnano (NA)
Tel: 081-879 53 50