Round the corner from food bigotry to snobbery and we end up amid a conversation on pasta. Bar none, the best pasta is fresh and made from semolina flour. And, when I say fresh, I’m not talking about the stuff in the dairy case. That stuff is fine, but I mean kitchen-covered-in-flour-linguini-hanging-from-clothes-racks fresh. The type of pasta that is so fresh that it cooks when you wave it over the top of a pot of water. I’m terribly lazy so for me that means a trip to Lombardi’s or the bakery run by Pastabilities. And, in both cases, you get what you pay for — a pound of the fresh stuff at Pasta’s Daily Bread is $3.75 per pound; today I paid $1 a box for Barilla at Tops.
But, since fresh is not always practical (financially or otherwise) dry pasta is where most of us turn. The average American eats 4 1/3 lbs. of pasta per year. As a child, I could do that in two weeks. As an adult, that’s about two months for us. Out of snobbery and habit, I buy Barilla pasta almost exclusively. There are some exceptions to the rule: I really like Trader Joe’s pasta; and I cannot get orzo or orecchiette from Barilla at Wegmans. Cooked to the directions on the box, Barilla far and away outperforms the other brands. And, like the fresh stuff, this is made with durum semolina flour.
The problem is that white flour has all sorts of related health problems. When flour is metabolized by the body, it is broken down into sugar, which is converted into fat. That’s not a problem when you consume pasta in moderation. Whole wheat or whole grain pasta is healthier, but still produces a “carbohydrate footprint.” For people with Celiac’s disease or other gluten intolerances, all of the above is out of order. That means looking at pasta made from different grains.
And that’s what this week is going to be about: alternate pastas.
Wegmans carries five pasta grain alternatives: quinoa, kamut, vegetable, rice, spelt and sprouted grain. Across the street at Green Planet Grocery, the selection is doubled. In addition to brown rice, sweet potato and farro, the brands and shapes expand. Green Planet also carries a full-line of Flour City Pasta made in Rochester.
I gave myself one rule: I would not spend more than $5 per package. I originally set the limit at $5 per pound, but most of the packages are 8 or 12 oz. so I would have priced myself out before I started.
Picking candidates for this week’s pasta challenge was easy at the outset. I was in for quinoa and kamut during my Wegmans trip. The emmer fettucini stood out while going through the piles of Flour City at Green Planet. The fourth pasta came down to brown rice, sprouted wheat, spelt and one made with Jerusalem artichoke flour. This whittled itself down quickly…I passed on the latter and the sprouted wheat broke the $5 rule. The brown rice pasta had the most options for shapes, so I took a flyer on that.
I’ll rank the pastas based on flavor, texture, versatility and how they work as an alternative to the durum semolina “real thing.” We’ll use the poorly drawn scale below: