The other day I got into an argument with a friend's girlfriend about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta. Earlier in the week I'd sat in stunned silence as an acquaintance lectured me about how global warming was a conspiracy, but the topic of pasta is not one that I take flippantly. Her claim was that fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta, which is no more than a cheap, easy alternative used only out of convenience.
Don't get me wrong, I love fresh pasta. I love making it, cooking with it, eating it, and although the opportunity has never arisen, were I to stumble across a bathtub full of it I would seriously consider putting on some Amy Winehouse and reclining. But it is by no means always better. Nor it is uniformly worse. Rather, fresh and dried are but two types of pasta, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and uses.
Fresh pasta is dainty, delicate, and hates to cause a scene. Around a domineering crowd it can be a bit of a pushover, but those who are willing to listen will find it really is excellent company. It pairs well with cream based sauces that won't overwhelmed the subtle egg flavour of the pasta, or as a discreet but solid delivery system for rich sauces with deep, warm, complex flavours like a meat ragu. Alfredo is the kind of sauce that fresh pasta does best: it's buttery and luxurious, so it's only fitting to serve alfredo sauce with a pasta that's equally easy and comforting to eat.
Dried pasta is a little more rough around the edges. It's tough, assertive and doesn't take any crap, but behind all of that it's loyal and has true character. You might be embarrassed to introduce it to your more 'proper' friends, but you know that if you were ever in a fight it'd have your back. Dried pasta will hold its own with sharply-flavoured sauces like a spicy, salty bucatini all'amatriciana, but its earthy flavour and al dente bite will shine just as much dressed simply with garlic and olive oil. No dish better illustrates the strengths of dried pasta than puttanesca — the pungency of the sauce would walk all over anything lesser.
Use this as a guide, not a rule book. That's another way of saying that if I break my own rules, don't harass me. I still can't decide whether I prefer carbonara with the more traditional dried pasta or with fresh — the two are completely different dishes and it depends on what mood strikes me. As always, all you can do is go by your own taste.
In return for reading my rant, I offer you this recipe. As far as the pasta-matching wankery is concerned, the sweet tomatoes & basil and touch of cream round out any strong saltiness from the tuna, making it an ideal sauce for the fresh pasta I've used here. Be sure to use the best quality olive oil-packed tuna, which really is night and day compared with the typical supermarket junk.
Pappardelle in a tuna & tomato cream sauce
- 1 portion of pappardelle1
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small clove of garlic, sliced thinly
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 large ripe, juicy tomato, diced (or about 1/3 cup canned tomatoes)
- 1.5 tbsp cream
- 65 g good-quality canned tuna
- Salt, to taste
- A few basil leaves, torn
1. Sauté the garlic in olive oil over a medium-low heat until it softens (don't let it brown). Add the tomato and cayenne pepper and turn the heat up to medium-high, cooking until the tomatoes break down. Mash them to a pulp with the back of a fork.
2. Stir in the tuna and cream, salt to taste, and remove from the heat.
3. Meanwhile, boil the pappardelle. When it is done, drain and add it the pan with the sauce. Add the torn basil leaves and toss over heat to combine. Serve.
(1) I made 1 egg's worth of pasta from this recipe, cutting it into thick strips to make pappardelle rather than passing it through the pasta machine's fettucini cutter.