Even more important, rapid drying really short-circuits the flavor of the finished pasta. While most people assume pasta is merely grain and water mixed, shaped, and then dried, one of the keys to its flavor is that well-made pasta is actually a fermented product. Gentle drying allows for slower fermentation, which, just as it does with cheese, bread, vinegar, or just about every other traditional food, means fuller flavor.
With such good pasta, it's extra important to not overcook it. How al dente you do it is of course up to you, but over the years I've come to cook it even lessas in very al dente! In Italy, traditionally, the farther south you went the more al dente it was cooked. (Old northern recipes often weren't that different from crazy American recommendations to cook maccheroni for an hour or more.) Be sure to salt the cooking water well. Cooking the pasta without salt is akin to eating unsalted potatoes or unsalted bread.
The difference between artisan pasta like Rustichella (or Martelli, etc.) and the mass-market stuff though comes out big time when you cook it. The slightly chewy texture, wheaty aroma, and full flavor of well-made pasta make me realize every time what classic Italian cooks always say: the point of the pasta dish is always the pasta itself, not the sauce.
Interestingly, with artisan pasta like Rustichella the flavor actually improves after it's been cooked and cooled! "If you taste now," Gianluigi said last summer, pointing to two bowls of pasta that we'd tried hot a bit earlier, "after ten minutes the taste of our product is like bread. The
," he added, pointing to his far better known competition, "will taste like flour." Since coming home I've tried this taste test and been amazed by how accurate he was. While I'd never thought of cold leftover pasta as being anything other than passÃ©, Gianluigi is right ona day or two after being cooked and cooled Rustichella, brought back to room temperature, actually tastes terrific.
One of the classic pasta sauces of the Abruzzo is a tomato ragu with lamb, which is ideal for this time of year. You can find recipes online I'm sure. I looked to Joyce Goldstein's book
Italian Slow and Savory
, which, like all her work, is a good reference for traditional recipes. It's a pretty basic sauce that counts on long cooking.
Slowly sautÃ© some chopped pancetta (you could use lardo too). Keep the heat moderate so you don't brown it. Add a little chopped onion with a bit of fresh rosemary and cook that in the pork fat. Add some ground lamb and brown it gently, and add a glass of white wine and cook slowly still 'til it's absorbed. Add some chopped tomatoesthis time of year from a canand a bit of tomato paste and cook for a long time. You'll want to use the juice from the tomatoes or a bit of added water because you're then going to cover it and simmer at low temperature for about two hours. For most of us, this is going to be a day-off dish.
If you want a reasonable shortcut you could brown the lamb and simmer it in some bottled Rustichella tomato sauce. The sauces are quite goodthey're actually Gianluigi's mother's recipes. I'd add a bit of water and some white wine to allow for longer simmering.
[Curator's note: You might even like the sauces better than the pasta! I'm a loyal Rustichella sauce fan, and a diehard Martelli loyalist, despite my always-loyal-to-Ari appreciation of Rustichella pasta too.]