I first tasted fresh pasta at a restaurant called Mangia. They have a pasta dish that is very simple: fresh pasta, lots of garlic, olive oil, and cheese. It was simply to die for. Prior to that I really hadn’t tasted anything other than the commercially produced semolina pasta, dried and in a box or a plastic bag.
Like many other facets of our modern day life, pasta is believed to have started with the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was a broad noodle that the Greeks called “laganon.” The dough originally wasn’t boiled like we do it today, but rather it was roasted on hot stones or in ovens sort of like pizza dough.
Dried noodles first showed up in the 5th century AD. More than likely, pasta was introduced to Italy by Arab invaders when it was carried in as a dry staple. One thing is for certain, the climate of Italy is perfect for growing durum wheat, a hard wheat from which we get semolina. Soft wheat can be used for fresh pasta, but semolina is used for dried pasta. Dried pasta became popular during the 14th and 15th centuries, as it could easily be stored on ships, including those that were setting out for the New World. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of pasta, having brought one of the first machines to America to make pasta for his friends and family. However, it was actually first produced commercially by a Frenchman in Brooklyn, New York.
The basic ingredients of all pasta are flour and water. The composition of semolina makes it ideal for dried pasta. Less water is used to bind the dough, making for faster drying. In addition, the gluten in semolina is strong enough to take the beating of the machine extrusion process. In the end you have tougher pasta with less breakage and a low water content.
Fresh pasta can incorporate different types of flours, making for a greater variety of flavors. The hand-kneaded dough can also incorporate eggs, flavorings, salts, and oils.
The Stellina Pasta Café is located at 3342 Watson Rd. right next to The Hill area: St. Louis’ most famous Italian neighborhood. At the café, fresh lasagna, fettuccini and agnolotti are available in a rotating variety of pasta doughs that include whole-wheat-walnut, lemon-pistachio, golden and toasted flaxseed, sunflower-tomato-basil and herbed rosemary-lemon. Some of the fillings include panceta with leeks, blue cheese with artichokes, wild mushrooms, ricotta with spinach, goat cheeses and tomatoes.
Everything at Stellina is fresh, handcrafted, and organic. They plan on having their fresh pasta on the shelves of some select St. Louis area supermarkets in the near future. Pasta making classes are also in the works at the restaurant. One thing’s for certain, once you have a taste of handmade fresh pasta, you’ll never want to go back to dried again!