When we are given the option of dry or fresh pasta, it seems like a no-brainer. Fresh is always better, right? Well, yes and no. Dry is actually a better option for some sauces and dishes. "I grew up in Italy where pasta reign[s] on everyone's tables, and it's served at least once a day. Dry pasta takes the main stage most of time. [I]t's the base of quick and delicious dishes. Fresh pasta is usually reserved [for] weekend or special occasions," says Silvia Baldini, a chef, Food Network Chopped champion, and author.
The Making . . .
Fresh pasta is made from a simple dough of eggs and flour, usually all-purpose flour or "00." "The dough is kneaded like bread dough and then pressed through rollers until it's as thin as desired," says Baldini. Then it's cut into long noodles or formed and stuffed into tortellini and ravioli.
Dry pasta is made from finely ground semolina flour and water (no egg, usually) that is mixed into a paste, pushed through molds, and cut into the multitude of pasta shapes. "Dry pasta is actually my favorite. I keep all sorts of shapes in my pantry for a gorgeous meal in less than 10 minutes," Chef Baldini says.
Fresh pasta doesn't necessarily mean it is freshly made today. It means it's made from scratch, then refrigerated. "A great example would be the refrigerated pasta section at the grocery store. The main difference between fresh and dried pasta is the egg. There are eggs in fresh pasta and no eggs in dried pasta, hence the refrigeration in fresh pasta," says Vince Giuliano, head chef of California-based Bettolino Kitchen. "If I were to ask a guest if they would prefer fresh or dried pasta, most would answer fresh. It just sounds so much better!" says Giuliano.
What It Boils Down To
When cooking these types of pasta, both have the same steps. Boil water and salt generously. "My grandma always said the pasta water should taste like the Pacific Ocean!" says Giuliano. When the water is boiling, add the pasta. Fresh pasta takes about 2-3 minutes. Dried pasta usually takes 8-10 minutes. Dried pasta is going to give you that al dente feel, while fresh pasta is going to be much softer in texture.
Dry pasta has its place, and so does fresh pasta. Fresh pasta is best served with delicate sauces where the texture of the pasta can take front stage. "I make lasagna with fresh pasta that has spinach or sting nettle mixed in the dough. It produces a beautiful thin and flat surface with a delicate flavor," says Baldini.
"Dry pasta is best suited for hearty dishes like ragu and meat sauces or creamy based sauces like cacio e pepe and carbonara and quick sauces made by sautéing diced vegetables with pancetta and parmesan," says Baldini.
Laurence Edelman, the executive chef of NYC West Village favorite Left Bank explains, "I find that dried pasta gives me a crisper, cleaner experience. I use it when I want to serve clams or I give it a simple lemon treatment. Right now we're doing a spaghettini, super thin spaghetti, with gulf shrimp and cherry tomatoes, super light and briny."
The bolognese sauce is an outlier, going well with both fresh and dried. Either one you choose, fresh or dried, it absolutely has to be cooked correctly, and the pasta to sauce ratio has to be spot on. "To get it right you need experience and good taste, but to enjoy eating a perfectly or near perfectly dialed in bowl of pasta, there is no prerequisite!" says Edelman.