Last week, I told you about my arrival in Italy, arguably the most-African country of Europe. I also explained many of the similarities that exist between Italy’s la dolce vita or laid-back lifestyle and my homeland of Senegal. Where’s the next stop on my journey through Italy? Gragnano (pictured)!
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Gragnano… And The Flavor Was Born Here
Our hotel was walking distance from Gragnano, the “birthplace” of pasta.
Tucked between the mountains and the Amalfi Coast, Gragnano is reputed to have the best dried pasta in the world.
Although the real birthplace of pasta is closer to China than Gragnano, the fact that Italians were able to appropriate it and prepare such wonderful dishes definitely gives them bragging rights.
“Pasta may not have been invented in Gragnano, but it’s here that it found the ideal conditions for becoming a sublime dish of worldwide renown,” Giacomo Casanova famously said.
It was exciting to be in the heart of this mythic place.
In Gragnano, I visited Pastificio Di Martino, a legendary pasta factory established since 1912. Their slogan, “Il Sapore E Nato Qui,” translates to “And the Flavor was Born Here.”
Maria (pictured below), a camera shy, lovely, and passionate woman from the town, greeted me at the factory’s entrance.
My visit was unexpected to Maria, added to the fact that it was early afternoon, a moment when the whole town seemed to be taking a siesta.
Nevertheless, she welcomed me gracefully and took the time to explain what makes Gragnano so unique and their pasta so special.
The streets here, she explained, were designed to specifically optimize the combined effect of the wind from the mountain with the sun and sea breeze on the pasta, back in the days when it was hung to dry outdoors like laundry.
Nowadays, this method is no longer applied, but it still takes two days to dry the pasta, with heaters at approximately 120 degrees fahrenheit. Prior to drying, the pasta is shaped with bronze molds that gives it a particularly rough texture to better hold the sauce.
Furthermore, Pastificio Di Martino only uses the local durum wheat, NEVER the imported one, Maria insisted.
The result is pasta with a chewy and nutty flavor.
The local durum wheat — and for that matter, all the produce of the region — are praised as having a particularly great flavor because of the area’s fertile volcanic soil. Indeed, we are minutes from Pompeii, the town that was buried in hot ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvio in 79 AD.
Staying true to Italy’s Teranga, Maria offered me a lovely Pastificio apron, with a poster and some sample products.
Here, pasta is still a labor of love.