Monday, November 5, 2012

Pasta is Pasta...or is it?

Sometimes I shop for groceries in town and sometimes I shop on the base.  I like to buy most of my produce, bread, lunch meats and cheese in town and then some of the staples on the base.

Most Italians I know say that Barilla is the best pasta overall.  It's made locally and I used to enjoy it in the states too.  So when the local Supermercati had Barilla for 1 euro per box, I stocked up.

I also had some boxes of Barilla pasta that I had bought at the base commissary.  I realized I had two boxes of Mezze Penne, one from the states and one from Italy.  Out of curiosity, I compared the two boxes.

The boxes had much the same layout with just minor differences.  The nutritional info is organized differently here for example.  But much of the marketing info was similar.

American Barilla on the left, Italian Barilla on the right
Same layout, recipe and similar statements about product attributes
Ingredients: Flour and water
I looked at the ingredient list for the Italian box.  It had semola di grano duro and water.  That's it!  Flour and water!  Like you make at home!  (Although I do like to add an egg in my homemade pasta ;)

Ingredients: Flour and a whole bunch of other stuff
Out of curiosity I looked at the ingredient list for the American box.  It had semolina, durum flour, niacin, iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid.


Why does the same pasta from the same company sold in America have all these additives and the one in Italy has only flour and water?

Upon further inspection, I see that the Barilla pasta from the states is actually made in the states, not Italy.  And it has all these extra things in it.

Before I moved to Italy, I started wondering about the additives we have in food in general, but it became more alarming to me after I moved to Italy and I find that there aren't as many additives in the food here.  I have also noticed that the kids are much more open minded to food here and like a lot of things better.

Of note, I bought frozen peas in town.  Emily ate them like crazy.  Even asked for seconds. Back in the states, in her own words, when I offered her peas she would say, "No thanks, I'm not a big fan."  A few weeks later, I bought frozen peas again, but this time it was from the base.  I offered them to her and she took a big spoonful and said, "Are these Italian peas?"  I said, "No, they are from the base." She responded, "Yeah, I can tell.  They aren't as good."

I can't even do justice to the quality the summer produce.  I'll just say it's amazing...fruit like peaches, apricots, watermelon...vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes...they are so ripe, you can only buy ahead for a few days or else they will go bad!

Even jars of tomato sauce.  The only ingredient guessed it.  Tomatoes!  And the sauce has a flavor like no other store-bought jar of spaghetti sauce you ever tried.  Saute a little garlic in some olive oil, add a few vine ripe piccadilly tomatoes, pour in the tomato sauce with a pinch of sea salt and simmer.  (And a few salsiccia (sausages) are a nice addition too!)  Too good!

It's a different approach to food...fresh and unprocessed to the extent possible.  This is definitely one part of Italy that I will forever take with me, and I will likely have issues with when I return home.  Pasta is a staple here like none other.  Yes, people eat pasta at least once a day.  My friends operate a food distribution as part of their ministry work and I love that the bulk of the food that is distributed...the foods that an Italian family cannot live without, are pasta, parmesan cheese and olive oil.  In the states, those are gourmet luxuries.  Here they are basics.  Staples.  No Italian pantry would be without them!

I know what you're thinking...can I tell the difference between the Italian Barilla and the American Barilla?  I tell you, I can!  You can tell that there is a freshness even in dried pasta between them and I definitely prefer the Italian Barilla!

So, who's willing to ship me Italian dry pasta when I'm in back in the states???

...Which brings me to my gifts!  Today I'm making note of the following things for which I am thankful :)

4. Jars of tomato sauce on sale for 65 euro cents per jar

5. Google translate

6. Ability to buy Italian foods and American foods at whim!  I've met many ex-pats here in Italy that cannot shop on the base and they miss the comforts of home greatly!  I am blessed!


  1. We just had dinner, spaghetti and homemade meatballs. The meatballs were delicious, as they always are when my wife makes them. On the other hand, the pasta was, well, just Barilla pasta. It must be the American version. Now that I read your blog, I have to wonder just what I've been missing all these years, :-( and how hungry I am!!

    1. Find some good sea salt and add it generously to the water. Even your American pasta will be much better tasting! I'm sure not as good as the meatballs but they will compliment each other better!

  2. The real question is:
    Are you willing to send us Italian pasta, so that we can enjoy the benefits you are graced with to!
    LOL, but seriously, send me some pasta!

    And, BTW, semolina is means flour in english, besides the flour - all other ingredients are vitamins, the ones you don't recognize are vitamins of the B nature. Not that they are natural by any means. I couldn't find a real clear definition of thiamine mononitrate (I think you added a comma, I couldn't find mononitrate on the internet without the word thiamine in front of it). Regardless, this thiamine, mononitrate doesn't sound like it is something we want to ingest (if you are interested in 'clean eating'). Have you heard of the magazine Clean Eating? Great source for information on exactly what you are talking about - eat healthy by taking out the preservatives and additives. Unfortunately, even as our country seems to be waking up to new way of cooking to keep things natural - we are in a country that has destroyed it's farmlands with pesticides and over use.
    Seriously - send me some pasta (I'll check in the whole foods store to see if I can find some made here with just flour and water!)
    June - I think I had to choose anonymous below - your friend from Missouri!

    1. Junebug! Of course I'll send you pasta! Beggars your favorite shape? The pasta aisles of the store here are enormous. Anything you want is here!

  3. When my landlord first taught me how to cook, she saw my supply of pastas and declared De Cecco the best so that's all I buy now... but some on base ARE made in Italy. Others are made in Indiana-- huge taste difference! And I thought the only difference was the amount of salt you put in the water. I have to agree the produce will be hard to match in the states.

  4. Salt does do a lot for any pasta :) I love even Pasta Bianco, or plain pasta here. Right out of the colander!