No one makes more pasta than Barilla. The world leader in noodles produces more than 160 shapes and sizes, which it sells in more than 100 countries.
Originally launched as a small bread and pasta shop in Parma more than 140 years ago, the now multinational company still likes to play up its Italian roots. For years, its branded blue boxes sported the slogan “The No. 1 pasta brand in Italy,” until a class action lawsuit in 2022 accused the company of misleading American consumers. Most Barilla products sold in the United States come from U.S.-based factories in Iowa and New York, not Italy, according to the lawsuit.
Barilla has since sought to restore its true reputation as a pasta maker. More recently, the company launched a new line of premium pasta called Al Bronzo, which takes its name from the traditional Old World method of bronze-cutting pasta. That is, pushing the dough through bronze molds, or “dies,” which are said to produce a rougher-textured noodle that sauces can better cling to.
Barilla has developed “innovative micro-etched bronze dies” for this purpose, according to a press release, and uses only the “highest quality non-GMO semolina” to produce its Al Bronzo pasta, which comes in six cuts: bucatini, spaghetti , linguine, penne rigate, fusilli and mezzi rigatoni.
The new products are coming to grocery stores this month, including Harris Teeter, ShopRite, Tops and Fairway, starting at $2.99 per pack.
A company representative recently sent a few boxes of samples to Eat this, not that! I took them to one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, Tutt’Appost, where chef and partner Manuel Gregorio graciously agreed to help test the new product. Gregorio grew up in Rome and studied pizza making in Naples. The pasta in his restaurant is homemade. As a connoisseur of Italian cuisine, he’s understandably skeptical about cooking canned noodles.
For comparison, I also brought a packet of Gentile brand pasta, made in Italy using a similar bronze casting method and touting similar high quality semolina, which I picked up from a local specialty grocer for $7.25.
The chef concocted a classic bucatini all’Amatriciana using both brands. Here’s how they stack up.
Barilla’s typical spaghetti noodles look a lot like other supermarket brands: shiny, incredibly soft to the touch and uniformly straight. This is the result of the Teflon molds used in modern commercial pasta production.
The Al Bronzo bucatini, on the other hand, has a duller look and looks a bit like sandpaper. That way Barilla’s new pasta lives up to its bill, right out of the box.
However, when you compare it to the bronze-cut Gentile bucatini, you notice other differences. Gentile bucatini has an even rougher texture and irregular shape. Chef Gregorio suggests it’s probably handmade, while the straighter Al Bronzo noodle looks machine-made.
As Al Bronzo’s bucatini boils, Gregorio notices a surprising amount of what he calls amido in water. It’s Italian for starch. “When the pasta is good, there’s plenty left over,” he says. “Regular Barilla is not like that.” He also notices that some pasta breaks during cooking, which is not very good. “It’s really, really tricky.”
With the Gentile brand, the amido is even more noticeable. The same goes for the size of the noodle. “It’s thicker and contains even more starch,” says Gregorio. “When you have plenty of starch, you know it’s high quality.”
Once its sauce and ready to serve, the Al Bronzo does an excellent job of searing the sauce, as the bronze cut pasta is intended to do. Gregorio points to areas under and around the noodles where sauce would normally tend to build up when using a lower quality brand of pasta. “There’s no sauce on the sides,” he notes. “I put a lot of sauce too.” In this regard, it performs just as well as the more expensive Gentile brand.
One caveat: Barilla’s so-called bucatini seem to be significantly missing: the distinctive hole in the middle of the noodle. The hole in its Al Bronzo variety is extremely small and barely noticeable without looking very closely, whereas the larger Gentile noodle contains a much more visible gap.
Gregorio explains that the correct way to eat bucatini all’Amatriciana is to suck the sauce out of the hole as you eat. This is somehow impossible with the Barilla variety.
“It’s more like spaghetti,” Gregorio says of the Barilla version, while describing the Gentile brand as “real bucatini.”
Side by side, the two pastes carved in bronze are “like a Mercedes and a Ferrari”, he says. You can probably guess which Italian chef prefers to drive.
Overall, though, the sauce-gripping abilities of Barilla’s new pasta could make it a smart buy for home cooks looking to up their pasta game, without having to buy a more expensive Italian import like Gentile. .
“For the house,” Gregorio says, “it’s amazing.”
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