Published July 1, 2007. From Cook's Illustrated.
Are the specialty brands and Italian imports worth the extra price?
In the past, domestic brands of dried pasta have repeatedly won top honors with our testers, but now that more specialty brands and Italian imports have hit store shelves, we decided to give fancy pasta another taste. We tried eight brands of penne, with some costing as much as $5 per pound. Though none were deemed unacceptable, there were significant differences among the brands we tasted.
Many Italian brands claim to maintain traditional techniques and ingredients, such as slow kneading, mixing cold mountain spring water with hard durum semolina, extruding the dough through traditional bronze cast dies for a coarse texture, and prolonged air-drying. Supposedly, these practices make for stronger flavor and more rustic, sauce-gripping pasta. Yet three expensive imports landed at the bottom of our rankings. Tasters liked three other Italian offerings, but top honors stayed at home.
The bottom line: At least when it comes to penne, money may buy you fancy packaging, but it doesn't buy you better pasta. Pricey Italian imports aren't worth the cost or the trip to the specialty store.