Pastificio 28 Pastai Srl
Via San Giacomo, 30/32
80133 Naples, Italy
Via Nuova San Leone 3
80054 Gragnano . Naples . Italy
In Gragnano, pasta is a family deal. In Alfonso’s little store, on a side street of Via Roma, his whole family worked: there were his father and mother, his crippled brother and an old neighbor whom everyone called uncle (butwas nobody’s uncle), his widowed sister-in-law and her son, a spinster and every now and then even the parish priest came by to lend a hand. It was a big ammiscata family, like the pasta his grandmother made by putting together all the leftovers she had in the house to make soup in the winter. There was love in that big extended family and the pasta was so special.
Angela was a curious person and loved experimenting with different flours, new drying times and perfecting the dies. Just the opposite of Petruccio, who had a store across the street. Despite this, they were great friends and in the evening, after a hard day’s work, if there was a need to raise a glass for a toast: they never backed down.
One day Petruccio’s paccheri came out too short and he asked Angela to take a look at the die. There was a flaw, but it was not fixed. That format was something never seen: smooth Mezzi Paccheri were born.
Today almost no one remembers Tonino anymore: or Mast ‘e Farina, as he was called in the village, in a time so distant that even the Vernotico water no longer reminds. Before he became a pasta maker, he had a small mill that he inherited from his grandfather along with a mule. Tonino was a master of wheat: he didn’t ever went to Trivione Square to buy semolina, but he knew all the fields in the area and the farmers who cultivated wheat. He could read the weather and knew the crops. Every day, late in the night, he grinded, sorted and mixed, looking for the perfect mixture. Until he found it in his spaghetti: rough, flavorful, digestible. Just as he had always dreamed of them.
“Gragnano’s best pasta.” “The only bronze-drawn.” “Pasta Baldassarre, the Pasta of the Kings.” None of these statements were properly true. Sure, Baldassarre’s pasta was an excellent pasta, among the best in Gragnano, but not “the best.” It was bronze drawn, true, but it was not the only one. The King’s pasta then…well, the truth is that Baldassarre was a very good pasta maker, but an even better salesman: he listened to people and their requests, as when a lady told him that ziti was too big for “piccirille” and he invented mezzanelli, a “middle way” in fact, with which he won his fame.
Although he was a pasta maker in Gragnano and went every day to buy semolina in Piazza Trivione, Carmine was not from Gragnano. Someone told that he had to flee Naples because of a knife deal gone wrong, someone else talked about a love affair. But often the truth is in the middle and even more often: there is more to be told.
Carmine had indeed had to flee for love, but his love’s name was Tonino, son of a well-known Vomero doctor. Every night he would slowly caress those rough dies like a face and when he cooked he would put pasta and memories in the pot.
Some pasta makers focus on flour, some on water. Ciro focused on color: he divided his dough into gradations of white, obtained from detailed recipes that he jealously kept in a notebook. Once a German merchant named him Herr Weiss, which made him very proud.
For Ciro, pasta was a canvas on which to paint, and any advice he gave was always about color: “Does it go with potatoes? Then you need ivory,” or “Minestrone? Hawthorn, you can’t go wrong.” For seafood ones, he invented the Calamarata, beautiful yellow. Thanks to Herr Weiss, every dish became a work of art.
At first glance Egidio had it all: the production and sale of pasta was going well, he had a wife and a daughter who adored him. Egidio, however, went blind: blind as a bat! The real pasta maker was his daughter Gemma, who had inherited all the secrets of the trade from him. As a child they often ate together, and Egidio always shared the Pennoni: one forkful to him and one to Gemma. Inspired by that memory, with her eyes and his advice, they invented pennoni rigati.
Emidio’s grandfather Antonio kneaded macaroni by hand, and so did his son Raffaele, who decided to open the first pasta factory. Thus, from generation to generation: all the way to Emidio.
The old sign still stands out at the top of the building, bringing back memories of a child. A child who breathed the scent of pasta, who ran between the rows and blew soap bubbles, ate linguine, his favorite, while dreaming of creating “the best pasta in the world.”
“I will never make pasta when I grow up!” Gabriella thought when, as a child, she helped her father in the pasta store. It sometimes happens, however, that chance decides for us, and hers decided that she should meet Michele, who was a veterinarian. Gabriella never became a pasta maker, but her son Francesco did. Even as a child he helped his grandfather cut pasta, but he was always in a hurry, like his dies that cut pasta shorter than usual.
Imprecise but delicious, like his mezze maniche rigate.
Gaetano and Margherita moved to Gragnano from Salerno. They had fallen in love with the place during one of their trips. As they strolled down old San Leone Street, heading up the hill full of covered terraces for drying pasta, they decided that that would be their future. They had no children and so they put all their love into their little store.
After so many years, someone still tells it’s possible to find a soulmate while eating the soups made with their tubetti rigati. Margherita said: “because the spoon never takes a tubetto all by itself.”
Gennaro was an excellent pasta maker and a good man, just a bit of lonely. He almost always worked alone and delivered everything in person. For 364 days he spoke little and often communicated only with head nods or gestures. 364, because then one day each year he became a different person: on July 16, on his birthday. On that day, it was always sunny and the silent pasta maker changed: he hanged lights in the store, gave cookies to children and packs of a special pasta that he stringed up like jewels: corallini, inspired by the red gold artisans of Torre del Greco.
Eventually everyone loved him, 365 days a year.
Gerardo went to the store early. He wanted to be a pasta maker more than anything else, but he was a denial. He got the wheat, the flours and the water temperature wrong, he didn’t know how to dry, and he always mixed up the orders.
One night, in despair, he went down to the village church and lit a candle to San Sebastiano: “please let me learn how to make pasta.” The next day, when he arrived at the pastificio and was enlightened: he decided not to cut the dough and let it go down into the dies, very long, like the Candele he had lit.
Pasta stories often tell of family and love, but sometimes love is also about pride and belonging. Like Giacomo’s: son, brother, nephew and cousin of pasta makers. When his whole family moved to Castellammare to expand production he followed them, but his heart did not, it remained in Gragnano.
“Tu tiene ‘a capa fresca!” his mother used to tell him whenever he told her that he wanted to come back, and it didn’t take long until he actually did. In order not to make the same pasta as his relatives, whom he cared so much about, he pulled it around a stick, to leave a hole all in the middle. The bucatino: his signature.
L’arteteca ‘e via Roma, as the neighborhood pasta makers called him. Gigino as a child was a scugnizzo and enjoyed stealing fresh fettucce to use them as slings. His parents were desperate.
One day, however, he met Anna, the daughter of Tore il Pazzo, one of the most severe pasta makers on the street. To win her love, he got himself hired as a pasta maker. It was not easy at first, but time after time he proved to be very good at it, so good that often his father-in-law Tore, became old, let him perfect those Fettucce that arteteca used as slingshots.
One of the first pasta makers was Giacchino, but everyone called him Petruccio, because he was as hard as millstone. Every morning he woke up before dawn and picked up the three or four apprentices he had in his store. He pulled them out of bed one by one. Working with him was difficult, the labor was great, but Ciro, underneath, was good.
Of “paccheri“, slaps, he had never gave any, but he was the best at drying the lisci ones. He could tell the drying point of the pasta at a glance; if it was ready or if it took longer or of a “vutata d’aria,” as he called it.
And then there was Giovanni, maestro pastaio in one of the largest and most organized pasta factories in Gragnano.
He started many years earlier as a “maccaronaro” in a room in his brother Antonio’s mill, who processed the wheat while he made the pasta, which they left to dry in a terrace on the attic. Those were just ancient experiments, but that was how they learned all about wheat and flour, storage and how to organize a production to make it efficient. On one only thing they disagreed: for Giovanni, the tubetti were too small, and secretly, slowly, he made them as big as he liked them: tubettoni rigati were born.
Mimì Acquapazza was one of the first pasta makers in Gragnano to understand that water was as important as wheat or milling. In those days people used whatever they had, but Mimì had found a couple of springs, which he kept well hidden. He was not a scholar Mimi, on the contrary, but he had a feeling for water. His mother told everyone that this gift had been left to him, like Achilles, by San Sebastiano when he had saved him from the river Vernoticus, where he had fallen as a child. Once back home, to calm him down, she prepared him Ziti Tagliati with meat ragù. Not surprisingly, it was the past he did better.
Nicola was a bandit, the tough kind. He had formed a small gang with three other hardheads; they called themselves “The Four Castles” because they raided in an area between the castles of Pino and Gragnano. One night, during one of his raids, he was attacked under the Napoleonic arch and decided to change his life. He began working as a pasta maker with an uncle of his mother’s and discovered that he was good, but really good.
His specialty was drawing rigatoni pasta. Years of sharpening knives had taught him how to work metal and make what he wanted out of it. And he just wanted to make pasta, rifled by trade.
Pasquale came from a poor family. His mother, Anna, had raised him alone, along with two other brothers. The youngest had the same birthday as him, but he was born 10 years later, just before his father left.
Pasquale had two jobs, one on even nights, the pasta maker, and the odd nights: when he helped his mother in tailoring. He had broad shoulders and spoke little. There was a lot of work to carry on the family, and on summer Sundays he liked to eat all together. A one-pot meal of pasta, oil and fresh tomatoes. Perfect for his Mezzi Paccheri rigati.
Peppone was a good family man and made pasta along with his wife and children. He had been coming to Gragnano from Naples for a few years with some money with him when he opened the store where he immediately began production. Business was booming. There was a lot of work and cooking directly in the store; he made the pasta and his wife made the sauce. The smell spread all over the street and people began asking him to taste it. Fusilletti “Peppone-style.” He could have opened a restaurant, but he was born a pasta maker and this is what he liked to do.
Raffaele, the sad pasta maker, as everyone called him, had had a tough life: at dusk he locked himself in, choose different routes each time to go and load the flour, avoid dark streets, and always look around him circumspectly. The best welcome one could expect upon entering his store was a polite silence. His dough, however, was incredible, alive, angry. No one ever found out how he made it that way, just as no one had discovered his secrets or figured out what had happened to it when they found the store open, with fusilli that size they had never seen on the counter and flour spilled on the floor. Raffaele was never seen again, and those fusilloni became a true legend.
Rino was almost 2 meters tall. Thick, shaggy beard, broad shoulders, and logs for arms. Big, big, he liked to sing and was afraid of the dark. No one would ever tell. He worked a lot at night but in the moonlight to stay in the light. He was tireless and his strong hands allowed him to work twice as fast as the others, who were also sleeping in the meantime.
He sang to the moon as he drew spaghetti. He would have liked an instrument, a chitarra, to pair his voice.
Sabatino was a humble farmer. Fate had entrusted him with a small plot of land just outside Gragnano, owned by a Neapolitan nobleman who didn’t cared for it. So little, that one day he stopped completely caring, and Sabatino became owner of that little piece of land. At first, he put wheat on it, then began to buy more semolina to make pasta. He asked other local pasta makers for help and was lucky enough to learn from the best. Eventually in a few years, Sabatino became one of the most highly regarded pasta makers in Gragnano, thanks to his penne mezze lisce. He was lucky of course, but as with wheat, good fortune must be cultivated.
Salvatore was in love with music. As a child he had always dreamed of playing the pipe organ, like the one in the big churches in Naples he learned from the stories his grandmother used to tell him to let him sleep. But he couldn’t study music, because it took money, and he didn’t have much money. In fact he didn’t have any at all. So he spent his time dreaming and playing what he could find.
One day, while he was at a pasta maker’s store, he accidentally tried to play “nu pacchero rigato” like a pipe. Only a strange whistle came out, since it was wide, but enough was enough. In time Salvatore learned to listen to pasta. Because pasta is like music, and even when you cook it you can understand that music is everywhere, you just have to know how to listen to it.
Saverio was a precise guy, very precise. His store was always in order, like a pharmacy. One by one, he checked the sacks of semolina, inquired about where it came from and always asked a thousand questions. He personally chose the water, heated it to the right point, and the drawing could never begin without his permission, especially that of the pennacce, rigate, as he liked them.
Nothing was left to chance, except for one thing: the wind, a single unknown that even suited him. When he put the pasta out to dry outside the store, he would let the wind finish the job. He was a romantic type Saverio, very romantic.
Before he became a pasta maker, Sebastiano was a seducer. How many ladies he made fall in love as he shirtless loaded flour. “Taste, amore is like pasta, if you hold it too long it will burn.” They all blushed, except for Carolina, whom Sebastiano liked more than any other. She liked pasta with sauce and ricotta but macaroni did not hold it well. He realized that if he invented a perfect format for that dish, he would win her over.
He spent days and nights and perfecting the dies, it had to be long, wide and have a shape on the sides that would catch all the ricotta: he had invented Mafalde, he had won Carolina’s love.
Some people do pasta making out of a family matter, some out of necessity. Vincenzo, like Bocca di Rosa, did it for Love. No, not the love for pasta, although he did well. Vincenzo was in love with the celebration of Gigli di Nola, he wanted to be a “cullatore” but because of a back injury he had never succeeded. Besides, among the jobs that go in the procession wasn’t pasta makers.
Curved in on himself, after years and years of perfecting them, he invented a type of pasta that was perfect with sauce, which he liked so much, and after the procession, every year, he would bring a big pot of it to all the cullatori. It was penne rigate.