Since 1926, the Martelli family has been making their pasta in the medieval village of Lari, in the beautiful Pisan countryside. The bright yellow Pastificio Artigianale Martelli sits in the shadow of the village’s medieval castle, and for more than ninety years the family has made just one thing, and made it brilliantly.
This pasta, in its distinctive cheerful yellow bag, has a cult following among some of New York’s favorite chefs. Those who love it most often give three reasons: first, the traditional methods used by this old family business. Cooks and chefs appreciate the slow, time-honored methods that the family has used since the business was founded by the Martelli grandparents nearly a hundred years ago.
The second reason this pasta is special is the taste. Unlike most dried pasta, Martelli keeps the delicate flavor of the finest Italian durum wheat. The pasta isn’t just a way to deliver a sauce, but has its own distinctive flavor. What preserves the wheat’s flavor is the slow drying process.
The third reason this pasta is so sought-after is its superior chewy texture. The special porous texture is what allows for absorption of and beautiful binding to sauces. Here, in addition to the special slow drying method, vintage machinery is what makes the texture possible.
To produce the pasta, the dough is first manually kneaded in cold water. Then it is pressed through circular bronze dies that create the porous texture. The pasta is left to dry in a special room for 50 hours at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is very different from mass-produced methods, which dry the pasta quickly at very high temperatures, creating a shiny and gelatinous outer coating and destroying much of the flavor.
For most of Martelli’s history, only four traditional pasta shapes have been available: Spaghetti, Penne Classiche, Spaghettini, and Maccheroni di Toscana. So when the Martelli family, who take pasta very seriously, decided to add an additional shape, a great deal of research and consideration was involved. Fusilli di Pisa—the fifth shape and only one to be added in the past ninety years—was inspired by a document kept in the archives of Pisa.
The ancient document, dated 12 February 1284, mentions an artisan named Peciolo who was hired by a baker named Salvius to oversee all the tasks of the oven, including the production of vermicelli. The Martelli family decided to honor the pasta-making history of this region with a fusilli or spiral-shaped pasta consisting of precisely seven spirals, standing for the seven levels of the Leaning Tower of Pisa nearby. This shape has been the resounding favorite at Copper Beech.
Images from www.famigliamartelli.it