Do better ingredients make a difference?

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I make Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans on a very regular basis. (Click here for the recipe). It’s a great pasta dish because the sun-dried tomatoes make it taste bright and summery and the beans make it hardy (hearty? how do you spell that?) and substantial. Everyone loves it and plus you get to dump a ton of cheese on top, which makes everyone love it even more.

Recently, I was at Dean & Deluca in SoHo browsing around when I decided I was going to make my Cavatappi for dinner. I’d just grab the standard ingredients–the garlic, the cavatappi, the sun-dried tomatoes and the beans–shoot home on the subway and make it. But this being Dean & Deluca, it wasn’t quite that simple: the sun-dried tomatoes were behind the glass case, they were imported, and a man had to scoop them into a container for me. The beans, too, were imported as you can see in the above photo. And the pasta itself wasn’t DeCecco, it was real dried Italian cavatappi that I’d actually purchased at the Italian store in the Chelsea market a few days earlier.

So this version of Cavatappi undoubtedly had superior ingredients. Did that yield a superior result?

The answer is pretty much: yes. It’s almost taken for granted in the chef community that better ingredients make better food, but I hadn’t really put that to the test at home. Yet these sun-dried tomatoes were electric, they were so tangy and sweet. The beans had more depth and tasted more convincingly Italian (ok, that’s a stretch–but they were certainly more noticeable than my normal canned beans). And the pasta was very good though, I guess, not mind-blowingly different.

So, basically, the good sun-dried tomatoes made my Cavatappi a better Cavatappi. Are they essential? Absolutely not. It’s just good to confirm that better ingredients can make for better food.

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