Yet this time Italian Americans may be more authentic than Italian Italians.

While penne lisce seems to have essentially no fans in Lombardy, it still enjoys popularity in and around Naples. That’s where many Italians who emigrated to the US are from, bringing with them to the new world their pasta—which at the time, was smooth.

The first production and export of dry pasta actually occurred in Sicily in the mid 1200s, De Bernardi says. The famed Moroccan geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi describes the commerce of pasta from Palermo to the Mediterranean. But the Sicilian tradition didn’t last and artisanal, commercial production of pasta in Italy didn’t become common until the late 1600s, when production emerged—independently but at the same time—in Naples and Genoa. By the end of 1800s, however, the Neapolitan industry dominated, with its workshops producing the vast majority of pasta sold in Italy and beyond.

Pasta didn’t become as ubiquitous as it is today until after World War II and the invention of mass production. Production then moved from Naples to places like Parma, where Barilla was founded.

Eventually, high-yield pasta makers began competing on price. They introduced cheaper pasta of a quality lower than the pasta made by workshops in Naples. “These companies had to find some devices to make the [lower quality] product highly sellable, and palatable—and the stripe is one of them,” De Bernardi said.

Back to smooth

But the riga—or, as they say in Naples, where stripe is a masculine noun, il rigo—is but an illusion. “I absolutely disagree that striped pasta gathers the sauce better,” Esposito said.

In fact, what happens is something quite different, he says. The ridges on the outer surface of the penne rigate begin cooking and releasing starch after five or six minutes in boiling water (and salt). The whole piece of pasta needs about nine minutes to cook—sometimes even 10—which means by the time the pasta is strained there is an overcooked outer layer.

When it gets mixed with the sauce, some of that starch transfers to the sauce, making it stick to the pasta. “Often people have the sensation that it picks up more sauce, but it’s a botch, a binding agent that, in my opinion, pollutes the dish,” Esposito said.

This illusion is precisely what made the striped pasta so popular: For the average cook, with limited access to high quality pasta, it was a good compromise. Then came habits and, eventually, preferences.

While Esposito has no doubt that the queen of pasta is the original stripe-less version, he tries to be understanding. “It’s also a matter of taste,” he said. “We shouldn’t condemn it.”

Within reason, though. “If you pick a pasta of good quality, I am open to overlook the rigo,” he said. “But the problem is the sum of two factors: A low quality pasta, and striped to boot. That’s frankly too much.”

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