Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

13.5.04

Not sure whether this is dinner or an economics discussion.

There are several markets for commercially made pasta.

First is the commodity market - cheap pasta at a low price. This is fine, after all, you can't really go wrong with pasta. Good for families on a budget.

Then there's the gourmet pasta market. This comprises a wide range of brands at wildly divergent prices. I've seen dried pasta at anything up to $20 a kilo, favoured by foodie yuppies who think mama is out in the kitchen caressing the stuff in her loving hands. If you want that fantasy, learn to make it yourself.

Case in point: I can pay 89c for a 500 gram pack of perfectly acceptable Ambra pasta from my local shop. Or I can pay $8.10 for what is largely much the same thing.

There is a third market.

This third segment grew out of post-World War Two immigrants wanting 'genuine' home-style products, but who were not willing to pay a 'gourmet' price. They were catered for by small manufacturers - often originally set up by European immigrants making products for family and friends which then grew into successful businesses - that turned out products on a scale too small for mass distribution via the two large supermarket chains, but whose market base was big and stable enough - mainly families with lots of children to feed - to allow the manufacturer to keep prices relatively low.

La Triestina was such a company. It is still quietly manufacturing pasta in Melbourne after, maybe, forty or more years.

La Triestina remained small, carving out a niche market in the continental deli and small supermarket trade. It appears never to have changed its pack designs which have a quaint sixties look - they're not even online so I can't show you an image.

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We had La Triestina ravioli with ricotta - little pillows of delicious white yumminess.

Made a kind of made-up sauce comprising silverbeet, tomatoes, olive oil, a little stock, onions, garlic and pepper. (Much silverbeet on hand from the school garden.) Unusual, but it boiled down very nicely into a tasty deep greenish-reddish ragu.

A splash of that over the ricotta ravioli and a dash of parmesan on top. Simple and tasty.


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Companies like La Triestina are, of course, a dying breed. Consumers are turning increasingly to the large supermarkets - in Australia, the two major supermarket companies hold a whopping 77% of the market - or to fast food chains for the family dinner.

As well, the original market - the post-war migrant generation - is itself dying out.

Enjoy your smaller manufacturers while you can.