Busiate is a traditional pasta from Sicily which is popular with pesto or seafood. If you travel to Western Sicily, you will find it on the menu in nearly all the restaurants!
What is Busiate?
Busiate is a kind of maccheroni al ferretto from Sicily, which is formed by twisting strands of pasta dough to create a spiral shape that is hollow in the center. It looks a bit like a telephone cord! Nowadays, They make homemade busiate using a special thin rod, known as a 'ferro', around which each piece of dough is wound.
There other traditional types of maccheroni al ferretto still made by hand in different parts of Italy. These include maccarones de busa from Sardinia and maccheroni con il ferro from Puglia also known as maccarruni. Plus, Calabrian maccarruni also called Fileja, or fusilli col buco (fusilli with a hole), maccheroni al ferretto from Basilicata (referred to as fusilli as well) and Piemontese macaron del frét.
There are two theories about the origin of the name 'busiate'. Some say it comes from the word ‘busa’, a very thin rod of disa grass that grows on arid and sandy soils. This grass rod was originally believed to be the ‘stick’ that was used to make this pasta.
Others think the name comes from the term 'buso', a thin iron knitting needle which was used to work wool and cotton in Trapani. Other Italians often refer to busiate as 'busiate trapanesi' as Trapani is where this pasta orginated.
Pasta made with Sicilian heritage grains.
The traditional recipe for busiate calls for durum wheat semolina flour and water, which is common in Southern Italian pasta making. Special variants include the use of flour from Sicilian heritage grains such as Russello, Senatore Cappelli, Perciasacchi and Tumminia.
Heritage grains have become more and more popular because of their lower gluten content and higher levels of fiber and protein. These features make them a healthier alternative to other types of wheat.
I particularly like busiate made with tumminia. This is an ancient Sicilian grain that was grown in Sicily from the time of the ancient Greeks until the 1950s.
Then production was largely abandoned in favor of other grains because tumminia has to be grown organically and has a lower yield. However, it is regaining popularity because of its health benefits for people with dietary problems.
Not only is Tumminia low in gluten and high in fiber and proteins, like other ancient grains, but it also gives the pasta a slightly sweet flavor, thanks to the sweetness of the grain itself.
How is busiate made?
To make Busiate, you begin by mixing the durum wheat flour with warm water and salt to form the pasta dough. You then knead the dough, roll it into a ball and let it rest. The process is the same as making orecchiette or other southern Italian pasta. The difference is just how your shape the pasta dough pieces.
To shape busiate, cut the dough into about 8 pieces. Roll each piece out to achieve a flat, even thickness. Slice the flattened dough into strips. Then, roll each strip into a narrow rope and cut the rope in half.
Finally, wrap each rope around a slender rod, like a knitting needle or bamboo stick, with care and precision. Carefully ensure each rope is evenly wound to achieve the desired texture and appearance.
Commercially made busiate have a very tight coil which is difficult to replicate when making busiate at home.
Watch Busiate being made in Sicily.
Cooking Busiate, whether homemade or store-bought, begins with a large pot of salted water brought to a rolling boil. Carefully add the Busiate, ensuring the spirals don’t clump together.
For fresh Busiate, the cooking time is quicker than dried, often ranging from 4-6 minutes. To attain that sought-after ‘al dente’ texture, begin testing the pasta after 4 minutes. Continue to check every 30 seconds, ensuring it remains firm to the bite but thoroughly cooked.
For dried Busiate, the process is similar but takes a bit longer, usually between 9-11 minutes. Once you add the pasta to the boiling water, stir gently to separate the spirals. This helps them cook evenly and stops them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
In Sicily, and especially Trapani, they usually serve this pasta with pesto alla Trapanese, a unique Sicilian pesto made with almonds and tomatoes.
Its spiral form also makes Busiate suitable for various other pesto sauces like this radicchio pesto recipe. It also works well with tomato sauces and really most sauces you would typically pair fusilli with.
For dried Busiate, store it in a cool, dry cupboard, away from moisture and direct sunlight. Properly stored, it can last for years without losing its quality.
Fresh Busiate, requires refrigeration and you should use it within a 3 to 5 days, however it's best to check the package of the Busiate you buy.
To extend its shelf life, you can also freeze fresh Busiate; when frozen properly, it can stay in good quality for up to three months. Frozen pasta is best cooked whilst still frozen.
Busiate with its unique spiral shape and rich Sicilian heritage offers a distinctive culinary experience. Whether you enjoy it fresh with traditional pesto alla Trapanese or experiment with various sauces, its versatility shines.
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