Last month, I bought a box of 3D printed pasta, Spaghetto 3D, from BluRhapsody. I promised I would do an unboxing and cook a meal with it for VoxelMatters’ VM Focus on 3D printed foods this month. It took some time. I finally got down to it, with a modern, high-tech twist on one of my favorite dishes: Pasta alla Norma, one of the most traditional pasta dishes of the rich Sicilian culinary tradition.
I am no chef, so it took me some time. To honor both the 3D printed aspect and the traditional aspect that Italian cuisine demands, in my 3D Printed Pasta alla Norma mixed traditional ingredients with some modern cooking techniques.
Let’s see how it came out.
Now, a little background information. For those who are unfamiliar with it, BluRhapsody is a spin-off project born from Barilla’s R&D research. It began with a contest in 2015 and later evolved into creating a service offering the Barilla-developed pasta 3D printer to produce designs. Now the company has evolved again to offer chefs the ability to purchase 3D printed, customized pasta pieces. Based in Parma, Italy (of course), BluRhapsody by Barilla is the first startup from Blu1877 – a company set-up to interact with and support the efforts of those that are creating the future of food.
Unfortunately, neither Barilla nor BluRhapsody have been very open to supporting our effort to make their 3D printed pasta known to the global additive manufacturing community. This meant that we had to buy the pasta and it is not cheap. The packages run from €15,90 for the dried pasta 12-pieces pack, to more than €30 for 12-pieces of fresh pasta in more intricate shapes. The project is still in its relative infancy and like many other 3D printing-related efforts, it focuses on high-end chefs and cooking world professionals. In fact, last time we checked, the product is not even available outside of Europe. But we think it’s time that it expands beyond and our VM Focus on 3D printed food is the perfect occasion to start.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pasta alla Norma, it is simply pasta (usually spaghetti but short pasta is ok too) with tomato sauce, fried eggplants and grated hard ricotta cheese (and some fresh basil). Other than the fact that tomatoes and eggplant usually taste better in Sicily, the hard ricotta cheese is the most difficult ingredient to get if you live elsewhere. For this reason, we wanted to add some additional twists to the tomato and eggplants as you’ll see further down.
The 3D printed pasta
For this first experiment with 3D printed pasta, we chose something that would both be classic and not too expensive like some of the more creative designs: the Spaghetto 3D. For €15,90 you get 12 pieces of 3D printed spaghetti, each one weighing about 7 grams. So you get about 84 grams of pasta for 16 euros, at 190 euros per Kg. Considering that pasta in Italy is usually a couple of euros per kilogram (5 euros for the high-end ones), it is not exactly a bargain. What you pay for, other than the novelty and uniqueness of the 3D printed shapes, is the beautiful packaging.
The Spaghetto 3D pasta itself also looks very interesting and innovative. The fact that – as we will see – it does not come undone while boiling is not to be taken lightly. And the final result, which – if you follow the indicated cooking times to the second – makes it just hard enough on the inside and soft enough on the outside, and very pleasant to eat.
Creating such a large piece of pasta so that it can be cooked to be perfectly “al dente” is no easy feat in my opinion. BluRhapsody clarifies that all its pasta products are made from a selection of high-quality ingredients, such as semolina derived from the finest grains. The dough is worked with the artisanal method and in small quantities, to ensure and maintain a perfect consistency at all times. So you are paying for that quality as well.
BluRhapsody also offers several fresh pastas with themed shapes. For example, marine-related ones to be filled with various types of seafood and seafood sauces. These
So how did we cook this marvel of modern pasta technology? First, we grated some hard ricotta cheese and used it to make chips by baking them in the oven. Then we sliced up the eggplant and sprayed it with some olive oil before frying in the air-fryer to keep it lighter and more delicate tasting.
At this point, we started making the sauce. We did it in two different ways. On one side the traditional sauce, made with fresh, peeled tomatoes, a little bit of olive oil and a single clove of garlic (to be removed after flavoring up the oil) and some fresh basil. Then we used a direct spherification technique (adding sodium alginate to the tomato juice and dipping the drops in a podium chloride bath) to make some “tomato juice caviar”, mainly as decoration.
We cooked the Spaghetto 3D for exactly 7 minutes, dropping them in boiling salted water, as indicated on the box. I was afraid it would be overcooked, as the cooking time can vary, but it turned out just right. We drained them and set the up on the plate, with the eggplant and ricotta cheese chips. Finally, we grated the hard ricotta cheese on top and added some more basil. The end result, although I realize it was not up to high-end chef standards, was delicious. In part, that’s because the ingredients were really good but also because the pasta had a unique feel to it. Naturally, we accompanied the meal with a delicious Ripasso wine, which is not a Sicilian wine but it is my own personal favorite.
Between the cost and the time it took this is not something I am likely going to repeat anytime soon. But it was a great culinary experience and definitely worth it. If you love cooking, you simply can no longer ignore this possibility.