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Pasta is flour, water, and maybe egg. At a minimum, everyone agrees, pasta is flour and water.
"I never add water,” says Scott Morrison, owner of DeCio Pasta in Tempe.
Let’s take a step back.
There are two basic types of pasta: fresh and dry. Fresh is typically (but not always) made with egg and slurped up within a few days. Dry pasta usually has no (or minimal) egg and is dehydrated, making it possible for the dried pasta hang out for up to two years on the pantry shelf.
Morrison makes dry pasta.
Born in Plymouth, England, Morrison traveled, studied, and lived in various countries around Europe and Asia before heading to the States, where he spent time in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, before moving to Arizona 25 years ago. His story winds through a stint working restaurant grills at age 18 and a marriage to his secretary. He is quick to call you “dude” or “brother,” keeps a bed in his factory for days when he rolls in after sunset for a day of pasta-making that ends at 2 a.m., and he has an insane story about how he came to buy his pasta machines for $38,000 (they’re worth far more), which I can only apologize for summarizing so cruelly as to say, he got them from a friend.
Since 1999, he has been producing around 300,000 pounds of pasta per year, cranking out his noodles on Italian machines that extrude the dough through traditional bronze dyes. Morrison built his own drying rooms where freshly made noodles air-dry for 16 to 20 hours, depending on the season. He makes almost a dozen shapes and over two dozen flavors, if you count the custom orders he receives from Valley chefs.
What makes DeCio's pasta as unusual and uncharted as the life of the man making them, are the flavors. His artichoke pasta, incredibly, tastes like fresh artichokes. That's because Morrison has swapped water in the flour-to-water ratio of his pastas with flavorful purees loaded with herbs, spices, and vegetables.
“I buy the best of the best and try to leave everything in as raw a state as possible,” he says, noting that he cooks a few ingredients, like habaneros, when the resulting pasta benefits more from the cooked flavor. DeCio habanero spaghetti dough uses an unholy ratio of 10 pounds of roasted Arizona habanero pepper to every 50 pounds of durum semolina pasta. That’s a lot of habanero.
“That’s why we wear gas masks when we make it,” Morrison says. “It’s that intense.”
No, you won’t find habanero pasta in Italy. And that's kind of the point. Morrison, 41, does his own thing when it comes to his pastas, four of which are made in local, desert-inspired flavors. In addition to his habanero, he offers a mild chile-cilantro noodle; a tomato-Sonoran that incorporates cayenne, cumin, garlic, and tarragon; and a spicy, three-color rotini made using green chiles, red chiles, and jalapenos.
DeCio’s flavors range from Seussian to classic. The classics are the best-sellers, and they don’t stray much from Italian tradition in terms of general flavor schematics. They include tomato basil, spinach basil, garlic chive, and a lemon pepper that's so popular “they can’t keep it on the rack at AJ’s.” Each one kicks with spices from Mount Hope Wholesale in Cottonwood, but the herb D’Italia, which combines parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, and tarragon, is Morrison’s favorite of the more traditional pack.
The classics are great. But the mystique lies in DeCio’s originality. Thinking outside the usual spaghetti box is how you end up with pasta reeking of cinnamon and orange, or how chanterelles, morels, porcinis, and trumpets all find their way into a single batch of ‘shroom noodles. It’s how you take one of the world's favorite foods, one with ancient pedigree, to a cool new place.
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Custom orders double as R&D for many of Morrison’s wilder flavors, like the tomato-Sonoran, which started as a chef's order. He's created other unusual flavors for restaurants, like green chile and chipotle-agave, and a spot in Sedona even commissioned cherry-chipotle-lime pasta that they ended up serving as a dessert.
“I can get as crazy as I want, so long as my pastas sell,” Morrison says, reflecting on the strangest and daftest pastas he has crafted. “And I’ve never discontinued a flavor.”
You can find DeCio at various markets throughout metro Phoenix, including Whole Foods, AJ’s, and select Bashas’. Find more information on the DeCio website.