Pasta 101

Warm your heart and your belly. All you need to know.

09 Nov 2009

Previously expensive ingredients like meat and seafood were mixed with pasta to cut down on costs, but now pasta paired with almost anything can be a gourmet meal all on its own.

Making pasta
Pasta is a mixture of flour, water, salt and sometimes egg. It is relatively simple to make with the main problem being that all of the very few ingredients must be perfectly in proportion for it to work. But pasta is not limited to savoury dishes. In fact it is quite common to combine a little vanilla or even chocolate flavouring into the mixture for a dessert pasta.

Different pastas
Often the words macaroni and noodles are substituted for each other and, truthfully, there is a big difference between them. Pasta is a wheat product that combines flour (usually semolina flour because of the protein content) with water or eggs. When combined with eggs you have noodles, but if you combine it with water you have macaroni pasta.

Cooking pasta
Pasta should also be cooked so that it is not completely soggy or soft but can actually provide a little resistance when bitten into. Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta which is the kind that you can buy in the shops. However, it cannot be kept for longer than a few days and does need to be refrigerated.

Often people believe that adding a little oil to the water in which the pasta is cooking will stop it sticking. This is, in fact, and old wives tale as the oil cannot mingle with the water and therefore cannot prevent sticking in anyway. To ensure your pasta does not stick to the pot, make sure that there is enough space in the pot and that you stir often.

Shapes and sizes Pasta comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, almost too many to mention. But let's just go through a few of them.

Tube-shaped pastas can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of penne, elicoidali and cavatappi and should be served with arrabbiata, prosciutti and asparagus sauces. The second group, which includes macaroni (or Maccheroni), rigatoni and gigantoni are often served with ragu, veggies, pepperoni and cheese.

Long pasta, also known as "pasta lungi" are used with tomato and herb based sauces as well as carbonara. Falling into this group is angel's hair, spaghetti, linguine and fusilli lungi.

Ribbon shaped pasta like tagliatelle, fettuccine and tonarelli work best with Alfredo sauces.

Then you get pasta that already has a filling, like tortelloni, pansoti, cannelloni, ravioli and lasagne.

And then finally, you get pasta in special shapes, like gnocchi, fusilli, strozzaproti, gemelli, casareccia and radiatori. These pasta work best in creamy sauces that have some kind of red or white meat added to them.

10 recipes to try with pasta:

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Vegetable pasta

Homemade pasta

Tuna pasta

Steak and beetroot pasta

Meatballs in tomato sauce pasta

Pasta with pancetta and pecorino

Pasta with baked camembert

Mediterranean mini paella pasta

Butternut and bacon pasta


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