There is so much to love and enjoy about the Mediterranean way of life. I have a passion for Italy, their people, their culture, their food and wines and thought you mike like a little blog on something which has now become an integral part of lives here in the UK. The one item that most of us will all have at least one pack lurking in our store cupboards. A universal food to be shared and enjoyed!! ‘PASTA’!
The History of Pasta
Nothing says Italy like its food, and nothing says Italian food like pasta. Pasta is an integral part of Italy’s food history. Unlike other ubiquitous Italian products like pizza and tomato sauce, which have a fairly recent history, pasta may have a much older pedigree, going back hundreds-if, not thousands-of years.
Many school children were taught that the Venetian merchant ‘Marco Polo’ brought back pasta from his journeys to China. Some may have also learnt that Polo’s was not a discovery, but rather a rediscovery of a product once popular in Italy among the Etruscans and the Romans. Marco Polo might have done amazing things on his journeys, but bringing pasta to Italy was not one of them: noodles were already there in Polo’s time.
There is evidence of an Etrusco-Roman noodle made from the same durum wheat used to produce modern pasta: it was called “lagane” (origin of the modern word for lasagna). However, this type of food, first mentioned in the 1st century AD, was not boiled, as is usually done today, but oven baked.
The drying of Pasta in Naples early 1900’s Spaghetti (at the time called macaroni) drying in the streets of Naples, circa 1895.
Eating spaghetti in the street
The love of pasta in Italy outstrips the large durum wheat production of the country; therefore Italy must now import most of the wheat it uses for pasta.
Wherever Italians immigrated they have brought their pasta along, so much so today it can be considered a staple of international cuisine. There are many different shapes of pasta, and their names are descriptive of their shapes.
When buying either fresh or dried pasta, look for a well-made brand that uses the best ingredients such as only durum wheat semolina flour.
Buying and Cooking Pasta
When buying either fresh or dried pasta, look for a well-made brand that uses the best ingredients such as only semolina flour made from Durum wheat for dried pasta. The pasta should have a rough surface and not too smooth, as smooth pasta will not hold onto sauce. It is essential when cooking to cook pasta until it is just al dente, firm to the teeth yet tender. When draining the pasta remember to save about a cup of the water in the pot, this starchy water will add a little body to whatever sauce you choose. Never, ever rinse off the pasta after cooking unless you’re making pasta salad. Washing off all that starch and salt will kill any flavour your pasta once had.
There are many different shapes of Italian pasta some of which I have highlighted below: Which ones are your favourite? Which ones do you have in your store cupboard?
Capellini: Angel Hair, “Fine Hair”
A cousin to spaghetti, angel hair pasta is thinner and finer, with a limited ability in holding up to thick, heavy sauces. Due to its reduced size, this delicate pasta is typically served with no more than olive oil and fresh herbs but can be served alongside a variety of sauces and toppings.
Conchiglie: shaped like (‘shells’), Ditalini: “Little Thimbles”
Ditalini is similarly shaped to macaroni. It is slender and hollow, often used in Italian soups and stews.
Farfalle is a bow tie-shaped pasta. The outer edges of this pasta are smooth and straight or crinkled with a scallop-type edge, and the centre is pinched or crimped together in order to form the bow-tie shape. Farfalle is a favourite among children and a creative choice for refreshing summer pasta salads.
Fettuccine: “Small Ribbons”
Similar to spaghetti pasta, fettuccine is wider and slender like a ribbon. Fettuccine holds its shape beautifully under heavy meat or cream-based sauces. Alfredo sauce, a luxurious blend of cream and Parmesan cheese, is the most famous sauce to adorn fettuccine pasta.
Fusilli: Spindles “Twisted Spaghetti”
This long cylindrical, corkscrew-shaped pasta is used in a variety of Italian cuisine. As the hollow fusilli cooks, the shape of the pasta expands to larger than when dry and uncooked.
Used almost exclusively in the Italian classic pasta, meat and cheese dish, lasagna is thin, flat pasta. Lasagna edges may be straight and flat or rippled.
Linguini: means ‘little tongues’
Macaroni is also commonly referred to as “elbow” shaped pasta. It is a hollow tube made in a variety of sizes.
Manicotti: “Small Muffs”
In the shape of a tube or cylinder, manicotti is most often prepared stuffed with ricotta cheese, then topped with red sauce before being baked to a cheesy, golden brown.
Orecchiette: “Small ears”
In the shape of a small ear. The most famous is from Bari, it is a coarse surface pasta that absorbs better the sauce.
Orzo is very similar in size and texture to rice. This grain- shaped pasta is traditionally used in soups and stews but is delicious in summer salads with vegetables and a light pesto sauce.
Penne or Mostaccioli, “Quills” or “Small Mustaches”:
Penne or Mostaccioli pasta is long and tube-shaped, traditionally paired with meaty, thick sauces. Most penne pasta is cut on the bias and contains ridges believed by many to aid in the adherence of sauces to the pasta.
This small square-shaped pasta dough can be stuffed with an endless array of fillings. Ravioli is one of the few types of pasta that must be prepared using fresh pasta dough because of the need to adhere to two pieces of ravioli together during assembly and cooking. It may be filled with fish such as crab or lobster or more classically ricotta with minced beef and parmesan.
Rotini: ’Pasta spirals’
Rigatoni: “Large Grooved”
Rigatoni is simply a larger version of the tubular-shaped penne, but wider and with straight ends.
Likely the most popular shape, spaghetti is long, thin and slender pasta classically used in what most people call spaghetti. Dried and fresh spaghetti is traditionally made from Durham wheat flour.
Tortellini; ‘little cakes’
This pasta is similar to ravioli in that it is stuffed pasta. Tortellini is stuffed with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, meat or cooked vegetables, then folded and rolled into a mini doughnut shape.
Vermicelli: Have an appearance of thin ‘little worms’
Shaped very similar to penne, ziti is long and tube-shaped, but slightly curved with a smooth surface.
Thank you for reading - Emm x