All you Need to Know about
the Different Types of Pasta
When we think about Pasta, we cannot but think about Italy. Without any doubt, Pasta is one of the dishes that better represents Italian Culinary Tradition all over the world. And it is so important that it's almost impossible to speak about Pasta "in general": there are dozen of types of pasta, each one with its history, its special flavor and its best pairing! Do you want to know more? Read this article and get ready to be a Master Of Pasta!
From the Middle Age to Gragnano Pasta:
how Pasta became Popular all over the world
It's almost impossible to say when Pasta has been invented. What is certain is that dishes that can be considered our Pasta's ancestor can be found in the oldest History: there is evidence that the ancient Etruscans prepared a weat and egg paste. Pasta is referred to in the Talmud, in Roman tombs, in 11th Century Italian recipes books and in the Decameron.
Nevertheless, Pasta did become more popular during the 14th century, when it was renowned for its nutrition and long shelf life. By that time different shapes of pasta have appeared and new technologies made pasta easier to make.
At the onset of the XVII century we found in Naples the birth of the first and rudimentary machines for the production of pasta; it was here were the maximal level of perfection in its manufacturing process took place, with a higher precision in Gragnano that, to this day, is still synonymous with high-quality pasta. With these innovations pasta truly became a part of Italian life.
Between 1870 and 1920, millions of Italian immigrants immigrated to America in search of the American dream, bringing with them their beloved Pasta. Anyway, it was throughout the 50s and 60s, when American Soldiers returning from Italy after World War II brought with them their desire for Italian foods, that Italian Cuisine reach full popularity and Pasta started to be appreciated all over the States as well.
Is Fresh Pasta better than Dried?
Before starting our long journey through the different types of Pasta, it may be useful to explain the differences between some "main categories of Pasta". First of all, there are Fresh Pasta and Dry Pasta.
Fresh pasta is made from a simple dough of eggs and flour, usually all-purpose flour or “00” high-gluten flour. The dough is kneaded like bread dough and then pressed through rollers until it’s as thin as desired. Then it’s cut into long noodles or even stuffed.
Dry pasta is made from finely ground semolina flour and water (no egg, usually) that is mixed into a paste, pushed through molds, and cut into a multitude of pasta shapes. (Just like those old Playdoh Fun Factories!) Unlike fresh pasta, this pasta is dried at a low temperature for several days until all the moisture has evaporated, allowing it to be stored almost indefinitely.
In these days of "fresh is better", many believes that Fresh Pasta is superior to the Dry version. However, this is just a myth! The truth is, they are different.
Fresh Pasta is best served with light sauces made with tomatoes, cream, oil, or butter flavored with herbs. On the other hand, thanks to its firm texture, Dried Pasta can hold even the hearthiest sauce.
When to use Long Pasta vs. when to use Short Pasta
We can divide both Dry and Fresh Pasta in two other categories, that are Long Pasta and Short Pasta. And again, no one is better than the other!
Long Pasta is perfect for both light olive oil sauces and heartier meat sauces. The long ribbons of mafalda and fettuccine are perfect for wrapping around a rich Bolognese Sauce or soaking up a cream and mushroom sauce.
Short cuts are made to capture hearty ragù and chunky vegetable sauces in their sturdy hollows and ridges, giving satisfying bursts of flavor as you eat.
As a general guide, choose a pasta shape that has the right size hollow to catch the pieces in your sauce. For example, peas or crumbles of Italian sausage snuggle nicely into rigatoni or shell pasta, while smaller vegetables are captured easily by the corkscrew twists of fusilli. Smooth-sided pasta shapes like farfalle go brilliantly with creamy sauces, as the thick reduced cream clings to coat each noodle.
What about Stuffed Pasta?
Stuffed Pasta can be considered the third "main category" of Italian Pasta. As pasta dishes vary from region to region, town to town, so does ultra-local Pasta Ripiena, or stuffed pasta —down to the ingredients for their fillings and the sauces they’re served with.
Filled with meat, cheese, seafood, or vegetables, stuffed pasta are best coated with simple tomato or light, cream-based sauces. Stuffed pasta dough is sometimes flavored and tinted with spinach, tomato, saffron, or mushrooms.
- Cappelletti literally means “little hats,” which is what their rounded shape resembles, is a fresh stuffed pasta typical of the Emilia-Romagna, filled with a meat mixture.
- Fagottini are shaped not unlike a wonton, and best wrapped around a vegetarian filling. They sometimes contains mushrooms, as well
- Ravioli are probably Italy's most classic stuffed pasta. They are square-shaped and filled with meat or ricotta cheese and spinach or fish , according to the different regional variation. If they have a semicircular shape, they are called Mezzelune , literally "half-moons"
- Tortellini are ring-shaped stuffed pasta, typically filled with a mix of meat and served in broth.
Pasta Sauces - Region By Region
Italy may be a small country, but its culinary tradition vary from region to region, from town to town and, sometimes, from village to village as well! Pasta types vary significantly depending where you go in Italy: as it happens everywhere in the world, culinary traditions reflect the people, economy, history, climate of each place.
For instance, in the North of Italy, where the climate is harsher, pasta is seasoned with butter-based sauces rich with cream , hearty rags with beef , veal and sausage . The same characteristics can be found in the Apennine Mountains that runs from North to South along the length of peninsular Italy.
In the internal regions, even in some parts of Southern Italy, the sauces offer a stunning variety of cheese, mushroom, truffle, chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts. In these regions, it's pretty hard to find Traditional Dishes with Fish, unless we are talking about salted fish, such as Anchovies or Codfish. Because of the presence of Eggs, Fresh and Stuffed Pasta are mostly frequent in the North of Italy.
An example? The typical Pasta dishes in Lombardia are the Casoncelli, half moon-shaped pasta stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan, garlic, parsley, nutmeg and broth and seasoned with butter and sage.
On the other hand, Southern Italian Kitchen and the cuisine of Seaside towns offer a Mediterranean Cuisine based mainly on vegetables, olive oil, fish, pasta, and little meat. Olive Oil for instance is used instead of Butter. Pasta is actually much more common in South: Dried Pasta, such as Spaghetti, paired with tomatoes and olive oil, but also with finest vegetables which grows in this warmer regions. Eggplants, tomatoes, red onions from Tropea, peppers and peperocino are just some example.
Made with Tomato Sauce and fried Eggplant, Pasta alla Norma contains within itself all the characteristics of Southern Italian Pasta.
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