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Although researchers claim pasta to be a Chinese invention that was brought to Italy by Marco Polo after his famous trip to the Middle Kingdom in the 13th century, there is no doubt that Italian cooks changed it to what we know as the nourishing and versatile food that we know.
Pasta consists of flour, water, salt and sometimes egg (for egg noodles). Over the centuries Italians invented a myriad of shapes and sauces to enhance the basically bland taste of pasta.
Pasta in Italy is always served in small portions (90 grams uncooked) after the first appetizer. Only recently, North American restaurateurs have started serving pasta as a main course, after discovering that expensive proteins like seafood, meat sauce, and blending them with bulky pasta can stretch bacon. This basic food has now become so famous that there are several manufacturers outside of Italy, namely in France, Germany, the U S A, Argentina and Spain just to name a few, but connoisseurs agree that Italian dry pasta manufactures’ products are superior in taste. They use hard durum flour from Canada. De Ceccho, Barilla, Del Verde are highly recommended brands. In Canada Primo, Italpasta, and Catelli are famous and represent good value.
Pasta is a relatively simple product and can be produced at home by anyone with time on his/her hands and skill to accomplish the task. The difficulty of pasta production is its simplicity and purity. There are only a few ingredients and everything must be in perfectly proportions for satisfactory results.
Most people buy dry or frozen and stuffed pasta. Frozen stuffed pasta may end being a disappointing choice. Generally, stay away from these type of pasta. Italy being densely populated country must import food, mainly flour and other staples. It is ironic that Canada exports high quality during wheat to Italy and imports Italian pasta.
Pasta has evolved into an extraordinary number of varieties ands shapes. The names of some shapes vary according to area of origin.
Here are pasta categories and their specific shapes:
• Long pasta (pasta lungi): cappelli d’angelo (angle’s hair), spaghetti, spaghetti, linguine, bucatini, fusilli lungi. All suitable for tomato sauces, herb based sauces, carbonara and Bologna sauce. Ribbons (fettuce): tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, tonarelli, tagliolini, paglia e fieno. Suitable for Alfredo and liver based sauces.
• Tubes (tubi); penne, garganelli, elicoidali, cavatappi. Suitable for: all’arrabbiata, prosciutti and asparagus based sauces. Maccheroni rigati, maccheroni, rigatoni, gigantoni are suitable for sauces with sausages and ricotta, ragu, vegetables and pepperoni
• Special shapes (forme speciali) conchiglie, farfalle, gnocchi, fusilli, strozzaproti, gemelli, casareccia, lumache, orechiete, radiatori are suitable for cream sauces enriched with salmon, or chicken, or meat.
• Pasta for soups (pasta per minestre): quadrucci, orzi, risoni, alfabetini, farfarelline, maltagliatti, conchigliette, lumachine, anelli rigati, tubetti.
• Colored pasta: (Pastas are coloured using tomatoes and red beet for red; spinach and basil for green; brown mushrooms for brown; saffron for yellow; squid ink for black.
Always cook pasta in plenty of water (four quarts) for one lb of pasta. First, bring the water to a boil then add the salt. Cook pasta al dente (to the bite) following instructions on the package.
Basic pasta sauces are: pesto di basilico Genovese, butter, tomato and basil, all’arrabiata, puttanesca, primavera, ragu, Bolognese, all’ Alfredo, carbonara, vongole.
Flat pastas are meant for cream sauces, whereas tomato based sauces cling batter to round pastas.
Pasta is very versatile, basic food that can be flavoured according to your imagination and mood. A good cook can always whip up delectable pasta with a few well-chosen ingredients, including pasta for dessert flavoured with cream and vanilla or even a chocolate sauce.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu