Pasta is made from durum wheat, which has a 15% protein content. This makes it a good alternative to rice and potatoes for vegetarians. Pasta also contains carbohydrates in the form of starch, which gives the body energy. Eating more pasta is in line with the recommendation to ‘eat more starchy carbohydrates’.
About Dried Pasta
There are an almost infinite number of types of pasta asciutta, especially if you include all the regional variation. Almost 90% of pasta eaten in Italy is dried pasta, the remainder being home made. A rule of thumb for cooking fried pasta and portion weights is 90-100 gm per portion as a starter course and, if larger portions are required, increase accordingly. Traditionally, pasta was eaten as a starter, but now it is used much more as a main course or stand- alone dish.
- For Dried Pasta
Bring plenty of water (at least 3.8 liters for every 585gm of dry pasta) to a rapid boil. Add about 1 tbsp of salt per 4 liters of water, if desired. Add the pasta in small quantities to maintain the rapid boil. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Do not cover the pan. Follow package direction for cooking time. Do not over cook. Pasta should be ‘ al dente’ (meaning literally ‘ to the tooth’- tender, yet firm). It should be slightly resistant to the bite, but cooked through. Drain the pasta to stop the cooking action . Do not rinse unless the recipe specially says to do so. For salads, drain and rinse pasta with cold water.
- For Fresh Egg Pasta
This requires less cooking time than dried pasta. When cooking fresh pasta, some chefs add a few drops of olive oil in the water to prevent the pasta pieces from sticking together.
Types of Pasta, Sauces and Accompaniments
There are basically four types of pasta, each of which may be plain, or flavoured with spinach or tomato:
- Dried Drum Wheat Pasta
- Egg Pasta
- Semolina Pasta
- Whole Wheat Grains
Example of sauces to go with pasta include:
- Tomato Sauce
- Cream, butter or bèchamel-based
- Rich meat sauce
- Olive oil and garlic
- Soft white or blue cheese
- Pesto Sauce
Cheese used in pasta cooking include the following:
- Parmesan: The most popular hard cheese for use with pasta, ideal for grating. The flavour is best when it is freshly grated. If bought ready-grated, or if it is granted and stored, the flavour deteriorates.
- Pecorino: A strong ewes’ milk cheese, sometimes studded with peppercorns. Used for strongly flavoured dishes, it can be grated or thinly sliced.
- Ricotta: Creamy-white in colour, made from the discarded whey of other cheese. It is widely used in fillings for pasta such as cannelloni and ravioli, and for sauces.
- Mozzarella: Traditionally made from the milk of the water buffalo. Mozzarella is pure white and creamy, with a mild but distinctive flavour, and usually round or pear-shaped. It will keep for only a few days in a container half-filled with milk and water.
- Gorgonzola and dolcelatte: Distinctive blue cheese that can be used in sauces.
Examples of stuffed pasta includes the following:
- Agnolini are small half-moon shapes usually filled with ham and cheese or minced meat.
- Cannelloni are squares of pasta, poached, refreshed, dried and stuffed with a variety of fillings(e.g. ricotta cheese and spinach), rolled and finished with an appropriate sauce.
- Cappelletti, shaped like little hats, are usually filled as agnolini, and are available dried.
- Ravioli are usually square with serrated edges. A wide variety of fillings can be used (fish, meat, vegetarian, cheese, etc).
- Ravolini, or ‘little ravioli’, are made half the size of ravioli.
- Tortellini, a slightly larger version of cappellettti, are available in dried form.
- Tortelloni is a doubled-sized version of tortellini.
Storage of Pasta
Dry pasta can be stored almost indefinitely, if kept in a tightly sealed package or a covered container in a cool, dry place, but you must observe the ‘best before date on the packaging’.
Fresh egg pasta not for immediate use must be stored in a cool, dry place. If fresh egg pasta is to be stored, it should be allowed to dry, then kept in a clean, dry container or bowl in a cool, dry store.
If cooked pasta is not to be used immediately, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. If the pasta is left to sit in water, it will continue to absorb water and become mushy. When the pasta is cool, drain and toss lightly with salad oil to prevent it from sticking and drying out. Cover tightly and refrigerate or freeze. Refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately or the pasta will become soggy. To reheat, put pasta in a colander and immerse in rapidly boiling water just long enough to heat through. Do not allow the pasta to continue to cook. Pasta may also be reheated in a microwave.
Pasta that is to be stuffed must be rolled as thinly as possible. The stuffing should be pleasant in taste and plentiful in a quantity. The edges of the pasta must be thoroughly sealed otherwise the stuffing will seep out during poaching.
The list of possible stuffing is almost endless as every district in Italy has its own variations and, with thought and experimentation, many more can be produced.
All stuffed pasta should be served in or coated with a suitable sauce and, depending on the type of recipe, may be finished ‘au gratin’ by sprinkling with freshly grated Parmesan and browning lightly under the salamander.