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Pasta

PastaPasta comes in two main types: fresh pasta fresca and dry pasta.

Fresh pasta includes egg pasta (pasta all'uovo), and pasta made with water only. Filled pasta includes tortellini, ravioli, agnolotti, which are made of egg pasta filled with meat, spinach or ricotta cheese.

Usually in Italy fresh pasta is made at home, or you can buy it at special shops or at supermarkets. But the best is home-made.

Dry pasta is an industrial product, and different types of pasta are of different thickness and sizes, and are made to be used in different dishes. The thinner and smaller a pasta is, the quicker it will cook.

There are over 650 distinct varieties of Italian pasta, as every shape and size has its own name. Some of these are rarely seen outside Italy, while others are common worldwide. Note that the same type of pasta may have different names in different areas of Italy. Here are some of the common shapes:

  • bucatini - thick empty spaghetti
  • capellini or 'angel hair' - a very fine fast-cooking pasta
  • ditalini - a small tubed-shaped pasta
  • farfalle - 'bow ties', usually made with egg and/or spinach
  • fettuccine - wide flat noodles in varying lengths and widths
  • fusilli - narrow corkscrews
  • gnocchi - potato pasta
  • lasagne - a wide flat pasta, used for the classic baked dish
  • linguine - long flattened ovals, similar to spaghetti
  • maccheroni - the ubiquitous small curled tubes
  • pappardelle - a long inch-wide flat pasta with crinkled edges, usually served with a very rich sauce
  • penne - long narrow tubes cut diagonally at the ends
  • ravioli - square stuffed pasta, often filled with meat or a cheese-based filling
  • rigatoni - inch-long ridged tubes, often used in baked dishes
  • spaghetti - the traditional long narrow tubes
  • tortellini - a crescent-shaped stuffed pasta
  • vermicelli - thick spaghetti

Italians have a word for how to cook pasta best: al dente, which means "to the tooth". This means the pasta must not be undercooked - which leaves a taste of uncooked flour - yet it must not be overcooked. The pasta must be able to retain its texture and be softened, yet firm to the bite.

Italian dried pasta is made with water and durum wheat. This is a very hard wheat with a high protein content and it helps to make the pasta firm. Fresh pasta, pasta fatta in casa, is made with normal wheat and eggs. However, there are also types of dried pasta which have egg in them to resemble the taste of fresh pasta, as well as commercial fresh pasta made with a combination of wheat, durum wheat, eggs and water, which helps the pasta to keep longer. Both dried and fresh pasta are appreciated in Italy and used for a wide variety of dishes.

In the process of mass production of pasta, the end product is transported through an oven which dries the dough. With lower quality pasta this process is done relatively quickly, resulting in a darker coloring. High quality pasta is dried much slower and as a result is much lighter in color - and more expensive.

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