What is Pasta?
Pasta is a type of cuisine hailing from Italy that has been embraced internationally. It is made with unleavened dough made of durum wheat and water and is often served with variations of sauces. It can be made fresh or dried. Many different shapes and varieties exist including spaghetti, rigatoni, cavatappi, orzo, and shells.
History of Pasta
Pasta is believed to have originated in Italy during the 13th or 14th century, although some historians suggest that its origins go even further back. The first written reference to pasta was found in 1154 in Sicily. Modern pasta as we know it today has evolved over the centuries as pasta-making techniques and ingredients have developed with regional customs.
Types of Pasta
Depending on the type of pasta, it can be boiled, baked, fried or served cold. All types of pasta can be made from a high-protein, semolina flour or durum wheat, depending on the region.
Long pastas include:
• Spaghetti – This is a long and thin type of pasta which is very popular in Italian and American cuisine.
• Fettuccine – This is a thick, flat pasta popular in Italian dishes such as Alfredo.
• Linguine – This is a long, flat pasta that is slightly thinner than fettuccine.
• Angel Hair – This is a very thin spaghetti-like pasta used in light sauces and soups.
• Lasagna – This is a flat pasta cut into sheets (or strips for baked lasagna).
Short pastas include:
• Penne – This is a short, hollow tube pasta often served with thick sauces.
• Rigatoni – This is a large, short, hollow tube pasta which is great for chunky sauces.
• Fusilli – This is a long, spiral-shaped pasta made from one strand of dough.
• Macaroni – This is a small tube pasta usually served with cheese and cream.
• Cavatappi – This is a corkscrew-shaped pasta that is good for salads and light sauces.
• Radiatore – This is a short pasta with ridges, and is great for chunky sauces that can stick to the ridges.
• Orzo – This is a small, rice-shaped pasta which can be served hot or cold.
• Tortellini – This is a small, crescent-shaped pasta filled with cheese or meat.
• Gnocchi – This is a small dumpling made from potatoes, flour and eggs.
Filled pastas include:
• Ravioli – This is a square-shaped pasta filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables and served with a sauce.
• Tortelloni – This is a large, crescent-shaped pasta filled with cheese or meat.
• Manicotti – This is a large, tubular pasta filled with ricotta cheese and served with a sauce.
• Agnolotti – This is a large, square-shaped pasta filled with meat and served with a sauce.
• Mezzelune – This is a half-moon shaped pasta filled with a cheese and served with a sauce.
Stuffed pastas include:
• Cannelloni – This is a large tube pasta stuffed with a meat or vegetables and topped with a sauce.
• Cannoli – This is a small, deep-fried pastry stuffed with cheese and ricotta.
• Cappelletti – This is a half-moon shaped pasta stuffed with a cheese and served with a sauce.
• Anolini – This is a large, ring-shaped pasta stuffed with a meat and served with a sauce.
• Ravioloni – This is a large, square-shaped pasta stuffed with a ricotta and served with a sauce.
• Manicotti – This is a large, tubular pasta stuffed with cheese and often served in a tomato sauce.
Sauces to Serve with Pasta
Below are some of the most popular sauces to serve with pasta:
• Tomato Sauce – This is a rich, thick sauce made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and spices.
• Alfredo Sauce – This is a rich, creamy sauce made with butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese.
• Pesto Sauce – This is a light, refreshing sauce made with fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and garlic.
• Carbonara Sauce – This is a classic Italian sauce made with bacon, eggs, and Parmesan cheese.
• Marinara Sauce – This is a classic Italian tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic, herbs, and spices.
• Bolognese Sauce – This is a classic Italian meat-based sauce with ground beef, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and herbs.
• Arrabbiata Sauce – This is a spicy, tomato-based sauce with red chili peppers, garlic, and herbs.
Ways to Prepare Pasta
Pasta can be served hot, cold, boiled, baked, fried, or sautéed. Here are some the most popular ways to prepare pasta:
Boiled pasta is the most classic and popular way to prepare it. To boil pasta, first fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Then, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, then rinse to stop the cooking process. Serve with your favorite pasta sauce.
Baked pasta is a great way to create a one-dish meal. To make baked pasta, preheat oven to 375°F. Cook 1 pound of pasta according to package directions and add to a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with 3 cups of your favorite pasta sauce, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, and 1 cup of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, then top with 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and bake for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Fried pasta is a great way to use up leftovers and create a tasty snack or side dish. To fry pasta, heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add cooked leftover pasta and fry until golden and crispy. Serve with your favorite sauce and garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Sauteed pasta is another great way to use up leftovers. Heat a large sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add cooked leftover pasta and sauté for 2-3 minutes, or until heated through. Add your favorite vegetables and seasonings and sauté for another 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are just cooked through. Serve with your favorite pasta sauce.
Cold pasta is a great way to have a quick and easy meal. To make cold pasta, cook 1 pound of pasta according to package directions, then drain and rinse. Toss cooked pasta with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Top with 2 tablespoons of your favorite dressing and mix until combined. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Using Pasta in Cooking
Pasta can be used in a variety of dishes including salads, soups, casseroles, and pasta bakes. Here are some tips on how to use pasta in cooking:
• Use long pastas like spaghetti or fettuccine to make traditional Italian dishes like lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, and spaghetti and meatballs.
• Use short pastas like penne and rigatoni to make casseroles and baked dishes.
• Use stuffed pastas like ravioli and cannelloni to make main dishes.
• Use filled pastas like tortellini and agnolotti in soups.
• Use gnocchi in soups and salads.
• Use pasta to make cold dishes like pasta salads.
• Use pasta bake dishes such as lasagna and macaroni and cheese.
Health Benefits of Eating Pasta
Eating pasta as part of a balanced diet is a great way to get a variety of nutrients. Pasta is low in fat, gluten-free, and made with whole wheat flour, so it is a great source of complex carbohydrates. It is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12.
Tips for Buying, Storing, and Cooking Pasta
Below are some tips for buying, storing, and cooking pasta:
• Look for pastas made with high-protein, durum wheat or semolina flour.
• Buy fresh pasta if possible, as it has a better texture and flavor.
• For dried pasta, read the “best-by” date on the package.
• Store dried pasta in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
• Store fresh pasta in the refrigerator for up to a few days.