Everything you have always wanted to know about pasta, but you have never dared to ask

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Here they are, a few questions and their answers about pasta. Italian pasta has got a very long history and a lot of information is provided about it.

We usually learn to make pasta at a very early age. Grannies and mums patiently teach children how to stretch pasta: they start from a small piece of dough to make some practice.

A small ball you have to flatten with the rolling pin until it gets a very thin pasta sheet; the secret? You have to rotate the sheet gradually as it gets wider and wider. At first, use your hands, and roll it over and over again until very very thin (be careful: don’t tear it!).

Nowadays, pasta machines are very popular. If you don’t have any time, but dry pasta: it is easier and faster to cook.

  1. Do the Italians like pasta?

Yes, definitely. The Italians do love pasta. Every single cell of very Italian likes any types of pasta: fresh, dry, stuffed, long, short, smooth, rough.

Pasta means culture, family, home. We sit at the table, and share a dish of pasta, normally for lunch, with those we love. During the week, we are used to making fast and light sauces, whereas, at the weekend, we have time to cook more elaborated and tastier dishes.

Anyway, Italy doesn’t mean only pasta, we also have rice, or other grains such as spelt or barley, or pulses. This is the basis of the Mediterranean diet!   

  1. What is the best pasta maker?

In Italy, plenty of small pasta makers who produce high quality both fresh and dry pasta; grannies are used to making it regularly (that’s how I learn myself).

If you come here on holiday, you will encounter several types of pasta which differ in weird shapes and colors; but they are not the tastiest ones. Believe me, I am very keen on pasta, they are not the best souvenirs of Italy you can get. These kinds of pasta don’t usually cook very well and they don’t taste as toothsome as genuine traditional pasta.

In the supermarkets long aisles are dedicated to, mainly, dry pasta, so you can let loose! Made from Italian grains, and it is usually bronze-drawn in order to grab the sauce better in any shapes you like.

The makers I prefer are Barilla, Molisana, Rummo and Garofalo: they have a neutral taste, a good texture which always remains al dente; it is rough enough to be paired with all kinds of sauces. I usually have plenty of them in my cupboard.

You should not choose pasta with a short cooking time, as it is very thin, its taste is not full, and it has a higher glicemix index than thicker pasta shapes. As a result, it makes you feel sated for a shorter time.

  • What is the most popular pasta dish in Italy?

I can’t mention a pasta dish which is more popular than the others, because, differently from any countries in the world, we are very fond of our local traditions. We are used to talking about regional dishes which are handed down from one generation to another, and every family often has its own recipe.

I was brought up with the traditional dishes from Emilia Romagna, dishes which are almost unknown here in Piedmont where I live now. This si true for very region of Italy.

I can sum up a few traditional pasta dishes:

  • Pasta with pesto sauce (trofie or trenette);
  • Tajarin or agnolotti with stew meat sauce;
  • Tagliatelle with ragù sauce;
  • Lasagne bolognese;
  • Bucatini amatriciana;
  • Spaghetti carbonara;
  • Tonnarelli cacio e pepe;
  • Pasta alla Norma;
  • Pasta e fagioli;
  • Pizzoccheri from Valtellina

Is anything missing? Well, I will integrate this list with more and more recipes.

  • How can you make genuine Italian pasta?

You can prepare a very toothsome home-made fresh pasta and here (inside link) I’ll tell how how. You may your a rolling pin, or a pasta machine.

I make like this: the method is quite peculiar, let’s look it together step by step.

Break the eggs into a bowl and keep a half of the eggshell- add 2 halves of eggshell of water and beat with a fork. Incorporate flour a little at a time and combine it with the fork. When you feel like you can bring together a nice dough, place it onto a floured large wooden (marble would be the best) board and knead it quite fast. If the dough dries up, it gets tough. Knead and incorporate more flour a little at a time, until it gets firm, elastic, and smooth.

Lay a tablecloth on the table (this is the secret to make pasta rough- the rougher the pasta is, the better it will keep the sauce), and roll up your sleeves because it is time to work hard.

Take your rolling pin and roll the dough in circular shapes. The dough will get thinner and thinner, more and more compact, if it is still sticky, add little flour.

Roll again and again until it gets as thin as a paper sheet, you should see the pattern of the tablecloth through the sheet of pasta. Let stand for 30 minutes and then get back it.

Cut it into 4 parts and roll them up gently. Place the rolls on a cutting board and cut them with squared blade knife: thin width for tagliatelle, thicker one for linguine. Unroll and let them dry.

What have you done? Something magic.

This kind of pasta is very thin, handle it gently- cook it in salty boiling water for a very short time: 2 or 3 minutes.

What does perfect pasta look like?

  • What does perfect pasta look like?

A few hints not to make any mistakes:

  • Carefully read the nutritional fact on the package: it must report the protein content, and the manufacturing method; 
  • Whitish color and rough surface mean that pasta is well bronze-drawn; on the other hand teflon extruded pasta is yellowish and smooth;
  • The color must be homogeneous; no white spots, air bubbles, or cracks;
  • Make sure it has undergone low temperature and slow drying process;
  • Pasta mustn’t break during the cooking, water must result transparent; 
  • Well done pasta is soft but still elastic and compact;
  • Pasta must be cooed al dente: which means it is not overcooked outside, nor undercooked inside;

It must mot be sticky.

  • How do the Italians eat spaghetti?

A lot of answers in one. The Italians eat spaghetti with, literally, every kind of sauces, and in every way. Spaghetti is perfectly paired with any sauces, it is always tempting.

Green light to simple seasonings like basil and tomatoes, or garlic oil and hot chili pepper; more elaborated ones, such as carbonara with guanciale and eggs are also well paired with spaghetti.

Io could write a never ending list: all appetizing and toothsome sauces; traditional recipes, and more modern ones!

I do like spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and black olive from Liguria, capers, oregano, a little raw extra virgin olive oil. Are you drooling? So yummy!

  • Should I add butter to pasta?

Butter is the simplest seasoning to enjoy a good dish of Italian pasta. My granny used to prepare a wonderful almost legendary pasta with butter; I make it myself when I do not have any other ingredients, but I feel like eating something which cheers me up. My favorite comfort food.

Butter is a toothsome sauce itself but it can’t be used instead of oil; in fact, save this easy recipe and a few other ones, it does not replace oil, most of all in Southern Italy.

Actually, butter makes the recipe too rich in fat, so choose only high quality butter when it is the main seasoning for your pasta, otherwise use oil. 

  • Why don’t we eat chicken with pasta?

I have never encountered a dish composed of pasta and chicken. In Italy, they are two really different foods which can’t be combined together. We usually have pasta and then some chicken sided with a nice crispy green salad, or stewed vegetables. They both have strong tastes on their own. We don’t mix them up.

  • Do the Italians put meatballs on their spaghetti?

In Italy meatballs are never paired with pasta. Here meatballs are traditionally considered proteins which can’r be combined with pasta; they are eaten after pasta with a slice of rustic bread. We do not like mixing different tastes.

  • Why is bread served with pasta?

This makes a lot of people smile. That’s certainly true: pasta and bread are two kinds of carbs, so they should not be eaten together as they might result indigestible. Why is often bread served with pasta? Because we can mop the plate with it, the soft inside of the bread perfectly grab the sauce which is left on the bottom of the plate. This is generally believed to be the best part of the recipe, even if it is not very well-mannered.

  • How often do the Italians eat spaghetti?

Although pasta is universally believed as something to be only occasionally eaten because quite fattening, in Italy we have it almost daily. Yet, obesity rate here is not higher than in other countries; on the contrary, several researches have shown that we live longer and healthier.

We often have pasta, we combine it with simple sauces without much cheese or fat. Pasta has got its own unique taste: some good tomatoes sauce, or a little high quality oil and some grated Parmigiano will make a toothsome and healthy dish.

  • Do we eat lasagna in Italy?

Definitely yes! Lasagna is something we prepare on Saturday to eat on Sundays with the whole family gathered together. If  you prepare  it a day in advance all the ingredients can combine evenly for an unforgettable dish which is worth the effort.

Every family has got its own recipe, usually the legendary grannies’ one. A dish full of memories which is handed down from one generation to another, it gets richer and richer: a genuine family treasure.

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