Italian Pasta: Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know

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

Italian pasta has had a very long history and there is much written about this favorite food. I will try to answer some of the questions you might have.

Italians usually learn to make pasta from a very early age. Grandmas and moms patiently teach children how to stretch pasta; they start with a small piece of dough to practice. 

First, you have to flatten a small ball of dough with the rolling pin until it becomes a very thin sheet of pasta. The secret is that you have to rotate the sheet gradually as it gets wider and wider. At first, use a rolling pin and roll it over and over again until it is very very thin. Be careful not to tear it. Nowadays, people use pasta machines, which have become very popular. If you don’t have any time, you can buy fresh pasta, which is easier and faster to cook but not nearly as much fun to make as handmade.

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  • Do the Italians like pasta?

Yes, definitely. Italians love their pasta; they like all 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 make fast and light sauces; whereas, on the weekends, we have time to cook more elaborate and tastier dishes. 

Italy doesn’t mean only pasta; we also have rice or other grains such as spelt, barley, or pulses, which are beans, peas, and lentils. This makes up the base of the Mediterranean diet.  

  • Who makes the best pasta?

In Italy, there are plenty of small pasta makers, who produce both top-quality fresh or dry pasta. Many grandmas still make it regularly—that’s how I learned how to make it.  

In the supermarkets, long aisles are mainly dedicated to dry pasta, so choosing pasta is like being let loose in a candy store. Made from Italian durum wheat, such as semolina, they hold the sauce better and come in any shapes you could imagine. 

The makers I prefer are Barilla, Molisana, Rummo, and Garofalo: they have a neutral taste, a good texture that always remains al dente or chewy and a bit firm. In fact, they can be paired with all kinds of sauces. I usually have plenty of dry pasta in my cupboard. In the US, besides Barilla, De Cecco is the most popular dry pasta to buy. 

Don’t choose pasta with a short cooking time as it is very thin, bland, and has a higher glycemic index than thicker pasta shapes. As a result, it makes you feel sated for a shorter time. 

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

  • What is the most popular pasta dish in Italy?

There is not one pasta dish which is more popular because each region has its own favored pasta dish. It all depends on where you come from. Regional dishes have their own recipes, which are often handed down from one generation to another and from one family to another.

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

Here are a few favorite traditional pasta dishes from where I grew up: 

  • Pasta with pesto sauce (trofie or trenette);
  • Tajarin or Agnolotti- Pasta with a stewed meat sauce
  • Tagliatelle with a ragù sauce;
  • Lasagne Bolognese- Lasagna with a Bolognese sauce
  • Bucatini Amatriciana; 
  • Spaghetti Carbonara;
  • Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe- Pasta with cheese and pepper
  • Pasta alla Norma- Pasta with eggplant 
  • Pasta e Fagioli- Pasta with beans
  • Pizzoccheri della Valtellina- pasta with potatoes and cabbage

Is anything missing? Well, I will update my blog with more and more recipes. 

  • How can you make genuine Italian pasta?

You can prepare a very hearty homemade fresh pasta and here. I’ll tell how. You may use a rolling pin or a pasta machine. 

The method is quite specific, so let’s look at it together, step by step. 

  1. Break the eggs into a bowl and keep half of the eggshell- add 2 halves of the eggshell of water and beat it with a fork;
  2. Add the flour, a little at a time, and mix it until incorporated. When it feels well mixed and stays together, place it onto a large, wooden floured board (marble or granite is the best surface to work on), and knead it quickly. If the dough dries up, it will get tough. Knead and incorporate more flour, a little at a time, until it gets firm, elastic, and smooth; 
  3. Lay a tablecloth on the table and roll up your sleeves because it is time to work hard. This is the secret to making pasta rough. The rougher the pasta is, the better it will hold the sauce;
  4. 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 a little flour;
  5. Roll it again and again until it gets as thin as a piece of paper. You should be able to see the pattern of the tablecloth through the sheet of pasta. Let it stand for 30 minutes and then get back to it;
  6. Cut the dough into 4 parts and roll them up gently. Place the rolls on a cutting board and cut them with a sharp paring knife.  Make it a thin cut for tagliatelle, thicker ones for linguine. Unroll it and let the strands dry;
  7. This kind of pasta is very thin, so handle it gently; cook it in boiling salt water for a very short time: 2 or 3 minutes.

What have you done? You made something magic. Congratulations!


  • What does perfect pasta look like?

A few suggestions in order not to make any mistakes:

  1. The color must be homogeneous; no white spots, air bubbles, or cracks; 
  2. Make sure it follows a slow drying process; 
  3. Pasta mustn’t break during the cooking process; the water must remain clear;  
  4. Well done pasta is soft but still elastic and compact; this means it is neither overcooked outside nor undercooked inside; 
  5. It must not be sticky.
  • How do the Italians eat spaghetti?

A lot of answers in one. The Italians eat spaghetti with literally every kind of sauce and in every way. 

Many simple ingredients are added like basil and tomatoes, garlic oil and red pepper flakes, and butter and Parmigiano cheese. More elaborate sauces such as carbonara, with pancetta and eggs, are also well paired with spaghetti. I really like spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and black olives from Liguria, capers, oregano, and a little raw extra virgin olive oil. Are you drooling yet? Look for my recipe.

  • Should I add butter to pasta?

Butter is the simplest ingredient to put on a dish of Italian pasta. My grandma used to prepare a wonderful almost legendary pasta with butter; I make it myself when I don’t have any other ingredients but also when I feel like eating something which will cheer me up. It is my favorite comfort food. 

Butter makes a delicious sauce itself, but it shouldn’t be used instead of oil, especially in southern Italy where all the dishes are made with olive oil. The reason is that butter makes a recipe too rich in fat, so choose only top- quality butter when it is the main ingredient for your pasta; otherwise use olive oil.  

  • Why don’t we eat chicken with pasta?

In Italy, I have never encountered a dish composed of pasta and chicken. They are two really different kinds of food, which can’t be combined together. We first have pasta and after some chicken on the side with a nice crisp green salad or stewed vegetables. They both have strong tastes on their own. We don’t mix them together. 

  • Do the Italians put meatballs on their spaghetti?

In Italy, meatballs are never paired with pasta. Here, meatballs are traditionally considered protein, which can’t be combined with pasta. They are eaten after pasta with a slice of rustic bread. We do not like mixing different courses together.

  • 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 in indigestion. So then why is bread often served with pasta? It’s because we can mop the plate with the soft inside of the bread, which perfectly grabs the sauce left on the plate. This is generally believed to be the best part of the recipe, even if it is considered poor manners. 

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  • How often do the Italians eat pasta?

Although pasta is universally believed to be something that should only be eaten occasionally because it’s quite fattening, in Italy we eat it almost on a daily basis. However, what differs is the quantity. What research has shown is that the obesity rate here is not higher than in other countries and that we live longer and healthier. We eat moderate portions. 

Another difference is that we often have pasta with simple sauces without much cheese or fat. Pasta has its own unique taste; some good tomato sauces or a little top-quality olive oil and some grated Parmigiano will make a hearty and healthy dish. 

  • Do we eat lasagna in Italy?

Yes, definitely! Lasagna is something we prepare on Saturday to eat on Sundays when the whole family is gathered together. If you prepare it a day in advance, all the flavors meld together for an unforgettable dish which is worth all the effort. 

Every family has got its own recipe, usually grandma’s famous one. A dish full of memories, handed down from one generation to another, is a genuine family treasure. It can only get better and better.

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