Introduction to Italian Pasta
Pasta is a staple food in Italian cuisine, and it is loved all around the world. It is versatile and can be paired with various sauces and ingredients, making it a go-to meal for people of all ages. There are numerous types of pasta available, each with its unique shape and texture, and they all serve different purposes.
History of Italian Pasta
The history of pasta can be traced back to ancient Rome, where it was a staple food for the wealthy. However, it was during the Renaissance period that pasta became popular among the masses. The first pasta factory was established in Naples in the 15th century, and since then, pasta has been an integral part of Italian cuisine.
Although we tend to think of pasta as an Italian food, it actually has its roots in ancient Asian noodles. Pasta is widely believed to have been brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo in the 13th century. A passage in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour (possibly a breadfruit tree).
This plant was used by the Chinese to make a meal similar to barley flour. Polo mentioned a barley-like meal that was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one called lagana. The book heavily draws on retellings by various authors and specialists because Polo’s original text is no longer available.
Types of Italian Pasta
There are over 300 different types of pasta available in Italy, each with its unique shape and texture. Some of the most popular pasta types include:
Spaghetti – This is one of the most popular pasta types, and it is long and thin.
Penne – This is tube-shaped pasta with angled edges, and it is often paired with tomato-based sauces.
Fusilli – This is a spiral-shaped pasta that is perfect for holding thick sauces.
Linguine – This is a long, thin pasta that is similar to spaghetti but slightly wider.
Farfalle – This pasta is shaped like a bow tie and is perfect for pairing with lighter sauces.
Ravioli – This pasta is filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables and is often served with a sauce.
Capellini- Which in Italian means “fine hair,” is often referred to as angel hair pasta.
This style of long pasta is considerably more polished and delicate and thinner than spaghettini.
It goes nicely with soups, consommés, light tomato sauces, and dairy-based sauces. Capellini just needs three minutes to cook al dente, so take care not to overcook this fine pasta.
In any recipe, you can easily swap capellini for regular spaghetti and vice versa.
Another lengthy pasta shape is called “bucatini,” which means “hollow straws” in Italian. It resembles thicker spaghetti that has a hole running through the center of it.
Bucatini’s name is derived from the Italian word “buco,” which means “hole.” It is also known as Perciatelli in Naples, where “perciato” is Italian for “pierced.” The pasta varieties known as bucatini and perciatelli are nearly identical.
Because of its distinct consistency, bucatini is the ideal vehicle for the tastiest sauces. It is frequently used to stuff vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes, or eggplants when it is slightly undercooked.
According to Neapolitan custom, bucatini or perciatelli taste great when combined in unusual ways. It goes nicely with ricotta, fish sauce, pecorino cheese, and sardines.
The English brought macaroni to America, where they served it baked with cheese and cream, as was also common in northern Italy, as well as in rich, sweet baked custards. Similar to the Marco Polo mythology, Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing dried pasta without eggs to America. Nevertheless, this claim is romantic fiction.
While visiting Naples, he did make notes about the production process and even asked a friend there to send him a “macarony machine.” In 1789, he sent himself two cases of spaghetti. A Frenchman established what might have been the first pasta factory in America in Philadelphia around the year 1798, and it was a success. Upper-class Americans also purchased imported pasta from Sicily because it appealed to snobs.