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03/12 Sunday 09:24AM

pasta la vista!

text . Pauline Chan .

The Italians own the pasta that we are all familiar with now and how lucky they are for it is such a wonderfully versatile ingredient that appeals to ages from 1 to 100.  It is eaten in all continents and is easily a word that is as well-known as football.  From the National Pasta Association, we learnt that the variety of pasta is quite staggering (Ed:I didn't know there are so many.)  They listed about 55 different shapes of pasta which can be paired with the right sauce to complement them.  They recommend that thin, delicate pastas like angel hair or thin spaghetti, should be served with light, thin sauces. Thicker pasta shapes, like fettuccine, work well with heavier sauces. Pasta shapes with holes or ridges like mostaccioli or radiatore, are perfect for chunkier sauces.

Whoever invented pasta is a bit of a mystery but there is a popular legend circulating that suggests Marco Polo is the guy who introduced pasta to Italy after his exploration of the Far East in the late 13th century.  Historians traced the pasta back as far as the 4th century B.C., where an Etruscan tomb showed a group of natives making a stringy thing, which could be pasta.  The Chinese were making noodles as early as 3,000 B.C. and Greek mythology suggests that the Greek God Vulcan invented a device that made strings of dough. Now that suggests the pasta is the food of the Gods!

Back on earth, pasta made its way to the New World via the English, who discovered it when they visited Italy. Colonists brought to America the English practice of cooking noodles and then smothering them with cream sauce and cheese. And Thomas Jefferson was credited with bringing the first 'macaroni' machine to America in 1789 when he returned after serving as ambassador to France.

Pasta is made with semolina, which is produced by grinding kernels of durum wheat.  Sometimes hard wheat is also used. The semolina is mixed with water until it forms a dough.  If any other ingredients are being added to the pasta, such as eggs to make eggs noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green-coloured pasta, they are added at this stage.  Then the dough is kneaded until it reaches the right consistency, then it is pushed through a metal disc with holes in it. The size and shape of the holes will determine the shape of the pasta.

To get the dried pasta we buy from the shops, the extruded pasta is sent through large dryers which circulate hot, moist air to slowly dry the pasta.  The time required for drying depends on the shape and thickness of the pasta.  Most will take 5 to 6 hours to dry. The dried pasta is packed into boxes or bags.  Some of the more fragile pasta shapes like lasagna and manicotti, are often packed by hand to protect them from breaking.


Here's 8 of the pasta shapes that we don't usually see down our way

Peppercorn-shape - Acini de Pepe - Perfect for use in soup recipes.

Bell-shape - Campanelle - Shaped like a small cone with ruffled edges.  Great with meat, cream, vegetable or oil-based sauces.  Also pretty in pasta salads.
Thimble-shape - Ditalini - Can be used as a base for any dish, baked, stirred in to soups or used in salads.
Lily-shape - Gigli - A fluted-shaped pasta rolled into a cone-shaped flower.  Good for heavier sauces like cheese, meat and tomato or used in casseroles.
Ear-shape - Orecchiette - These 'little ears' are usually served with thick, chunky sauces or in salads.

Radiator-shape - Radiatori - This ruffled, ridged shape works well baked in casseroles, or used in salads and soups.

Ribbon-shape - Reginette - A wide, flat ribbon pasta with rippled edges on both sides.

Toothpick-shape - Fideo - Short, thin strands of pasta that are slightly curved.  Commonly used in various soup recipes.

See more shapes on the National Pasta Association.

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