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Pasta, Everything you need to know about pasta

Updated on March 9, 2016

Pasta and history

The history of pasta goes back to ancient times and certainly predates Marco Polo’s travels in China. Durum wheat was brought to Sicily in the 9th century by Arabs and that probably dates the beginning of what we call pasta today. If you think of pasta being made from other grains then it must date to before written history. There are remains of noodle like foods made of foxtail millet and broomtail millet from 4000 years ago found in China while the Greeks and Romans had their own types of noodles made from various grains.


What pasta is

Pasta today is Semolina Durum wheat, which is kneaded with water to form a paste. Durum wheat is the hardest of all wheats; that means it has the highest protein content and gluten strength. Gluten is the protein in wheat that gives it the elastic structure that allows yeast to raise bread. Without gluten all you can make is a quick bread like a biscuit or banana bread. While kneading, gluten forms long strings, like rubber bands the kneading causes the bits of gluten to hold together and stretch while the yeast does its work. Pasta of course has no yeast and limited kneading, but the gluten is what holds your noodles together and allows you to cook al dente, without gluten your noodles would quickly turn to mush. Durum wheat kernels are amber colored with a yellow endosperm so the resulting pasta is yellow.

Some pastas are made with various vegetable extracts to give us things like spinach and tomato pastas.Other grains are also used to make pasta such as Buckwheat, in Italy buckwheat noodles are called Pizzoccheri and from Japan we get Soba noodles. Whole wheat and other grains such as Amaranth are sometimes added to pasta to improve the nutritional profile adding fiber or protein but they invariably change the structure and somehow the result is rarely as good but that’s just my opinion.

Fresh pasta is sometimes made with eggs and is highly perishable but available refrigerated in many supermarkets; use it in 3 to 4 days. Dried pasta can last for a year or more if it is properly stored.

Make or buy?

Although it can be fun to make pasta at home we have to ask why considering the simplicity of the recipe but I confess I have 2 hand crank and one electric attachment for making pasta at home.

Most American durum wheat comes from a fairly small area concentrated around North Dakota. Imported Italian pastas are frequently made with American wheat so what you are  buying may be American wheat that was shipped to Italy, mixed with water, shaped, dried and shipped back to the U.S. If you are insisting on imported Italian pasta you are likely a food snob.

Buying pasta, what is important is to find pasta made entirely of durum wheat by a reputable firm. The next thing to consider is the die that was used to extrude the pasta during manufacture, there is no source of this information that I am aware of but producers have experimented with various materials. Pasta forced through a bronze die will have a rough surface that sauce will cling to. Those dies wear out with time so those pastas will be a little more expensive. Pastas made with a harder metal or even Teflon will have a very smooth surface so sauce will slide off more quickly, only your own experience will show you what brand is best.


Agnolotti and Cavatelli


Nutrition and cooking

Nutrition , some studies suggest that pasta cooked al denté digests more slowly than soft cooked pasta so a diabetic would see a lower spike in blood sugar levels, that’s one more reason to cook al denté.

2 oz. pasta raw weight provides

210 calories, 110 calories from fat

1 gram total fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams cholesterol

0 mg Sodium

42 grams total carbohydrate

2 grams dietary fiber

3 grams sugars

7 grams protein

Cooking pasta: Forget the oil in the water! All that does is make the pasta greasy and the sauce won't cling as well. What you need is copious amounts of water and a liberal sprinkle of salt and cook it al denté; it must be firm when you finish cooking it! If you are pressed for time or your family won’t eat at the same time you can precook it and rinse it off in cool water although this will lead to a pasta which is too soft for the gourmet. Just dip in boiling water to serve.


Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Pasta Carbonara recipe serves 8


  • 1 pound linguine
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 slices bacon, diced small ¼”
  • ½ cup small diced onion 1/4”
  • 2 tsps crushed garlic Use a garlic press or slice paper thin or mince
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (You can use the dried can stuff but fresh is far superior)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. Use a very large pot of cool tap water, add the salt and bring to a rolling boil, add pasta and lower the heat a bit so it doesn’t boil all over the stove, pasta doesn’t need to boil vigorously to cook but it does need to boil, cook it until al dente. (slightly firm to the tooth) Drain well. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and set aside. If you rinse it with very hot tap water you will eliminate some of the starch that makes it cling together but this is not absolutely needed.
  2. While the pasta is cooking use a large heavy bottom sauté pan, cook chopped bacon until slightly crisp; remove and drain. Save 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan; add 1 tablespoon olive oil, to the same pan and heat over medium high flame, sauté the onion until the onion is beginning to color.Lower the heat and add the garlic,cook very briefly. You do not want to ever brown garlic this way or it will turn bitter from the high heat. (Unlike the slow gentle heat of roasting garlic which turns it delicious!) {In a commercial kitchen I would have my bacon chopped and pre-cooked in an oven so making this dish only takes a few minutes}
  3. Return cooked bacon to pan; add the linguine. Toss to coat and heat through, adding more olive oil if it seems dry or is sticking together. When the pasta is very hot add the beaten eggs and cook, tossing until eggs are barely set. Quickly add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste
  4. Serve immediately with chopped parsley sprinkled on top and extra Parmesan cheese at table.

Many Pastas

There are hundreds more shapes than listed here:

AGNOLOTTI Stuffed crescents of pasta

CAPELLETTI "Mini" stuffed pockets, half-moon shape

CAPELLINI D'ANGELO (ANGEL'S HAIR) Fine threads of spaghetti

CONCHIGLIE Conch-shaped shells

COUSCOUS This is not quite a pasta because it is made of finely ground semolina rolled in regular flour not out of semolina flour but there are those who will disagree and say it is pasta.

FARFALLE Bow-shaped (butterfly)

FETTUCINE Flat, ribbon-like


LINGUINE Flat, ribbon-like; narrower in width than fettucini

ORZO Barley shape

PENNE LISCE (SMOOTH)/PENNE RIGATE (LINED) Tubular with ends cut on diagonal

RADIATORE Ruffled curls

RAVIOLI/RAVIOLETTI Stuffed rectangular pockets

RIGATONI Large, tubular shape

ROTELLE Spirals or wagon wheels

ROTINI Spiral shape

SPAGHETTI Solid "threads," available in several diameters, from thin to heavy

TAGLIARINI Thin, flat strands of flavored pasta (carrot, pepper, tomato, spinach, etc.)

TAGLIATELLE Ribbons: Egg noodles slightly wider than fettucine

TORTELLINI Small pockets, filled and folded

ZITI Tubular shape


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      9 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Mario

      I've been astonished at how many times in my career I've had to stop someone from adding oil to a pot of cooking pasta. Hope your comment helps spread the word

    • profile image

      Mario Grazia Italian Chef 

      9 years ago

      Pasta is one of the most popular Italian foods, known and loved throughout the world; but it must be cooked al dente in order to be truly Italian.

      Although cooking pasta may seem fairly straightforward, it is actually quite easy to make mistakes in the process, therefore here are some tips for cooking pasta "al dente":

      # Fill a large, tall pot with water and place over high heat.

      # When the water begins to boil, add salt.

      # After the salt has dissolved, toss in the pasta. Stir after about 1 minute. Continue stirring at regular intervals for the first 4 minutes.

      # Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than is indicated on the package. The pasta will continue to cook in the pan.

      # Reserve about a small cup of cooking water.

      # Drain the pasta and finish the preparation: toss the pasta in a pan with the sauce you have prepared. Add 1 tbsp cooking water and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if needed. Continue tossing the pasta and pasta sauce over high heat until it becomes smooth and creamy

      How to cook a perfect dry pasta:


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