Cooking for Everyone Dinner Ideas Italian Main Pasta

Pasta, Pasta # One: Flat Pasta



Mushroom Papparadelle
When you walk down the pasta isle in the market how do you choose which pasta to buy and which to use for what purpose?  There are flat pastas, round pastas, hollow pastas and twisted pastas.  There is pasta that is made to look like rice (Italian orzo) and pasta that resembles gnocchi (potato dumplings).  There are shells and tubes and then there is pasta that is made into shapes to fit the season.

To clear up some of the confusion, this will be an ongoing series that deals with different types of pasta.  For our first installment we will deal with the flat pastas. But before we get into the shapes of pasta, you might want to consider what pasta is made from.  The best quality pasta is made from semolina (hard durum wheat) and eggs with maybe a little salt and some olive oil thrown in.   There is pasta that has no eggs in it and then there is pasta made for those with gluten allergies.  To avoid pasta with gluten, you can buy  rice pasta  usually in the Asian Isle in the market) and pasta made from corn flour.  There is pasta that is made domestically and then there is the imported dried variety.  There are many types of Italian Pasta, most of which are very good.  It used to be very difficult to find pasta imported from Italy, but now you can find them most anywhere.

There is fresh pasta which you can usually purchase from your local Italian deli or you can make it yourself.  There are many  pasta machines available on the market which help to make the production of pasta at home a fairly simple task.

The best way to cook pasta is to have plenty of boiling water which has been salted.  The salt not only helps to flavor the pasta, but it also increases the temperature of the water which makes the pasta cook more quickly.  Dried pastas usually have a recommended cooking time on the package and it is wise to follow that at least until you have cooked the pasta at least once.  Pasta should be cooked to ‘al dente’ which means “to the tooth”.  You should be able to bite into it, but not have it crunch.

The flat pastas include lasagna, linguini, fettuccini and papparadelle.   Dried Lasagna noodles are usually about 2-3” wide and can be purchased in boxes either uncooked or precooked.  Domestic lasagna noodles are longer than the imported ones; however most of the imported ones are of a better quality.  You can usually also purchase fresh pasta which can be used for lasagna from your local Italian deli.  Lasagna may either be served simply with a Bolognese (meat) sauce with shredded parmesan or more traditionally as a layered  casserole. The sauce for lasagna can vary from marinara (tomato) to Bolognese, mushroom, vegetarian or seafood.  There will usually be a layer of pasta, a layer of ricotta cheese, a layer of sauce and a layer of mozzarella.  Sometimes the pasta and cheese is layered without the sauce and the sauce is added at serving time.

The narrowest of the flat pasta is linguini; linguini is long narrow pasta (about ¼” wide) which can be served with any number of sauces.  A favorite that is served with linguini are clams in either a white wine sauce or a spicy red sauce. The next size up is fettuccini which is usually served with an Alfredo sauce (cream or béchamel) made with butter, heavy cream and parmesan.  It is utterly delicious, easy and simple to make and loaded with calories.  Not for those who have to watch their cholesterol intake!

Other than lasagna, papparadelle are the widest at about one inch in width.  Papparadelle can be served with most any kind of sauce.  Papparadelle go especially with vegetables primavera as they provide a nice contrast to the vegetable and are substantive enough to provide contrasting texture and flavor to the vegetables.

All of the above pastas are also made with variations in flavor.  You can find [amazon  Spinach ],  Tomato or Squid Ink Pasta.  The Squid Ink is a little more difficult to find and will probably be in specialty shops.  In addition to the manufactured dried pastas there are also gourmet pastas which are made in different colors and sometimes have a decorative edging.  Choose the ones that most appeal to you,  add a flavorful  sauce and make a salad and voila!  You have a wonderful meal!  See our recipe section for Papparadelle with Mushroom Cream Sauce.


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