These days pasta is as much a part of our diets as bread, its simplicity and versatility making it both an eating in and dining out favourite. Although it is thought to have originated in China, and a descendent of the noodle, the pasta we know today is pure Italian.
In fact, Italy has laws about how it should be made. Pasta secca, or dry pasta, can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina and water. As it’s made without eggs, it can be stored for long periods, while fresh pasta, made with eggs, will usually only last a few days in the fridge.
Of course, as durum wheat is high in protein and gluten, there are now pastas made from other grains - but not in Italy - creating gluten free alternatives. And for those looking for other choices, whole grain pasta is widely regarded as the most nutrient-rich variety available.
There are hundreds of shapes and varieties of dried pasta, so their names have developed as a way of telling what their shapes are, for example, spaghetti means ‘cord’, vermicelli ‘little worms’ while fettucine is ‘small ribbon’ and ravioli ‘little turnips’. Many shapes were also developed for functionality, for example penne will often have ridges to help hold the sauce.
When it comes to cooking, pasta should be done ‘al dente’, that is, firm to the teeth but tender. This is easier to achieve with better quality pastas, ones requiring a longer cooking time, as they hold their shape better.