'Ciao' Down on Pasta

When it comes to pasta, there are many ways to ‘ciao’ down. Pasta comes in a variety of shapes, lengths and widths.  Most pasta is made from durum wheat semolina flour and water, and some has eggs.  You’ve probably seen a variety of colors which reflects ingredients such as light green from spinach or basil, or pink from tomatoes.  Tonight, I am pairing a fresh spinach salad with spinach and Chive linguini and stuffed cabbage.  It may sound like an odd combination, however my family loves pasta!   We eat it up to five times per week, often as a side dish.  I will sauté garlic in olive oil and toss it with the pasta add some Grana Padano parmesean cheese.

In the U.S., most restaurants offer angel hair, farfalle, fettuccini, gemelli, gnocchi (made from potatoes), lasagna, linguini, manicotti and spaghetti.  In Italy, diners are usually offered many more options than an American could possibly imagine.  Surprisingly, Italians accounted for 250 different pasta types and shapes at the end of the nineteenth century.  Today, that number has been reduced to approx. 55.

I can never eat enough pasta and enjoy finding and trying new varieties for my family.  When making new recipes, it is helpful to know which pasta types are ideal for the meal at hand, esp. in case one must substitute for the type of pasta specified by the recipe.

Pasta for Baked Casseroles- I prefer tubular shapes for baked dishes because the seasonings, cheese and ingredients seep into the pasta creating a flavorful bite.  Also, tubular shapes such as ziti holds up to longer baking times.  In my experience, mostaccioli, bombolotti and rigatoni are best size-wise.

Pasta in Sheets for Layered Dishes- Pasta types cut from larger sheets and divided into shapes used for baking pasta in the oven so that the layers fit the pan include lasagna, tagliatelle, pappardella, farfalle and cannelloni.  Like most Americans, I only use lasagna when it comes to layered pasta dishes, and love it!

Pasta for Soups- Smaller pasta shapes are ideal for soups so that they easily fit on a soup spoon along with other ingredients.  I’ve found that the following work best: sea shells, ditalini, elbows, orzo or acini de pepe.

The secret isn’t always in the sauce.  There are also ideal pasta types depending on the sauce.  Thin spaghetti is paired best with lighter sauces that use minimal oil such as fresh tomato sauce or seafood based sauces.  Fettucini and linguni are ideal for oil or cream based sauces.

If your favorite sauces are dairy-based or robusto, rich in flavor, choose a tubular shape like penne or shell-shapes like orecchiette.  Their ridged surface is ideal for trapping rich sauces inside and out; each bite will burst with flavor. The same holds true for ridged pasta which are best paired with heavier sauces that are very thick such as chunky meat, pesto or spicy sauces.

No matter what pasta type you choose, 'Chi mangia bene, vive bene' or He who eats well, lives well.

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