Perfect pasta comes in many forms- just ask the staff at your favourite Italian restaurant, and you’ll likely hear them speak with passion about the unique variations they can prepare. There are actually thousands of types of pasta that are traditionally made all across Italy. Along with the staples such as spaghetti, linguine and penne, many regions have specific traditional forms. These pasta forms are often associated with local stories and traditions of rural areas, or, have been created to serve as the perfect base for locally found ingredients. There is also great variation in size, with each type coming in different sizes. One tip when it comes to understanding the size of pasta shapes is to look at the end of the word. Pasta varieties ending in ‘ini’ are a smaller version, while those ending in ‘oni’ are larger than the standard. For example, fusilli is the standard size of twisted pasta, while fusillini is the smaller version of twisted pasta and fusillioni is the largest size. If you’re after filled pasta, look for raviolli, tortellini or agnolotti- perfect pillows filled with delicious fillings. These will come in both meat and vegetarian options. Penne, macaroni and rigatoni might be the more familiar tube types of pasta, but there is also paccheri, tortiglioni, trenne, manicotti and ditalini. Ribbons come in various thicknesses and weights- look for fettucine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, trenette or linguine.
Choosing a Pasta at an Italian Restaurant
With so many delicious, colourful and unique options- how to choose? The chef at your Italian restaurant should be able to give you some insight into the specific menu options available. To narrow down the choices, first think about your ideal pasta texture. Some pastas are made with whole wheat, which gives them an almost grainy texture that is somewhat thicker and heavier than the standard. Some pastas, such as angel hair spaghetti are very light and delicate. When planning a unique dish, chefs often think about the texture of the pasta in combination with the sauce it will be paired with. Spiral shaped pastas will catch and hold sauce in between the spirals. Tubed shaped pastas become the perfect receptacle for the sauce they hold inside. Pasta shaped like ears or shells catch larger amounts of sauce giving you full flavour with every saucy bite. Coloured pastas have often been flavoured with tomato or spinach. The menu at your local Italian restaurant might consist of traditional favourites with more contemporary options. You might see blended smooth sauces, such as the old favourite pesto, or some with tomato, stock or cream bases. Some sauces will have large chunks of meat and vegetables for a more substantial meal. And, don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be complex to be delicious. Some ideal pasta meals are very simple- fresh pasta, fresh herbs and a good quality olive oil. Perfect!
Making Your Own Pasta
Lovely pasta doesn’t come only from Italian restaurants. Making pasta from scratch at home is possible, and you will only need a few ingredients to be able to do it. The basic pasta can be made with flour, eggs, water and salt. What you probably will need to be able to get pasta to a suitable weight and texture is a pasta machine. Pasta machines can be purchased online or at local stores, and will help you achieve a good, smooth thickness. It will help you get your pasta sheet thin enough to be able to fashion pasta shapes. Rolling with a rolling pin is possible, but is quite time-consuming and is really only suitable if you are seeking to make thicker noodles for soups and stews. Fresh pasta will cook more quickly than dried pasta and have an unmistakable, richer flavour thanks to the egg. If you want to make your own meal, another way to go about it is to purchase pre-made fresh or dried pasta then take control of the sauce. Look online for inspiration, or, pair some favourite vegetables together for your own unique creations. For a wonderful and authentic night in, why not set up an Italian restaurant at home? Some wine, a colourful tablecloth, some candles and traditional music will set the scene for your DIY pasta dinner.