Pasta, dry pasta, please
In the vast landscape of pasta, ‘dry pasta’ forms a supporting pillar. Sold in the supermarket it has a long shelf life since, and, as the name says, it is dry. In contrast with dry pasta there is the fresh version, usually homemade. Again, the difference is the presence of liquid. We are going to concentrate on the dry version here, leaving the fresh type for a rainy day. Only two ingredients are essential: water and durum wheat semolina. So beware of any other ingredients mentioned on the package. There should be the least possible.
Give us (y)our daily pasta
Italians eat their pasta daily, usually for lunch, although a group of food fanatic fundamentalist preaches against this use. According to some neither bread and potatoes are not simple staple food, but the archenemy of a healthy life. The good news is that they preach in the desert. Let’s just hope they won’t forge alliances with other desert dwelling maniacs.
Typology of pasta
A couple of interesting divisions can be made in order to clear some of the confusion. First there is long and short pasta. The difference? Seriously? If you can prick a it, short it is. Yes, there is pasta so short that outsmarts the fork-test: this type is used for soups or small children, and exempts the use of the fork. Then we have hollow and full pasta. The hollow type tends to pick up finely chopped vegetables or meat. Full -not hollow- pasta instead is used for smooth textured sauces. Each of these categories has many representatives, and it is up to you to decide. Some recipes ask for a specific type, in which case better do as the recipe says.
No smooth talking
Pasta should never be too smooth, simply because a smooth surface tends not to hold the sauce. Industrial product bypassed this problem – only the one produced industrial is smooth – by lining it.
Hence ‘penne rigate’. It is often claimed that ‘bronze cut pasta’ is the solution: the fresh dough is pressed through a bronze mold, then cut at size and dried. Industry tends to use teflon molds because they are easier to clean and cost less. Quite a point. So, is there a difference in coarseness or only in price? Try and join the debate.
Just remember that slow dried, honest pasta, has a price. If you are not Italian and do not have to feed your hungry children daily, get your wallet out and smile.
Let's get cooking
Let’s start with water: let abundant water come to a boil and then add salt. Be careful since it tends to boil up. Salty water has a higher boiling point and furthermore provides flavor. Do not add oil: it coats the pasta and later added sauce will not stick properly. The reason some add oil is to avoid the glueing together. Just stir now and then; apart keeping the single pieces separated, the released starch will help you later in thickening the sauce.
Nowadays pasta is eaten ‘al dente‘, meaning it should have a bite to it and not reduced to a pulp. Most packages display a cooking time which is quite convenient and pretty accurate for beginners. Throwing it up the ceiling is not a good idea unless you are a student living in a place where the kitchen could be confused with an actual dump. Consider also that if you are going to add it in a pan with sauce, the pasta will continue to cook.
Princesses, penises and mice, just some types that recently come to us. They might be funny, but would you eat a penis shaped sandwich? Other forms to avoid are the enormously long spaghetti and huge formats in general. You will have to cut them up, and that is a nasty problem: in Italy pasta is eaten with a fork only. Asking for a spoon is pretty ridiculous, asking for a knife is somehow not done.