How to be a Pasta Master

Think of Italy and what food springs immediately to mind? Pasta.  It’s said there are more than 350 different types …

Cuisine

Think of Italy and what food springs immediately to mind? Pasta. 

It’s said there are more than 350 different types of pasta, with each one having a different shape, size and texture as well as different recipe uses. 

Without it, we wouldn’t have so many beautifully descriptive words, or dishes, in our culinary repertoire and what would we do with our sauces without it?

That’s a mind-boggling figure, especially when most people outside of Italy tend to stick to the few they know best, or the easiest to purchase in their local supermarkets.

Then there are the names, and there are far more than 350 of those, as many pastas have multiple names including nicknames and regional variations. Many are named after their shape, so you can have little ears (orecchiette), little hats (cappelletti) or even butterflies (farfalle) with your meal.

That’s not forgetting the choice between fresh pasta (pasta fresca) and dried pasta (pasta secca) or whether or not to eat it al dente.

Some types of pasta go better with some sauces than others, but if you want to experiment with this Italian kitchen staple and expand your culinary horizons, where do you start? Try our handy guide to some of the most popular pastas, what they are and how to use them in recipes.

What is pasta? 

Italian pasta is made from durum (wheat) mixed with water or eggs and formed into sheets or shapes, then cooked by boiling or baking. It has been a staple of Italian cuisine since at least the 12th century.

There are two main categories, pasta fresca (fresh pasta) and pasta secca (dried pasta), with numerous variations in shape and size, whether tubular, flat, long, short, miniature or in flat sheets, as well as pasta designed to be filled or stuffed.

As a general rule, you can never go wrong when pairing thin pastas, such as spaghetti, with thin sauces, and one of the most popular and easiest to make dishes in Italy is Spaghetti al Pomodoro – spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil.

Similarly, thicker, heavier pastas as well as tubular pastas, such as penne, work well with thicker, creamier, more robust sauces.

Hungry for more information? Here’s a quick guide to some of the most popular pasta types and the best sauces to pair them with.

 

Pasta

Cannelloni – a type of tubular pasta, usually served with a filling such as spinach and ricotta or minced beef, and then covered in sauce.

Conchiglie – these versatile shells can be found in soups, pasta salads or in dishes with creamy or meaty sauces – their shell shape allows for the sauce to stick to the pasta for maximum coverage.

Cannelloni – a type of tubular pasta, usually served with a filling such as spinach and ricotta or minced beef, and then covered in sauce.

Conchiglie – these versatile shells can be found in soups, pasta salads or in dishes with creamy or meaty sauces – their shell shape allows for the sauce to stick to the pasta for maximum coverage.

Cappelletti – these ‘little hats’ got their name due to their resemble to headwear. Hailing from the Emilia-Romagna region, and similar to tortellini this pasta is usually stuffed with cheese such as Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano and is often served ‘in brodo’, in broth.

Fagottini – the name means ‘little bundles’ – these pasta purses are gathered at the top, like a purse. Often filled with vegetables, they look as good as they taste.

Farfalle – shaped like butterflies (or bow ties), this is another versatile pasta shape, which can be baked, stored into soups or as a cold pasta salad.

Fusilli – instantly recognisable from its corkscrew/spiral shape, a rich sauce will stick really well to its twists and turns.

Linguine – another pasta with a literal meaning, this one translates as ‘little tongues’. Wider than spaghetti but not as wide as fettuccine, it works well with seafood sauces.

Orecchiette – these ‘little ears’ are often served with thick, chunky sauces or with meat and is a popular pasta in southern Italy.

Penne – another great pairing for sauce of any kind, but especially rich tomato sauce, this tubular pasta lends itself well to creamy or oil-based sauces too.

Tagliatelle – long and ribbon-like in shape, this pasta is often combined with meaty, rich sauces.

Tortellini – these pasta dumplings are ring-shaped and typically stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and served in a broth or with a cream sauce.