Preface: Read this article to learn the importance of pasta and
the way to cook it.
In its various forms, pasta has become a part of almost every
country. Some say that Marco Polo brought the idea of pasta from
China to Europe, but archaeological evidence has shown that it
had been in both places long before then, so after doing a great
deal of study, I found that nobody really knows for sure what
culture pasta truly came from (if it was just one).
Many people think of pasta as regular egg noodles, spaghetti,
macaroni, and lasagna, but once you start looking around, there
are many more completely different varieties. In Asia alone,
although some of their noodles are wheat-based, they use a great
amount of rice noodles, but also some with a variety of other
starches. These other starches include such things as potato
flour, buckwheat flour, and mungbean starch, and may be eaten
either hot or cold. Noodles in Asia are generally cooked by
steaming, stir-frying, and even deep frying. They also have a
large variety of different dumplings, which would also classify
as pasta. Germans have their spaetzle, which is made with flour,
eggs, water (or milk), and salt, made very soft and pushed
through a colander into boiling water, then tossed with butter
sauce, soups, and other dishes. In Poland they have their
pierogi, half-moon shaped pork filled dumplings.
The most common Italian-style pasta refers to a dough made with
semolina (durum wheat) flour mixed with water or milk and
sometimes eggs. Semolina is the superior flour that is used
because it doesn't absorb too much water and is perfect when
properly cooked al dente (just slightly firm). The most common
source of pasta is dried, and when looking for the best brand of
dried pasta, even Italians in Italy admit that Barilla is the
best brand. When I was in Italy, some friends I made there were
surprised that Barilla was popular here since it is so good.
It's really not all that difficult to make fresh pasta either.
All you need to buy is a pasta roller and the few basic
ingredients. Generally, with fresh pasta, eggs are used as the
liquid to better hold the more delicate pasta together. You can
also experiment by adding other ingredients, such as adding
herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, or even some sweeter
ingredients for a dessert pasta. When you add extra ingredients,
be careful with how much liquid you add to the pasta, as with
many ingredients (such as spinach) you will need less liquid.
Since the pasta is rolled out as small as it is, it's best to
puree the added ingredients rather than leaving them chunky.
Contrary to dried pasta's almost indefinite shelf life, fresh
pasta is best only within a few days of making it unless you
freeze it or dry it yourself. Your pasta roller should come with
directions on how to roll out the pasta. You can cut the pasta
into a variety of shapes and sizes, and even make fillings and
form the pasta into raviolis, tortellini, or other common (and
not so common) shapes.
When cooking pasta ALWAYS make sure the water is boiling heavily
and that there is a much larger quantity of water than pasta, as
if both of those conditions don't exist, the pasta will release
too much starch and become sticky. Also, make sure you salt the
water. Although it was a slight exaggeration, one chef I worked
under always informed us how (in a real deep accent) "ze water
must taste like ze sea." You should always salt your water
(taste the water to make sure it's the right consistency), as
that adds greatly to the flavor of the pasta.
There is a large variety of pasta sauces you can use as well.
For a lighter summer dish, you may want to use a simple broth,
aglio e olio (garlic and hot olive oil) sauce, Checca (lightly
toast some garlic in olive oil then add basil and tomatoes until
warm, season) sauce, or maybe a pesto (an uncooked puree of
basil, garlic, and parmesan, then adding olive oil to your
preferred consistency - for pasta you can also finish it with
cream) sauce. For not so light pasta dishes, you can use a
carbonara (make a basic cream sauce starting it with cooking
bacon until very crispy and finishing it with romano cheese)
sauce, alfredo (basic cream sauce finished with parmesan) sauce,
a variety of other cream sauces, bolognese (meat sauce) sauce,
marinara (a cooked tomato sauce made with garlic, onions, and
herbs) sauce, other tomato-based sauces, and many more.
You can combine in the sauce and/or garnish pasta with a variety
of ingredients. The most common meats include Italian sausage,
chicken, seafood, ham, duck confit, anchovies, and beef. Other
common ingredients include parmesan (or other) cheese, grilled
or roasted vegetables (large dice various vegetables, toss them
in oil, garlic, salt & pepper, and roast them quickly to golden
brown in a VERY hot oven), roasted pepper strips, mushrooms, and
a variety of herbs.
Pasta is such a versatile ingredient that it has an almost
endless amount of variations that can be used in some sense in
almost any theme of a meal or restaurant.
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