WHAT IS PASTA AND WHAT'S IT MADE FROM?
Pasta is an amazingly versatile ingredient bringing wholesome nutrition to the Mediterranean diet.
The definition of pasta is a true toughie - pasta's history is complex, likely international, and a hotly-contested prize. Wouldn't you (if you were a country) like to claim pride of place for a dish that just about everyone in the world is crazy about? Common lore goes back to Marco Polo's adventures in China, and hints that Polo brought it back with him to Venice.
Historic texts have almost entirely debunked this theory, with Romans reportedly enjoying "lagana." Once again, Romans look to be way ahead of their time - their lasagna was very much different from the rich dish that blows my mind today, but the dish involved thin sheets of dough made from wheat and water, so it was a step closer than other dishes!
From my personal research into the topic, I know that pasta gained its foothold in Italian kitchens around the Middle Ages, when Mediterranean trading was in its prime. Mention of different pasta shapes like gnocchi, vermicelli, ravioli and others start cropping up in texts throughout the country, even enjoying a guest appearance in Bocaccio’s The Decameron, where Bocaccio describes a fantastic mountain of pasta big enough for people to roll down, and covered in Parmigiano cheese - my actual dream become reality! Wherever it came from, modern pasta as I know and love it today is made of durum wheat and water, sometimes enriched with eggs and other ingredients like spinach, beets, squid ink and other elements making it pop with color. You may be wondering if you can make pasta with other flours aside from durum. You bet - check out the flours folks use and get some inspiration to try new kinds.
Semolina flour - coarse hard-wheat flour perfect for sturdier fresh pasta and commercial pasta shape
All purpose flour - fine for making pasta but a shade coarse compared to 00 flour
00 flour - finely ground soft-wheat based flour (👍 for handmade, fresh pasta)
Buckwheat flour - entirely gluten-free makes GF pasta for everyone
Chickpea flour - gluten-free, when making pasta add whole-wheat flour for extra results
Rye flour - turns rancid quickly, so store in freezer - great in pasta dough
Spelt (Farro) flour - makes crumbly pasta dough but with an excellent, nutty flavor
Rice flour - combine with chickpea flour to make entirely GF fresh pasta
My chef friends recommend using semola or 00 flours for making fresh pasta at home. After a visit I made to a local pasta manufacturer, I promise you, there’s nothing quite like seeing literal tons of pasta shapes being extruded from stainless steel machines, I can attest that in Italy mass-produced pasta is made with classic 100% durum wheat flour, unless otherwise indicated on the packaging. Pasta is loved by all, so whatever kind of pasta you’re craving, go with it. And enjoy it!
Stay curious folks, I've got more for you in Part 2, all you ever wanted to know about the genius of Italian pasta! Keep reading in Part 2 to wrap up your lesson on this fundamental part of genuine Italian cooking.
Be sure to check out Mamablip's expansive Pasta Recipe Index for lots of delicious, wholesome fresh pasta recipes and all kinds of appealing fresh sauces.
If you were unsure what to drink with your Pasta, wine is a great start! Filippo Bartolotta's video tasting series is a great place to learn about more food and wine pairings with Brunello di Montalcino wines as the key players.
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