Contrary to popular belief (among non-italians), achieving the right al dente cooking point is not so much a question of correct timing as it is of quality of the pasta. Some lower quality pasta made of wheat flour instead of durum semolina will never allow al dente cooking: it will either be too hard, or stick together.
Long shaped pasta is usually defined by the form obtained in cross section of the pasta.
- round and plain: capellini, spaghetti, spaghettoni;
- round and centrally perforated: bucatini, perciatelli, maccheroncelli, mezze zite, zite, zitoni, candele;
- flat, with rectangle or lenticular in cross section: bavette, linguine, tagliarelli, tagliarellini, fettuccine;
- indented or ondulating: ricciutelle, reginette.
- tube shapes with 'bill': maltagliati, penne, mostaccioli, maccheroni, pennette, pennini;
- tube shapes without 'bill': ditali, ditaloni, maniche, mezze maniche, bombolotti, rigatoni;
- twist shapes:
- elbows: chifferi, chifferotti, chifferoni, gramigna
- shell shapes: lumache, conchiglie, gnocchi, abissini
- specialty shapes: pisellini, piselli, puntine, puntette, risonem stelline, stellette, anellini, anelli, quadrucci, farfalline.
Pasta in sheets or baking shapes
Pasta in this group is cut from larger sheets into various shapes that are used for baking pasta in the oven or used as long or short cuts served with sauce: lasagne, tagliatelle, pappardella, fettuccine, farfalle, farfalloni and cannelloni.
Pasta for soups and broths
Can be broadly divided into two groups: pasta for broths and pasta for minestrone soups.
Pasta is a generic term for noodles of various lengths, widths and shapes, either accompanied by a sauce or filled with other ingredients. Note that in Italian pasta is also the generic term for any kind of dough (bread, pizza), but it is usually made clear from the context what type of pasta one is referring to.
Most pasta is made from durum wheat semolina flour and water, with or without eggs and come in different shapes and colors. Pasta with eggs should contain at least five entire eggs for each kilogram of semolina. Only natural ingredients such as tomatoes, basil, spinach, truffles or cuttlefish ink may be added to color or flavor the dry pasta.
Fresh pasta will be cooked al dente very quickly, usually after just a couple of minutes.
YourGuidetoItaly.com 2005-2015 © All Rights Reserved.
Photos of the YourGuidetoItaly.com banner (from left to right): red boat landscape © mmac72/Istockphoto; Wine © RCphotografia/Istockphoto; Vitruvian man © Jodie Coston; Italian food © photovideostock/Istockphoto; Fiat 500 by tizianoj
While Italy counted about 250 to 260 different types and shapes at the end of the 1800's, the number of traditional pasta shapes has now been reduced to approximately 55 or 60.
The different types of Italian pasta can be divided into:
Types of Pasta
Italian pasta is made from durum (wheat) semolina. Only high quality wheat that contains high levels of gluten will allow al dente cooking, i.e. pasta that is firm and tender at the same time.
Are all pasta made from wheat products ?
No, true Gnocchi are not made of wheat, but of mashed potatoes. Nowadays you also find gnocchi as a form of wheat pasta, where the pasta is made of semolina but in the traditional gnocchi shape.
Dried or Fresh pasta?
Pasta can be bought dried or fresh. "Fresh" packed pasta has now also become more and more widespread. Fresh home-made pasta cooks very quickly and has a delicate taste, but spoils quickly due to its high water content. Dry pasta generally contains about 10% moisture, which makes it shelf stable for about three years. "Fresh" packed pasta, has a taste intermediate between fresh and dried pasta and has a shelf life of around 7 weeks. Many brands now also offer true italian pasta preparations in frozen form.
Home-made pasta is further divided according to the technique or instrument used to stretch or cut the pasta, such as ferro, torchietto, chitarra, or pettine. Spaghetti alla chitarra, for example, have a characteristic square shape because the dough is pressed through the cords of an instrument that reminds a guitar. Roughly speaking, these production techniques can be divided into extrusion-based methods, where the ingredients are forced through holes in a plate known as a die, or lamination-based methods, in which dough is kneaded, folded, rolled to thickness, then cut by slitters.
Matching Each Pasta Sauce with the Right Type or Shape of Pasta
Each shape of pasta is typically matched with a particular sauce based on consistency and its ability to hold sauce.
Thinner, lighter sauces like those made with fresh tomato sauce, using less oil, go best with thin or delicate pastas, like finer spaghetti. Oil-based sauces or thicker tomato sauces go better with flat pasta like linguine, giving it a fuller flavor. Fettuccine, a thicker flat long shape, can withstand extremely robust sauces, such as Fettucini Alfredo.
Seafood-based sauces generally pair well with the more refined spaghetti, but delicate ingredients such as sea urchin, langoustines, or truffles match well with spaghetti alla chitarra, a squared type of pasta. Being squared instead of round this type of paste offers more surface for the delicate sauce to stick to as compared to a round pasta of similar thickness.
Tube-shaped pasta, like penne (especially the striated penne), or shell-shaped pasta, like orecchiette go well with full flavor sauces. Their large diameter, combined with the ridges make them ideal to trap tick sauces on the entire surface, inside and out, giving the pasta a richer flavor. Refined dairy-based sauces, like four cheese or a mushroom cream sauce, pesto, chunky meat sauces or spicy sauces, like arrabiata, go well with this type of pasta. In general, the chunkier the sauce, the larger the pasta shape or holes and the better they work with ridges shapes. Fresh, light sauces, like olive oil or simple fresh tomato work best with smooth shapes (mostaccioli, ziti). The thickest tubular pastas, such as ziti or manicotti, are ideal in baked pasta dishes because they hold up to longer cooking.
Some pasta varieties are uniquely regional and not diffused throughout Italy. In other cases, the cut of pasta is present in more than one region, but the cut is called by another name.
See also: top 10 most famous pasta dishes
Rigatoni: Amatriciana, Carbonara
Spaghetti: Carbonara, Norma (egg plant and ricotta)
Chitarra: Tartufi (truflles), Vongole (clams)
Penne: Arrabbiata, Bolognese
Conchiglie: Tomato sauce
Cavatappi: Vegetarian sauce
Maccheroni: Tomato sauce
Fettuccine: Funghi (mushrooms), pesto
Maltagliati: Funghi (mushrooms), meat-based sauce
Linguine: Vongole, allo Scoglio (seafood), pesto
Agnolotti: meat-based sauce
Tortellini: Panna (cream-based sauces), Quattro formaggi (four cheeses)
Callelloni: filled with meat
Lasagne: with meat,vegetarian or fish
Making Artisan Pasta: How to Make a World of Handmade Noodles, Stuffed Pasta, Dumplings, and More
Homemade Pasta Dough:
How to make pasta dough for the best pasta dough recipe including pasta dough for ravioli and other fresh pasta dough recipe ideas
Italian: One Step at a Time
Laura Zavan, Pierre Javelle
The Gluten Free Italian Cookbook: Classic Cuisine from the Italian Countryside
Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food (Hardcover)
Delizia examines the culinary history of gourmet Italy from antiquity to today in the light of centuries of religious, political and sociological events. Each of the chronologically ordered chapters is set in a particular place at a particular time, resulting in a series of stories that bring out key moments in Italian food history.
The Silver Spoon Pasta
Editors of Phaedon Press
350 classic and modern recipes from the same tame behind the Italian classic and quintessential best-selling cookbook "The Silver Spoon"