You might have enjoyed macaroni many a times but do you know what it means. In Italian it means ‘dearest darlings.’ In the 18th century England, macaroni was considered as perfection and excellence. That's perhaps why the feather in Yankee Doodle's cap was called “macaroni.” And macaroni is a type of pasta.
Pasta comes in various shapes and sizes – it can look as simple as long thin rods or it could come in intricate shapes like stuffed hats, snails, shells, wheels and even cock’s comb! Pasta is that one ingredient that sums up the essence of Italian cooking. It is wonderful, simple and a nutritious staple now well loved the world over.
The many avatars of pasta
There are two basic types of pasta, pastasciutta (dried) and pasta fresca (fresh). What follows is a mini dictionary of names of pastas which are most common.
Agnolotti: Crescent-shaped, meat-filled ravioli.
Cannelloni: Large, round tubes, for stuffing. Serve stuffed with cheese and/or meats, cover in sauce and bake.
Conchigle: ‘Conch shells’. Ridged tiny shells the size of lentils.
Farfelle: ‘Butterflies’, bows.
Fettuccini: ‘Narrow ribbons’ of egg noodles.
Fusili: ‘Little sprigs’, spindles or spirals.
Gnocchi: Italian for ‘dumplings’, gnocchi can be made from potatoes, flour, eggs or cheese. They are generally shaped into little balls, cooked in boiling water.
Lasagne: Extra broad noodles, about 2 inches wide, smooth or ripple-edged.
Linguine: ‘Little tongues’, thick, narrow, long, flat ribbons similar to fettuccini.
Macaroni: An American favourite, small, hollow, tube shaped.
Penne: ‘Pens’ or quills, tubes cut diagonally at both ends.
Ravioli: Pasta squares filled with meat, cheese and/or vegetables.
Spaghetti: Variety of long thin rods, including capellini (very, very thin), spaghettini (thin), and spaghettoni (the thickest).
Tagliatele: Family of egg noodles similar to fettuccine, broad ribbons.
Tortellini: Small, stuffed pasta.
Vermicelli: Very fine spaghetti, usually folded into skeins.
Some facts about pasta
As per records the Chinese have been eating pastas as early as 5000 B.C.E. (before common era).
In the 13th century, the Pope set quality standards for pasta.
There are more than 600 pasta shapes produced worldwide.
Top-quality pasta is made from durum wheat. American-grown durum wheat is considered among the best in the world. The pick of the crop is earmarked for domestic use, ensuring a finished pasta product second to none in the world.
It is believed that a fork is the only utensil that may be used to eat spaghetti while anyone is looking.
Origins of pasta
Contrary to popular belief, Marco Polo did not discover pasta. The ancient Italians made pasta much like we do today. Although Marco Polo wrote about eating Chinese pasta at the court of Kublai Khan, he probably didn’t introduce pasta to Italy. In fact, there’s evidence suggesting the Etruscans made pasta as early as 400 B.C. E. The evidence lies in a bas-relief carving in a cave about 30 miles north of Rome.
In fact, the evidence is that the Arabs introduced pasta to Italy in the 8th century.
Legend has it that noodles were first made by 13th century by German bakers who fashioned dough into symbolic shapes such as swords, birds and stars, which were baked and served as bread.
The word “pasta” comes from the Italian word for paste, meaning a combination of flour and water. It includes many forms of spaghetti, macaroni and egg noodles. The term pasta has always been used on Italian restaurant menus to encompass all the various pasta offerings.
Pasta should never be over-cooked. You must have often read the term al dante in pasta recipes. The term literally means ‘to the tooth’, which means pasta should be cooked in such a manner that while eating you will find them a bit firm, offering some resistance to the tooth, yet tender.
Pasta is one of the food kids love to eat most frequently at home. According to research seventeen percent eat spaghetti while sixteen per cent eat macaroni and cheese.
Even at home we have pasta atleast twice a week. Sometimes I rustle something different with pasta on demand either from my daughters or from Alyona, my better half. Pasta can be used to make main course or salad or soup or even starters, like fritters.
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Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.