I got a very good article to share with you, it is from the great Italian food writer – Anna Del Conte. Pasta is the generic word for any kind of dough, such as bread and pastry. ‘Pasta’ is also a paste, such as pasta di Acciughe (anchovies), Pasta Di Mandorle (almond). When used by itself the word usually means pasta in its best-known sense, which, to be correct, in Italian is called Pasta alimentare. And what is this food that in the last half a century has conquered the Western world? It i simply a mixture of flour or Semola and water and/ or eggs.
Pasta, as a mixture of some sort of ground cereal and liquid, was obviously made in ancient times. If the first pasta maker were the Greeks or the Etruscans it does not matter. Pasta was not brought back to Venice by Marco Polo in 1295, because there are references to it before that date. Personally I think that pasta was yet another Arab import into Sicily. In the past the Sicilian were recognized as the authority on pasta and Sicilian food was greatly influenced by the Arabs.
By the Renaissance, pasta – at that time called vermicelli – was enjoyed only by wealthy people. It became popular at the end of the 18th century, but only in southern Italy. Naples was the scene of the eruption of pasta as the food of the people; along with Vesuvius it became the symbol of Naples. In 1700 there were 280. On most street corners there was a maccheronaro selling Maccheroni from his stall – maccheroni being the general local name for pasta. The first pasta factories were established around the Gulf of Naples and it is from there that pasta, and spaghetti in particular, reached the United States when the Italians began to emigrate there at the beginning of the 20th century.
But there was an American who fell in love with pasta much earlier. It was Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US, who, having no doubt enjoyed eating pasta on one of his visit to Italy, ordered a pasta-making machine to be sent to Monticello, his house in Virginia.
Up until World War II it was only in southern Italy that pasta was eaten daily, usually as a first course at lunch. But in the second half of the 20th century pasta has become the most popular starter to a meal also in northern Italy, where it has ousted the local Risotto. A dish of pasta is now often served as a Piatto Unico (one-course meal) but never with salad. It is the typical meal of southern Italians, and it provides a healthy and well-balanced diet based on pasta plus a sauce consisting either of small amount of meat, or some vegetables, pulses, cheese or eggs.
In Italy, pasta usually means dried pasta. Fresh pasta is eaten far less frequently and is by no means considered superior, but rather a different kind of food which can be better or worse, depending on its quality.
Fresh pasta: In Emilia-Romagna fresh pasta is made using only eggs and 00 flour. The classic recipe is given here. In order regions one or two of the eggs may be replaced by water, which produces a softer and less tasty pasta. In the south the mixture is of durum wheat Semolino, flour and water, a type of dough that is hard to knead and shape. All these mixtures, once the dough is rolled out, are called sfoglia. Rolling pasta totally by hand is difficult job, but there are many machines for making fresh pasta at home. The Macchina per la pasta will roll and cut the pasta, too.
Dried pasta: This is commercially made pasta, the composition of which is tightly controlled by law. It is made only with durum wheat semola and water. For pasta integrale (wholemeal pasta) the durum wheat is less refined. Equally important is the drying process, which must be gradual and lengthy. The best pasta is dried over 48 hours, as opposed to 32 for the more mass-produced type. The dies through which the mixture is extruded also play an important part: for the best pasta bronze dies are used, giving a rough surface that is ideal for retaining the dressing. Dried pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, most of which are best suited to a particular type of sauce. Generally speaking, long pasta, such as spaghetti, is best with a sauce based on olive oil, as this keeps the strands slippery and separate. Thicker long shapes are dressed with sauces that may also be based on butter, cream and cheese, which also go well with medium-seized tubular pasta. These shapes are also perfect dressed with vegetables or pulses, while the large rigatoni and penne are used for baked dishes.
Cooking pasta: Pasta may be everyday food, but it should be cooked with great care. It must be cooked in a large saucepan in plenty of salted water: there should be 1 litre of water to every 100g of pasta, to which 10g of salt is added and immediately stirred. The cooking time varies according to the shape and quality of pasta, and whether it is fresh or dried.
When the pasta is al dente it is drained through a colander or, for long pasta, by lifting it out with a long wooden fork or a spaghetti server. Some of the cooking water is sometimes reserved to add at the end, should the finished dish seem too dry. This is always done when cooking fresh pasta, since it absorbs more liquid. Once drained, the pasta is transferred to the frying pan containing the sauce or to a warmed bowl and immediately dressed; it should never be left to sit in the colander or bowl without any dressing. Pasta shouldn’t be dressed with too much sauce, nor should the sauce be watery.
Pasta can also be cooked using a totally different method, which is called ‘the Agnesi method’, since it is from the late Vincenzo Agnesi, the founder of the Pasta Agnesi company. And here it is: bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the usual amount of salt and then add the pasta and stir vigorously. When the water has come back to the boil, cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes and then turn the heat off, put a clean towel over the pot and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Leave for the length of time suggested on the packet instructions. When the time is up, drain the pasta and dress as usual. Pasta cooked in this way will retain more of the characteristic flavout of the semolina. The other advantage is that it does not overcook if left a minutes longer.
Pastasciutta is a term meaning pasta that, once cooked, has been drained and served with a sauce. Pasta in brodo (‘pasta in soup’) on the other hand, is pasta served in the liquid in which it has cooked, which is the brodo, or stock.
Pasta colorata or aromatizzata (coloured or flavoured pasta) – pasta that is yellow (saffron), brown (fungi), red (tomato) or black (cuttlefish ink) – has now become as widely available as the traditional green (spinach) pasta from Emilia. Pasta ripiena (stuffed pasta) includes the large range of different types of ravioli. The wrapping is made of egg pasta and the stuffing is different for each type of raviolo.
In Italy, pasta is made in different ways in many regions, but the most popular fresh pasta is the pasta all’uovo made in Emilia, for which this is the traditional recipe.
- 300g Italian 00 flour, plus extra for dusting (Double “O” is finely milled, it is easy to built the elasticity of the dough, you could use normal plain flour)
- a pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs
- Put the flour on the work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the salt and the eggs. Using a fork or your fingers, mix the eggs and draw in the flour gradually. Work quickly until it forms a mass. Scrape the work surface clean and wash your hands. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Put in the flour and salt, switch on the machine and drop in the eggs through the funnel. Process until a ball of dough is formed. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.
- Knead the dough for about 5 – 7 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes – or up to 3 to 4 hours.
- Unwrap the dough and knead on a lightly floured work surface for 2 – 3 minutes, then divide into 4 equal parts. Take one piece of dough and keep the remainder wrapped in clingfilm or cover with a damp tea towel. Roll out the dough using a rolling pin, or by machine following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If you making lasagne, or any type of stuffed pasta, proceed immediately to cutting and stuffing. If you are making long pasta, before you cut it, leave the dough to dry until it is no longer sticky. Then feed each strip of dough through the broad cutter of the machine for tagliatelle or fettuccine, or through the narrow cutters for tagliolini. For tonnarelli, roll the dough out only to the fourth setting of the machine. Whe dry, feed the sheet through the narrow cutter to achieve a sort of square spaghetti.
At least you try this recipe by hand during the mixing process, I think it is very important for you to feel the ingredient when you working on it. The first attempt I made fresh pasta before I found this recipe, I didn’t use machine but by hand, it was very exciting when I mixed the flour with eggs, using heel of my hand to roll it as is using my body heat to gently working with the gluten of the flour rolling it and giving my attention and love toward the mixture. This is a good collaboration between me and the food; I called this the good relationship. Then when I rolling out into a sheet I cut them into several piece and floured each of them and piled them together and then rolled it like a swiss roll then used a sharp knife to sliced it. Unfortunately it doesn’t came out as I expected because it was stuck together badly. The second time I made it I didn’t dry them much it cooked too quickly and it fall apart. The third time I made it by machine and it is great!