Pass the pasta: Tracing pasta shapes

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Picture yourself twirling your fork through perfectly cooked strands of spaghetti, with the tanginess of the tomato sauce and seasoning hitting soprano as you take the first bite in. The next bite brings in more twirls, more pasta. By the time you dig your fork for the third time, all the remaining strands seem like a single bite. There’s little to the art of eating pasta then, and more to feasting on it.

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From linguine to penne and from lasagne to pastina, pasta has been a staple of Italy, becoming a major epitome of its culture. TheVibe delves into its evolution, from origins to shapes and the cooking specs:

Digging into the past(a): Is it originally from Italy?

The Italian cuisine forerunner is said to find its ancestral roots in Chinese noodles. Marco Polo, the famous explorer is often hailed for bringing pasta to Italy. But historians point out that there is no trace of pasta in his famous travelogue, “Travels of Marco Polo”. Food writer Swayampurna Mishra explains that a few historians say that Polo couldn’t make it to China. “Instead he retold the Arabs version of China when he visited Persia (sic). Pasta on the other hand is supposed to have originated in Sicily in 1154 AD”, she adds.

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The Arabs have often been accredited for bringing pasta to Italy, as they forayed into Sicily. They were also the first ones to use dried pasta, so that it could be preserved for a longer time.

Shaped to perfection

From long strands of fork-wrapping spaghetti, to mini forms called pastina, there are more than 350 pasta shapes that have been documented. Each size, curve, and texture dictate the flavours of a pasta dish, rendering dynamic versions and recipes, and giving room for experimentation. For instance, Orecchiete is a pasta type that is typical to Southern Italy, and literally translates to “small ears” owing to its folding shape. The curve allows bold flavours to infuse well, and tastes heavenly when paired with meat. It’s often paired with broccoli sauce, which makes for a striking, flavourful dish.

Fettuccine.
Fettuccine.

Some of the popular long pasta (pasta lunga) savoured across the globe include:

Spaghetti

Linguine

Fettuccine

Lasagne

Vermicelli

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And, popular short pasta (pasta corta) include:

Penne

Rotini

Farfelle

Fusilli

Gnocchi

The part in a pot: Cooking pasta

Modern pasta is prepared essentially from durum wheat flour (the hardest wheat flour), which is usually kneaded with water. “It can be made with flour from other cereals or grains and eggs may be used instead of water,” Swayampurna says. She also informs, “The technique for cooking pasta is the same, only the time differs. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it. And add the pasta!” The Italians prefer their pasta cooked al-dente (Italian for ‘to the tooth’)- a midway between brittle and soft.

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The shape and size are two definitive factors when it comes to cooking pasta. “Something thin like angel hair or spaghetti takes a lot less time than a harder or pinched variety like fusilli or penne. Shorter pasta like farfalle will take 11-15 minutes to cook; elbow macaroni is done in 8-10 minutes.” Another important element when it comes to the time taken to cook pasta is its age. “Dried pasta takes longer, while fresh pasta will cook very quickly!”

Whether it’s a lazy Sunday brunch or a perfectly planned dinner date, pasta can perhaps never go wrong. Which is your favourite pasta dish? Let us know in the comments below!

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