Pasta is a staple food of traditional Italian cuisine, with the first reference dating to 1154 in Sicily. Pastas may be divided into two broad categories, dried (pasta secca) and fresh (pasta fresca). Both dried and fresh pasta come in a number of shapes and varieties, with 310 specific forms known variably by over 1300 names having been documented. In Italy the names of specific pasta shapes or types often vary with locale. For example, the form cavatelli is known by 28 different names depending on region and town. Common forms of pasta include long shapes, short shapes, tubes, flat shapes and sheets, miniature soup shapes, filled or stuffed, and specialty or decorative shapes. The tiniest shapes are often used in soups, long ribbons or strands with sauces, and tubes and fanciful shapes in casseroles and pasta salads. Some shapes are large enough to be stuffed and baked, and others, like ravioli, come already stuffed.
- Pasta is ready when it's "al dente." It should be cooked completely through, yet firm enough to offer some resistance to your bite.
- Drain the pasta in a colander, but don't rinse it unless you plan to use it in a casserole or pasta salad. Reserve a small amount of the flavorful cooking liquid in case the pasta becomes too dry and needs to be moistened. Serve it as soon as possible.
- Many pasta shapes comes in different sizes. The Italian suffix "ini" means smaller (e.g., spaghettini is a thin version of spaghetti), while "oni" means larger.
For pasta salads: penne OR macaroni OR fusilli spaccati
To go with heavy sauces: pappardelle OR fettuccine OR fusilli spaccati OR linguine
To go with light, smooth sauces: spaghetti OR vermicelli
To go with cream or butter sauces: fettuccine OR spaghetti OR elicoidali
To go in dishes with chunky, bite-sized ingredients: farfalle OR fusilli OR penne rigate OR macaroni OR rigatoni
To go in soups: orecchiette
To go in baked casseroles: macaroni OR penne rigate OR rigatoni OR lasagne OR fusilli spaccati