Pasta, originally a food from Italy is now much loved all over the world. This is because it’s quick and easy to cook. Pasta is basically made from wheat flour and so has a neutral taste which lends it the ability of going well with a myriad of flavors and sauces. This attribute which it has in addition to foods like potatoes, bread or rice, makes it a very good staple food.
It is a good source of carbohydrate that is low in fat but also contains proteins. For those of us out there that are “fat” conscious, good news because pasta is not fattening. It only becomes fattening when the sauces or condiments you use for them are.
As cooking goes, pasta is best cooked “al dente” i.e. with a little bite; soft but not soggy. They can go with almost any condiments but these top the list for me: lots of garlic, minced meat, smoky bacon, baylis (yes, baylis), cheese or cream.
Pasta can grouped in different categories but for ease of understanding mine will be forms, sizes, colours/flavours and shapes. Others include long, short, flat, stuffed and pastas for soups:
There are the fresh and dry. The fresh include the stuffed pasta and can be made at home and shaped with cutters, a press or manually. This can then be cooked immediately or stored in the freezer till ready to use. The dry is the most common type available in stores. These can be stored in their packets or air tight containers for many months.
You also have the plain and egg pasta. The plain is basically made just from flour while the egg as the name implies has egg added to it. Both are yummy however the advantages of the egg over the plain is that they are more nutritious, have a better/delicate texture and a richer flavor.
These range from small to large. The large ones include the popular lasagna which is baked and tubular cannelloni which is good for stuffing. The small ones include the alphabet-shaped “alfabeti”and rice-shaped “risi” which are both good for soups and the Couscous.
Colours and flavours:
These pasta contain ingredients that change the colours and flavours. They include brown pasta which is coloured by using whole wheat or chocolate, green by spinach or basil, red or pink by tomato or beetroot, yellow by saffron and black pasta by ink gotten from squid, octopus or cuttlefish.
Shapes: This is the most interesting category as they are very appealing to the eye. There are hundreds of shapes out there but I will stick to the top ten.
1. Spaghetti: This is the most popular, so much so that you could, “think pasta and think spaghetti.” From spaghetti Bolognese to spaghetti carbonara and everything in between, spaghetti sure is the king of the pack. These are thin and long pasta that in a bunch resemble a broom. Growing up I remember that some people couldn’t pronounce it well and instead called it “super-ghetti.” I don’t blame them as it’s super indeed. Lol. Some people break it before cooking but I say its best cooked unbroken so that you can dip and swirl your fork around it delightfully when eating. In Nigeria, there is a local spaghetti made by the Hausa people, called “Talia”. I must say kudos to them for giving us our own Nigerian indigenous spaghetti
2. Noodles: Even though this is traditionally an Oriental food with the Chinese name; “mein”, it is a form of pasta. Whether instant, fresh, dried or in different shapes and colours, they are basically curly looking like a head of jheri curls.
3. Macaroni: Say mac and cheese and the cameras go flash! These pasta are curved, little, tubular shapes that look like little elbows. They are most popular in the dish; macaroni and cheese however they can be cooked with any other ingredients.
4. Lasagne: I first took note of Lasagne in “Friends” (the hit series) when Monica was saying some stuff about it and then I got to eat it many years later and I must say it’s awesome. These are flat sheets of pasta that are cooked by layering them with cheese and a tomato based minced meat sauce. From the exotic sounding name to the pretty (mostly) transparent dishes in which they are baked, Lasagne is it any day for me. And in case you are wondering, Lasagne is plural while Lasagna is singular.
5. Couscous: You might not know but this is a form of pasta made from semolina that comes already steamed and so all you have to do is soak it in hot water for a few minutes, somehow like our very own Eba. Native to North Africa and actually their National dish, they appear as fine grains that look like acha or quinoa.
6. Ravioli: This is the most popular stuffed pasta. They come in squares but also in rounds. The stuffing which are ground vary and could be meat, fish, egg, cheese, vegetables, you name it. It is then boiled in water and served with a sauce.
7. Fusili: This is spiral in shape like a corkscrew and always makes a very dainty dish because it looks very elegant. So boyfys and hubbys note that a dish of this (made by you!) will wow your significant other. In addition to spaghetti and macaroni they are the most popular pasta you can find in Nigeria.
8. Penne: This is tubular and looks like rigatoni except that the edges are slanted. They are available as smooth or ridged and the very good thing about this pasta is that since it is tubular, it collects sauces and so makes for juicy pasta dishes.
9. Farfalle: This is bow or butterfly shaped. They sometimes come in tri-colours (pink, green and plain) in the same pack making for a very pretty presentation. A meal of this would be good temptation for little girls who don’t like eating.
10. Linguine: This is the sister of spaghetti as they are both long however linguine is flat and rectangular unlike spaghetti which is round and cylindrical. It can be cooked like spaghetti however the sauce should be thicker so that it can cling to its strands.
The list goes on but others include: Cannelloni (big and tubular), rigatoni (small and tubular), conchiglie (shells), tortellini (little pies), cappelletti (little hats), risi (rice-shaped), alfabeti (alphabets), tubetti (little tubes) ruotti (little wheels) and farfalline (little bows).
Armed with this arsenal of information, I’m sure the sky is your limit in pasta cuisine so in the words of my Italian brothers I sign out with Bon appetito : )