It doesn’t matter that the origin of pasta is to be found in ancient Rome with the “lagane” (the current lasagna), or in Arab Sicily with the “triyah” that were exported to many places even by ships and that the Arab geographer Edrisi in 1154 described it as “a meal of flour in the form of threads”.
Prepared only with water and wheat, pasta is beyond any doubt the queen of Italian cuisine.
Available in many shapes, it is a versatile food. It can be seasoned with meat, fish or vegetable sauces; it can be eaten in broths or soups, cold for nice summer salads, or baked for tasty timbales.
In UK supermarkets we can find pasta from the most famous Italian brands, and they are all generally of good quality. The important thing, when buying dry pasta, is to check that the ingredients are only water and durum wheat flour. The average cooking time of the pasta (shown on the package) is from 10 to 14 minutes, depending on the size and thickness. It is also important that the pasta is not too yellow, and that the surface is slightly rough.
However, since pasta is a really cheap food, it is sometimes worth buying niche products that can give, for the same recipe, truly surprising results. There are in fact pastas made with particular care and the choice of particularly fine grains, such as those grown in Puglia (grecale, simeto and saragolla), and traditional procedures such as bronze drawing. One of the most famous is Pasta of Gragnano, an area just next to the Amalfi Coast, recognised IGP by the European Union. The result is pasta that keeps cooking very well and has a rough surface capable of holding the sauces in the best possible way.
Finally, it is important to choose the right shape of pasta for each sauce. The tomato sauce is perfect with long pasta (spaghetti, vermicelli, bucatini) as well as with short pasta such as rigatoni and penne. The fish sauces are suitable for spaghetti and linguine, but also for short pasta such as calamarata and paccheri. For soups it is preferable to use short pasta such as ditali or Sardinian gnocchetti. There are many types of little pasta, such as orzo or stelline, which are perfect in meat or vegetable broths, and are also an excellent meal for kids. Some traditional recipes include a specific type of pasta, such as trofie with pesto or orecchiette with tenderstem broccoli.
However, in the kitchen the rules, even if supported by a long tradition, are never so strict. So we just have to experiment and discover our favourite combinations!
Do you want to know which pasta shapes are in my pantry? Spaghetti, penne rigate, fusilli, rigatoni, casarecce, ditali, gnocchetti sardi, trofie, mezze penne rigate, mezze maniche, orecchiette and so on.
You can find Barilla and De Cecco almost everywhere.
If you want to try a special pasta Waitrose sells Cav.Giuseppe Cocco, and you can even find some special pasta shapes like trofie and orecchiette with their own brand No.1.
You can buy a lot of pasta online. I personally buy on Delicatezza where I can find De Cecco, Barilla, Divella, and also Garofalo and Vecchio Pastificio di Gragnano. And because pasta has a long life (it can last for 1-2 years beyond a “best by” date!) you can save some money with their multi-buy offers too!