I’m sure most people think they know what fresh pasta is, but I beg to differ. Most people know what dried pasta is, but I’m not talking about dried pasta.
There is a massive difference!
You would know the difference between fresh/homemade and dried pasta, even if you never had it before, there is that much difference! My goal is that by the end of this article you will be enticed enough to start making your own pasta and keep the craft alive, especially in this country! Just so everyone reading this understands, when I use the term pasta in this article and on this site, for that matter, I am referring to “Fresh” pasta.
You may think, “why does this guy love pasta so much?”
My answer is it is not just me! You can travel across the world and visit every culture and there will be millions of people that love pasta like I do…… OK, maybe not a much but you get the point. The craziest thing about pasta is though that most people love to eat it and generally speaking, pasta is vegan! That is right folks most pasta out there is just flour and water. So next time someone says they love eating pasta but they think vegetarians/ vegans are dumb, you will know that they are dumb!
Homemade/Fresh Pasta is relatively easy to make and it vastly outshines the dried stuff, but don’t get me wrong dried pasta serves a purpose. Just ask my mom, single mother of three, trying to cook us dinner after she got off work.
What I’m trying to say is, you can make really good pasta and it isn’t that hard. I tend to make pasta difficult but I’m more into the advanced learning phase of my pasta journey.
Let’s start your journey.
The History Behind Pasta:
First, we have to start with the origin of pasta. Rightfully so, most think pasta originated in Italy. Unfortunately, it is likely that the Italians did not bring this delicacy to fruition…..initially. “The first clear Western reference to boiled noodles, Perry says, is in the Jerusalem Talmud of the fifth century A.D., written in Aramaic. The authors debated whether or not noodles violated Jewish dietary laws.” an excerpt from The Atlantic.
Many believe that pasta was brought to Italy by Marco Polo from China! I mean everything has been coming from there for thousands of years…. Dang! Italian people resent that idea, even though it has been recorded in history, just as Americans resent the idea the hamburger came from Germany!
The way I see it. Italians did invent pasta, as we know it today.
What is Homemade Pasta?
Pasta is a dough made up of flour (or a mixture of flours), water, and on occasion eggs (or components of an egg). This dough is either rolled very thin, like millimeter thin; then it is cut, shaped, or stuffed. There is one type of pasta that defies this definition, and that is extruded pasta. This type of pasta isn’t as dated as its counter-part but it still has made a huge impact on how we see pasta in today’s world. Realistically, most pasta you see in public supermarkets, restaurants, and other mainstream establishments are extruded. This is because a machine (Pasta Extruder) does all the work, it dries a lot faster, and the pasta dough recipe is flour and water.
The most basic pasta dough recipe I know is 3 cups flour and 1 cup warm water. I know right? If it is that easy then why don’t more people do it? Pasta takes patience, that’s why! This dough is exactly what I called it, the most basic dough. We can do better than that!
Categories of Pasta
This section could go on for hours but we don’t have that kind of time. His may not be official categories but I have always gone by them and I know the top pasta chefs in this city and they go by them to. You ever wonder why there hundreds of different pasta shapes and sizes? They are each designed to mimic everyday items believe it or not. They are also paired with a specific sauce; this could be for many reasons. A pasta may have historically just been served with that sauce, nothing special. Other pastas are shaped and designed to grab ahold of certain sauces depending on viscosity and density.
Here are the different categories of pasta.
Small kinds of pasta
These fall into a 1 – 2 in range, and pair well with thick sometimes chunky sauces. In Americanized dishes they are baked into casseroles or incorporated into vegetal salads. Here are some examples of small pastas:
Conchiglie- derives from the Italian word for “seashell” (conchiglie). Known in America as shells, you get the point? Holds on to medium viscosity sauces very well with its shell shape, like a cheese sauce.
Vermicelli- derives from the same word in Italian meaning “little worms”. That doesn’t sound too appetizing….. I have seen these cooked like rice and I’ve seen these packed into crab cakes before as well.
Create Di Galli- Named after the wavy crest on a rooster’s head, this pasta is meant to be served with meat sauces but this tomato sauces with vegetables will do just fine.
Farfalle- or “Bowtie” pasta. This pasta is named after butterflies wings. Best served with an oil or other fat-based sauce. Hence this pasta being made into pasta salad a lot. Pesto is a more traditional choice.
This is probably the most well-known category of pasta. These pastas are available in a wide variety of dried and fresh. The dried ribbons are usually buried in a heavy sauce whilst the fresh are tossed with a more delicate libation. Sauces like pesto, blanquette (wine and butter), and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) are good sauces for these kinds of fresh noodles. Here are some examples of ribbon pastas:
Spaghetti- The most commonly known referred to as “Angel Hair”. This pasta used to be cut by hand but is now commonly extruded for ease. This sauce is commonly served with a pomodoro (chunky tomato) sauce. This fresh pasta recipe would be semolina flour, water, and egg.
Linguine- Gets its name from the Liguria region of Italy. This pasta is similar to fettuccine but has an elliptical section rather than fat. This pasta is popularly served with pesto, tomato, or fish based sauces. This fresh pasta recipe would be semolina flour and egg.
Fettuccine- or fettuccina is a type of pasta popular in Roman and Tuscan cuisine. It is a thick and flat ribbon cut noodle served with creamy sauces. This pasta is cooked in water then in the sauce for an extensive time for absorption. The fresh pasta recipe would be semolina flour and egg.
Tagliatelle- Tagliatelle is a traditional type of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. This pasta is cut almost twice the width of fettucine. Tagliatelle can be served with a variety of different sauces but the most traditional would probably be the Bolognese.
Tube pasta is any pasta that is empty through the middle, framing a cylinder. They are accessible in various sizes and shapes. A few cylinders are long and restricted while others are short and wide. They are found with smooth or furrowed outsides and their finishes are cut straight or at edge. They are frequently presented with a hefty sauce, which holds well in the hollows of the pasta tubes. Rounded pasta is additionally utilized in servings of mixed greens and meals. A portion of the bigger cylinders that have a wide opening can be loaded down with meat or cheese and baked off. Here are some examples of tube pasta:
Macaroni and Penne- as you can see there are some pastas that overlap into two categories. I guest they are just special. Oddly enough, the pastas that tend to overlap are the most popular ones…. These two pastas could arguably be categorized under small pastas as well. I think everyone knows these pastas well enough, so I wont get into these.
Ziti- It is smaller than rigatoni, but larger than mezzani. It looks like penne but is cut straight through not diagonal. Ziti may have smooth sides, but the addition of the word rigati (ridges) mean it has ridges on the pasta’s outer surface. Ziti is usually baked similar to a casserole in USA the ziti is baked in a dish and topped with cheese which is caramelized in the oven.
Ditali- commonly used in the Campania region. This pasta has many uses, but it is utilized mostly in soups. I have found that is makes a delightful pasta salad if tossed in a lighter dressing. This pasta is mainly comprised of semolina flour and water.
Paccheri- This pasta is essentially a much larger Ditali. You may see it ridges or not, like most tubular pastas. This pasta is served best with a ragout or a “sugo”. This pasta hails from the Campania region and is comprised of durum wheat flour and water.
These are the guilty pleasure of the pasta world. You can pretty much stuff pasta with anything you want within reason. There are also multiple different ways to stuff pastas, from the open ended cannelloni (which could also be considered a tube pasta) to the double layered ravioli. In my experience, keeping the stuffing simple and focusing on the dough and sauce pair will 9 times out of 10 make a winning pasta dish. Here are some examples of stuffed pastas:
Ravioli- This is the most common of the stuffed pasta. This pastais composed by piping a filling onto a sheet of fresh pasta then adding another layer of paper thin pasta on top. Once layered properly the air is pushed out by “crimping” and the ravioli is then cut with a specialized cutter.
Mezzelune- This is a semi- circular pasta named after a “half-moon”. This pasta hails from Italy/ Austria. This fresh pasta dough recipe normally contains: Buckwheat flour, white flour, durum semolina, eggs, olive oil. The pasta filling is traditionally: cheese, spinach, mushrooms.
Tortelli- traditionally made in the Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Tuscany regions of Italy. Judging by its shape, I would say this is one of the first stuffed pastas made. This pasta goes well with a variety of sauces like melted butter, Bolognese, and broth. The general theme here is to keep the sauce simple.
Tortellini- get their name from the belly button! They do look like little belly buttons. They are originally from the Emilia region in Italy. In my experience, the best tortellini has an egg yolk enriched dough. This fresh pasta recipe is semolina flour, egg yolk, water, and extra virgin olive oil. Typically stuffed with meat but ill show you some awesome vegetarian/vegan substitutes.
Agnolotti- Agnolotti is a sort of pasta common of the Piedmont district of Italy, made with little bits of smoothed pasta dough , collapsed over a filling of simmered meat or vegetables. Agnolotti is the plural type of the Italian word agnolotto. Typically , these little beauties are served with beef broth or melted butter.
Caramelle- This pasta is on the rise in today’s pasta world. A lot of chefs are starting to sell this in their niche pasta restaurants. I like the Caramelles because they are a fun, unorthodox kind of fresh pasta. These weren’t an old world kind of pasta they are like a novelty, their name literally translates to “sweetie”. Since this pasta is very similar to tortellini and agnolotti you can use the same type of dough.
- How Do You Store Homemade Pasta?
Once the dough is made. The pasta is sheeted. Then cut/shaped/ formed, the pasta is ready to be stored. I got some cool tricks for you though.
Stuffed Pastas, Small Pastas, and Tube Pastas- These pastas need to be laid out on a tray and then frozen. Once completely frozen! Make sure it’s completely frozen or it will all stick together, and then you wasted your time because they are screwed. Once frozen, you can transfer the pastas into freezer bags to save space.
Ribbon Pastas- Unfortunately, ribbon pastas need to stay on the tray. Unless you are ok with noodles getting broken . Once the noodles are cut grab a portion size from the pile of pasta. And fold one end over the other to create what I call the birds nest.
- How Long Do You Cook Fresh Pasta?
For Small Pastas and Tube Pastas- If you owned an extruder, and you made these that’s a little much. I mean I have one but I love pasta….. from frozen depending on the type of pasta your looking at 45- 75 seconds. Fresh pasta is rolled out and then frozen directly . If not it would last a couple hours in the fridge, then it would be crap.
Ribbon Pastas- After these are completely frozen, once dropped in to boiling water you have 45 seconds max. I recommend you cook these noodles in the sauce for at least 20 seconds before serving for absorption.
Stuffed Pastas- These pastas are different from the rest. Due to the thinner outer layers they cook for a very short time in the aggressive boiling water. I would say 30 seconds is pushing it. Here’s what always happens with cooking stuffed pastas. The pasta is cooked on the outside but still frozen in the middle. Its normal, No worries. Transfer the stuffed pastas into your pan of sauce and gently cook the rest of the way.
- How Do I Cook Homemade Pasta?
This is actually universal for all pastas. In boiling water of course! The water needs to be at a rolling boil also. The important thing is how much water is boiling though. Think about what happens to boiling water when you throw frozen stuff in it? It gets cold and it stops boiling. To remedy the temporal drop in the water you need to increase the amount of water boiling. Just boil twice the amount of water than you would dry pasta and you should be fine.
- What Do I Need to Know About Homemade Pasta Dough?
This is the easiest part of making pasta. Just a few simple steps, and you’re done. There are two deciding factors when it comes to making a basic pasta dough recipe:
- You need to follow the rules!
This part is crucial when it comes to the later steps of the pasta production process. If you don’t follow the technique or try to speed up the process the pasta wont turn out right. Trust me I know from experience. I’ve been the chef at a few pasta joints, well I put pastas on the menu, and I’ve been in situations where I had to rush and it always ended bad. Pasta is deceptive, it will wait until the last minute to show you its not going work.
- You need to have a good recipe!
A pasta recipe isn’t a normal recipe where you can just add a dash here and there and everything is ok. These recipes need to be precise and accurate or it wont work. This is why most pasta recipes are in metric grams. Most of mine are. But for the basics I will convert them for ease.
I know this paragraph is labeled conclusion, but truth be told, this is the beginning of our pasta journey. I will continue to put professional level knowledge on this blog. The reason I want share my knowledge that I had to sweat, bleed, and cry for is because I believe I can make a difference this way. I do not want to live in a world where cooking and eating food out of boxes become the only option. Process/refined food is slowly pushing out the artisanal mom and pop joints that are the real culture of the food industry. I don’t want my culture to be opening boxes and obesity.
My craft is my way of fighting that nonsense. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this pasta saga.