Facts About Pasta and Risotto
It is believed that the Italian explorer, Marco Polo, introduced the idea of pasta to Italy in the 13th Century. He spent many years in China and brought noodles with him when he returned to Italy.
The word pasta actually means 'paste'. It is a paste of flour, water and sometimes egg.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of different pasta shapes available!
Italians choose their pasta very carefully as different shapes and sizes are better suited to certain dishes. For example, if you're cooking a soup such as il minestrone or il brodo you should use small shapes such as stellete (little stars) or acini di pepe (peppercorns).
If you are preparing a dish containing big pieces such as prawns, then long pasta is best. As you twirl your fork around the pasta, the pieces get caught up and you can enjoy it all in one bite!
Italians never ever use a spoon to help them with long pasta! This might sound a little crazy but it's true. If you want to look really Italian next time you're at a restaurant or on holiday here's how to do it:
Use your fork to lift up a few strands of pasta. Spin your fork round and round. The pasta strands will be wound around the fork, ready to be eaten. With a little practice you'll soon learn.
Un bel tocco di stile! Great style!
It is extremely important that the water is already boiling when putting pasta in the saucepan. The water reaches boiling point more quickly if it is kept covered by a lid. However, the lid should be kept removed whilst the pasta is cooking.
Italians add a small handful of coarse salt - il sale grosso - to the boiling water before adding the pasta. They do not use il sale fino - fine salt - for this.
Why use coarse salt?
Coarse salt is traditionally used because it is easier and less messy to hold in the hand over a steaming pan and it is cheaper than fine salt. As it is simply going to be dissolved, there is no need for it to be a particular salt - so the cheapest version is the most convenient.
The salt is added to the water when it is boiling and not before. This is because ready-salted water would take longer to reach boiling-point.
There are two types of pasta: dried pasta - la pastasciutta and fresh pasta - la pasta fresca. The dried variety is the more common one. It is hard because it has been dried so that it will keep for a long time. It is packaged and stocked in supermarkets all over the world.
Fresh pasta can be made at home using flour, water and, if you wish, eggs. Fresh pasta made with eggs is called la pasta fresca all'uovo. Fresh pasta remains soft and only keeps for a maximum of two or three days in the refrigerator.