Pasta is either a noodle or a dumpling. It is made by mixing flour with liquid and/or other ingredients to turn into a dough. Then, it is kneaded and/or rolled into sheets before it is cut into shapes. You can boil, bake, or fry pasta. And, you can serve it with a sauce or broth.
The term pasta was first mentioned in 1st Century AD as laganon, where the word lasagna was derived. Likewise, while we thought the term refers to the Italian food, it is not. The Greek word laganon refers to the method of layering dough as the first form of pasta. Meanwhile, some historians claim that pasta is most likely a descendent of ancient Asian noodles. It was believed that Marco Polo brought it to Italy from China during the 13th century.
Nevertheless, pasta is known to be a staple food and ingredient in Italian cuisine. It can be easily grouped into two broad categories: fresh and dried. Fresh pasta is typically hand made while dried pasta is mostly produced using a process called extrusion. Still, pasta has countless varieties. Despite that, this ingredient can surely provide a wonderful meal.
- October 17 is National Pasta Day.
- In the early days, pasta was kneaded using feet. Since pasta dough was tough, laborers would walk over large batches of dough to knead it. It could take one full day of walking for a single batch to be kneaded completely.
- A typical portion of pasta should only weigh 100 grams.
- An average Italian consumes 60 lbs of pasta every year.
- There is a misconception that overcooked pasta will make you full longer because of its higher water content. But, a pasta cooked al dente will, in fact, keep you full and satisfied longer. It tastes better too!
Pasta Buying Guide
While pasta noodles can easily be found in large supermarkets and local stores, it might be helpful to know which ones to buy depending on your needs. Thus, we have compiled the following categories:
Types of pasta:
There are about 350 types of pasta worldwide. Furthermore, there are at least a thousand subvarieties that come from that. And while we cannot discuss all on one page, we’ve selected the 10 most popular ones to briefly discuss. Here are as follows:
- Spaghetti – This pasta is known for its long and roundly slender noodles. It is one of the most versatile types of pasta since it can be mixed with numerous sauce varieties. It also pairs well on meat and any vegetable dishes, but it can also be mixed with just olive oil and garlic. Spaghetti Bolognese, parmesan garlic, and Aglio olio are the most common dishes that use spaghetti noodles.
- Linguine – This pasta is known for its long and flatter noodles. Its more luxurious form makes it perfect to be paired with heavier meat or cream-based sauces. Fettuccine carbonara and fettuccine alfredo are the most common dishes that use linguine noodles.
- Lasagne – This pasta is known for its wide and thin sheets of noodles. It’s commonly used in oven-baked dishes like lasagna al Forno, where layers of ragu sauce, lasagne, and bechamel sauce are topped with cheese prior to baking.
- Ravioli – This pasta is known for its pillow-like square shapes that are stuffed with either cheese, meat, or vegetables. It can be served with a sauce, soup, or just plain olive oil.
- Macaroni – This pasta is known for its curvy, tube-like shape that is cut into short lengths. It is the pasta of choice when it comes to cheese or minestrone sauce. Mac ‘n Cheese is the most popular dish that uses macaroni noodles.
- Penne – This pasta is known for its round, tube-like shape, with diagonal edges. Due to its firmness, it is best paired with thick sauces as it can hold the sauce well. Moreover, it is also the best pasta to be used in baking. Penne Arrabbiata, penne a la vodka, and chicken florentine are the most common dishes that use penne noodles.
- Rigatoni – Similar to penne, this pasta is known for its tube-like shape with small ridges on the outside. But, they are wider and sliced into squares rather than diagonally. Due to its large shape, this pasta works perfectly with chunky sauces full of vegetables. It is also the ideal pasta to be baked into a gratin. Baked sausage rigatoni, rigatoni florentine, and rigatoni with eggplant are the most common dishes that use rigatoni noodles.
- Cannelloni – This pasta may come in either flat or large tubes. Regardless of its form, they’re stuffed with different fillings like spinach and ricotta cheese. It also works perfectly with a light and simple sauce like tomato.
- Farfalle – This pasta is also known as “bow-tie” or “butterfly” pasta. The reason for that is because it really looks like such. It’s a relatively small pasta with a large surface area. It is best paired with cheesy or rich tomato sauce as its ‘wings’ can hold the sauce well. In addition, farfalle can also be turned into a cold pasta salad and soups like minestrone. And, it can be served with grilled chicken. Another popular use of this pasta is the crunchy farfalle chips!
- Fusilli – This pasta is known for its corkscrew-like, spiraled shape. It is best paired with chunky vegetables and rich meat sauces as its shape can hold the chunks well. It can also be turned into baked pasta or casseroles due to that. Fusilli ala Caprese, pesto, and meat fusilli are some of the popular dishes that use this pasta.
Types of pasta according to ingredients (flour) used:
While there are a lot of pasta types out there, all of them can also be bought based on the flour used. You might want to try one that you haven’t used before, or you can choose between the following depending on your needs or dietary requirements.
- Traditional Semolina Pasta – This pasta is the most common noodles we can find. It is noted for its cream to yellow color due to the semolina flour that has been used. Semolina comes from ground durum wheat, which means that it provides more protein than the whole wheat, amounting to 7g per serving. However, since the bran of this grain has been removed during the refining process, it provides a lower fiber content compared to whole wheat – 2g per serving. Noting that the process of refining removes nutrients, some semolina noodles are enriched to put back the nutrients like niacin, thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, and iron. Still, this pasta is high in gluten, which helps it to retain its firmness after cooking. This type of pasta also needs less time to cook compared to the other varieties.
- Whole Wheat Pasta – Like semolina, this pasta also comes from durum wheat. However, the bran isn’t removed. Thus, it is often light brown in color and it provides a lot more fiber content than semolina – 5 g per serving. Due to this, it needs more time to cook. But, it is healthier and easily digested compared to the traditional ones. It also helps in keeping the blood glucose under control, making it a better choice for diabetic individuals.
- Gluten-Free Pasta – While this pasta is often made with brown rice flour, some other gluten-free labeled pasta can also be made using corn, quinoa, and buckwheat grains. Their carbohydrate and fiber content are relatively similar to semolina and whole wheat, especially if it’s whole grain brown rice or quinoa. However, it provides lesser protein than those two, with only 5 g per serving. Meanwhile, some gluten-free pasta that consists of a few grains mixed together, including some refined ones, can provide a lower fiber content (as low as 1-2 g per serving). Buckwheat noodles, however, is an exemption since it provides more fiber (6 g per serving) and protein (7g per serving). It is a good source of iron as well. Nevertheless, a real gluten-free pasta makes a better choice for individuals who are celiac and gluten intolerant, or for those who adhere to a gluten-free and/or FODMAP diet.
- Pulse Pasta – This non-traditional pasta is made with a blend of different legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas. They are slightly lower in carbohydrates compared to semolina (32 g per serving vs 42 g per serving). While the exact fiber content varies depending on the legume used, it could be higher in general. For example, a black bean legume can provide up to 15 g of fiber per serving while a red lentil legume can provide 6 g of fiber per serving. In addition, legume or pulse pasta provides a higher protein content, amounting to 14 g per serving. Due to this, it tends to be easily digested compared to the traditional ones. It also helps in keeping the blood glucose under control, making it a better choice for diabetic individuals. Furthermore, pulse or legume pasta is also a good source of folate, potassium, and iron. Thus, it also makes a better choice for those vegan individuals who need a good plant-based source of iron.
- Spiralized Pasta – This non-traditional pasta is made from vegetables like zucchini and/or butternut squash that are spiralized to create its pasta form. This pasta is naturally gluten-free and low in carbohydrates. Thus, it makes a better choice for diabetic, celiac, and gluten-intolerant individuals, as well as those who adhere to a gluten-free, paleo, and FODMAP diet. However, since it is naturally low in protein content, it would be best to add some plant-based or meat protein to balance the meal.
Now that we’ve scrutinized a lot of pasta varieties, it’s time to proceed with some basic tips on buying store-bought ones. Thus, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- All types of dried pasta can be found in the pasta aisle of the store.
- If possible, go for the ones that contain organic ingredients.
- Be sure to always check out the ingredients list and pick the ones with lesser preservatives and hard to pronounce chemicals.
- Pick the ones that are completely sealed to assure that the product hasn’t been contaminated. Packages that are torn should be discarded.
- When buying whole wheat pasta, make sure that the first ingredient on this list shows the word “whole,” such as “whole durum wheat flour.” If the label says “made with whole grains” but the first ingredient only shows “durum wheat flour” without the word “whole,” this pasta is not a whole wheat pasta. You can also confirm this by reading towards the end of the ingredients list. If it shows some added vitamins and minerals like niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, and folic acid, it means that the product underwent a refining process and was enriched with such nutrients. Hence, it is a semolina pasta rather than whole wheat. Whole wheat pasta will not show these nutrients as they weren’t removed and processed.
- As always, pasta noodles from local food vendors and artisans in farmers’ markets are better than the mass-produced ones. Here, you’ll get close to no preservatives and the ingredients are usually organic. Their products are also made in small batches and you might be able to get free samples along the way. And, don’t forget that our Texas Real Food website is home to all Texan vendors that would love to hear from you.
Pasta Production & Farming in Texas
In Texas, pasta noodles are usually done at home or in restaurants. But, the state is also home to countless numbers of manufacturers and even pasta plants that produce a variety of noodles from handcrafted to the machine-made ones. Fabio’s, BOH, Della Casta, Gourmet Texas, and Lucido’s are just some of the famous local producers of such top-quality noodles. Their production varies depending on their tradition. Some producers use a recipe that has been handed down from ancient generations, while others follow secret techniques on handcrafting the best ones. Still, you can find all of them here at our website, or you can catch them at select farmers’ markets.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Indeed, dried pasta noodles are more convenient to buy in stores. However, some of them, especially the flavored or seasoned ones, contain additives and chemicals for a lower cost yet fast-producing and shelf-stable products. Hence, here are some additives that we found on top brands of dry pasta:
- Vitamins and Minerals – As mentioned above, some pasta are refined and enriched. Enriching food means that the nutrients that were lost during processing are added back into the product to restore its original vitamin and mineral levels. For pasta, some vitamins and minerals include the following: vitamin b1 (thiamine mononitrate), vitamin b2 (riboflavin), vitamin b3 (niacin), iron (ferrous sulfate / ferrous lactate), and folic acid.
- Monoglyceride and Diglycerides – These are made up of glycerol and fatty acid chain(s). They both act as emulsifiers, binding oil & water. They are commonly found in frozen and packaged foods as they help in improving the texture and stability of the mixture while preventing it from separating and prolonging the product’s shelf life. Like fats, significant consumption of these additives can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease.
- Dextrose and Maltodextrin – It is a type of sugar that acts as an artificial sweetener, food neutralizer, and a preservative. Too much consumption of this ingredient can lead to body fluid build-up and high blood sugar.
- MSG – Monosodium Glutamate is used to enhance the flavor of almost any product. It is the one responsible for creating that umami flavor. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it can cause headaches, flushing, palpitations, sweating, nausea, numbness, and weakness to some people. It allegedly can cause asthma, brain damages, and even cancer; however, these allegations remained controversial.
- Sodium Caseinate – Also known as casein, this additive is commonly found in animal milk and is often used in cheesemaking. Like Magnesium Chloride, it also acts as a clotting agent when added in food. Common side effects include skin reactions, nasal congestions, and swelling of the face area.
- Dipotassium Phosphate – Abbreviated as DKP, this water-soluble salt acts as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and a texturizer. Common side effects include weakness, headache, nausea, joint pain, and diarrhea.
- Soy Lecithin – Often made from soy, this additive acts as an emulsifier, lubricant, flavor protector, and antioxidant. It is considered to be generally safe and beneficial to the human body; however, for some people, it causes them nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
- Color Additives – these are food colorings or dyes that are added to food products to improve its color. Some are natural and some are artificial. Examples of these are annatto extract (yellow), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange), grape skin extract (red and green), and dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown). Nonetheless, this additive can cause skin irritation, rashes, and eczema. Artificial ones include Yellow # 5 and Yellow # 6. It can upset one’s stomach and experience difficulty in breathing.
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein – Abbreviated as HVP, this additive creates a broth taste without meat, bones, and vegetables. Common HVP includes hydrolyzed corn, hydrolyzed yeast protein (a.k.a. yeast extracts), hydrolyzed soy, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and hydrolyzed wheat gluten. Although HVP is a processed additive, it is a good source of protein.
- Citric Acid – This additive is a natural preservative in foods. It is a weak and organic acid that is found on citrus fruits. Thus, citric acid adds that sour or acidic taste to the product. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it may cause muscle cramps, weight gain, stomach pain, and convulsions.
- Modified Food Starch – This additive is usually made with wheat, potato, corn, or tapioca. It acts as a binding agent, thickener, stabilizer, and preservative. This additive offers empty calories – they provide no nutritional value, yet it adds a considerable amount of carbohydrates which can promote weight gain. This ingredient should also be avoided by someone who is gluten intolerant.
- Thickening Agents – Added in the right amount, these thickening agents improve the viscosity of any food without changing its taste. Some natural thickeners include corn starch, potato starch, yellow cornmeal, wheat flour, and other flours.
- Lactic Acid – This additive is found mainly in sour milk products like yogurts, cottage cheese, etc. Thus, it is the one responsible for the sour flavor and the fermentative effects. Secondarily, it also acts as a mild preservative in foods.
- Xanthan Gum – This additive is a polysaccharide that acts as a thickener and stabilizer in foods. As an emulsifier, it also keeps the ingredients from separating. Common side effects include bloatedness and flatulence when consumed past its RDA, which is 15g.
- Caramel Color – It is a water-soluble food coloring that is made from caramelizing natural sources such as sugar or corn. Nonetheless, it acts as an emulsifier and a dye for a more appetizing color. Although this additive is generally safe to eat, it might increase the risk of high blood pressure or hypertension if eaten regularly and in great amounts.
- Artificial Flavorings – These are usually chemically-formulated products that are used to intensify the flavors of the product. Although they are labeled as such due to its very small quantitative participation, it’s always a better option to stay away from these ingredients. For flavored or seasoned pasta, some of which come in the following names: disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, disodium succinate, sodium phosphate, soy protein isolate, TBHQ, and alike.
Dry pasta noodles mostly come in plastic packages or cartons. Some are also packaged in pouches, packets, or mason jars. Frozen pasta dishes are also available in microwave-safe plastic containers or packets that are enclosed in cartons. Likewise, pasta sauces are also sold in markets. They’re commonly packaged in bottles, jars, or cans.
Pasta is a stand-alone meal. It’s neither a side dish nor does it have side dishes alongside. In fact, it’s considered to be a primo piatto, which means a first course. But, it’s also not an appetizer. Rather, it’s often the main part of the meal that is just served as a separate course. Also, it is traditionally eaten before the salad. Moreover, pastas are also served on a flat or shallow plate and should be eaten using a fork. Bowls and spoons are used if the pasta has a soup, like ravioli.
All pasta should be kept in a sealable and airtight container. Fresh, uncooked pasta should be kept on the refrigerator, where it would last for up to 5 days. On the other hand, sealed and uncooked dry pasta isn’t necessary to be refrigerated but it should be stored in a dark, dry, and cool place away from sunlight and away from hot and humid zones like stoves, grills, or ovens. Properly stored, dry pasta can last for about 2 years. Meanwhile, cooked pasta should be refrigerated and consumed within a week.
Make your own Homemade Pasta:
Indeed, pasta is easy to make at home. You’ll only need a few ingredients that are most likely already in your kitchen. While it is best to use semolina or durum flour, below is a recipe that only calls for all-purpose flour. Thus, you don’t need to go outside to buy one.
Yield: 6 servings
- 2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup water
- Mix flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Create a crater or well in the center of the flour and pour the beaten egg in it.
- Gradually incorporate the flour until a stiff dough forms.
- Dust a working surface with flour and transfer the dough there. Knead for about 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If it’s too dry that it won’t stick together, pour some water, a little at a time. Otherwise, if it’s too sticky, sprinkle more flour.
- Cover with a bowl and rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Roll the pasta using a rolling pin or a sheeter. Use the machine or knife to cut the pasta to its desired shape.