The Essential Guide to Pasta

How to make the perfect pasta at home with our Essential Guide to Pasta.

What is pasta?

Pasta is a mix of flours, water, salt and (sometimes) eggs. It’s a staple food of kitchen cupboards around the country, and around the world, as it’s super easy to cook and can be flavoured in whichever way you fancy.

Where did it come from?

Italy, of course! It’s believed by some that pasta dates way back to pre-Roman Italy, after historians found decorations in a 4th Century BC tomb that resemble pasta-making equipment; though this interpretation is disputed. From the 13th Century onwards, however, definite references to pasta dishes crop up with increasing frequency in Italian literature.

The wider world’s love affair with pasta blossomed throughout the 20th Century, and eventually led to spaghetti being made both a comical and romantic reference, thanks to big-screen movies such as Disney’s Lady and the Tramp and Goodfellas.

What types are there?

It’s believed there are over 350 different types of pasta! But, most people stick to a handful of the more common varieties that can be found in your local supermarket; these include:

  • Spaghetti: Long, thin, solid cylinders of pasta
  • Penne: Short tubes, cut at an angle and usually ridged around the edge
  • Fusilli: Short, twisted tubes
  • Ravioli: Square or circular pasta parcels, usually filled with vegetables
  • Tagliatelle: A thicker, flatter version of spaghetti; these rectangular ribbons are great for a vegan carbonara
  • Macaroni: Short, narrow, curved tubes that are used for one of the Western world’s most popular pasta dishes: macaroni cheese
  • Conchiglioni: Shell-shaped pasta, perfect for pairing with sauces or stuffing
  • Cannelloni: Large, hollow tubes of pasta, usually stuffed and baked
  • Lasagne: Flat square or rectangular sheets, usually layered with Bolognese and white sauce to create a lasagne bake
Top tips for making pasta

Penne

  1. Trust your gut — homemade pasta is often more about feeling than measuring. Your dough might need a little added water or flour, and the amount you add is just down to a judgment call.
  2. You don’t need a bowl! Look at how the Italians do it — straight onto a flat worktop, and mainly using their hands to mix and knead.
  3.  Don’t skimp on the kneading — it can take up to 10 minutes to knead your pasta dough into a smooth, elastic ball, that can be moulded and cut into the correct shapes.
  4. Add salt to the cooking water — this will flavour the pasta and help stop it sticking together too much.
  5.  Giving the dough a rest post-kneading could make it easier to roll out and cut later on.

 

Find lots of information on the ingredient in our glossary.

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