Pasta and the dishes prepared with it have conquered the whole world. According to Wikipedia, there are at least 310 different specific shapes called by more than 1300 other names. All made in Italy.
Its origin is attributed to the Arabs, who brought it to Sicily and mentioned it as early as 1154 in Muhammad Al-Idrisi’s book. This Arab geographer, who drew the world map on behalf of King Roger II of Sicily, noted the presence of dried pasta of row shape consumed heated in water.
But even in the Far-East, they already knew about it as Marco Polo’s travels’ history teaches us.
The mass’s preparation makes the main difference, but then you’ve got to choose between hard and fresh pasta. But which one is better? Definitely, it’s a matter of pure taste.
Let’s take a closer look at them
The main differences
First of all, the difference is the flour, which is made of durum wheat in the case of hard pasta.
Instead, softer flours are used for fresh pasta, such as flour type “00” and “0”, usually present in central and northern Italy.
By using less refined flours such as type 1, type 2, or even wholemeal flours, these should always be cut with type “0” flour to rebalance the characteristics.
But fresh pasta is also divided by the combination of flour and other ingredients.
In fact, inside the denomination of fresh, we find:
– Fresh egg pasta for the preparation of filled pasta such as tortellini or ravioli and tagliolini, but also lasagna. The most famous region for the processing of this type of pasta is undoubtedly Emilia Romagna.
–Fresh durum wheat semolina pasta is used to prepare the famous caratelli and orecchiette and scialatielli, all types of fresh pasta typical of southern Italy.
– Potato gnocchi that we cannot forget, and that is prepared simply by adding potatoes to the flour and egg.
A striking example of dealing with the theme is to think of two regions and two Italian cities, the symbol of one and the other: Emilia Romagna and Bologna for fresh pasta and Campania and Naples obviously for durum wheat pasta.
It may be fate, but just when I’m writing this article, two Italian women are competing for the Oscar nomination and who are, you see case native of the two areas in question.
On one side, we have Laura Pausini, originally from Faenza, not far from Bologna, and for Naples, we have the great Sofia Loren.
Two women who come from two realities so different, yes, because in Italy with pasta is no joke and indeed each of them will have grown up, like millions of Italians in the faith of fresh pasta or durum wheat pasta.
Emilia Romagna and Fresh Pasta
This region, famous worldwide for its gastronomic excellence, is the home of lasagne and tortellini, and even tagliatelle.
Not to mention the most famous condiment of all time: the Bolognese ragout. And as if divine hands had designed it, Parmigiano Reggiano also comes from the lands of Romagna.
So how not to think of a plate of tagliatelle alla bolognese (with Bolognese sauce) and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano.
And what about tortellini in brodo.
Puff pastry or stuffed pasta?
When we talk about fresh pasta, we must mainly divide it into at least two types. Yeah, because if we also consider potato gnocchi, there are actually three.
1- There is that type of pasta sfoglia (sheet of pasta), cut and formed to make an infinity of styles such as tagliatelle or pappardelle and lasagna.
2- And then we have all the pasta ripiena (stuffed pasta), more than thirty different types filled with the most varied fillings. They range from stuffed with meat and Parma ham. But also with cheese and mushrooms and so on.
Many types of fresh pasta take on a different name from region to region. Although the basic recipe for its preparation remains unchanged, here and there, they prefer one flour rather than another, or they add a typical ingredient of the area and therefore gives it a specific note.
And still, you can vary the number of eggs and so on. The types are really many. And the entire Italian peninsula is submerged by an infinite number of recipes that make fresh pasta a real pillar of Italian culinary culture.
La Pasta Sfoglia
Surely the best known are:
But there are many more scattered throughout the regions. Let us, therefore, try to go deeper and summarize the primary qualities, also remembering the geographical origin:
Pizzoccheri in Lombardy,
Buckwheat dumplings and Spatzle in Trentino
Bigoli in Veneto
Blecs in Friuli
Maltagliati, Fescheirol, and Tajarin in Piedmont.
Chestnuts Fettuccine and Gnocchi in Valle d´Aosta.
Mandrilli, Battolli, Corzetti, Picagge and the Trofie in Liguria
Stricchetti, Pisarei (made of flour, dry bread and water), Lasagne, Bazzott, Passatelli, Tagliatelle and Maltagliati in Emilia.
Pici, lasagne Bastarde, Pappardelle and Testaroli in Tuscany.
Ciriole, Umbricelli, Strangozzi, Penchi in Umbria.
Vincisgrassi, Maccheroncini di Campofilone, Tacconi, and Pincinelle in Marche.
Strozzapreti, Frascarelli, Maccheroni al Ferro, Fregnacce, Tonnarelli and Gnocchi alla romana in Lazio.
Maccheroni with guitar, Pappicci in Abruzzo
Cavatelli, Frascarelli, Fusilli in Molise.
Triilli, the Neapolitan Lasagna, the Scialatielli in Campania
The Lagane, the Shutters, the Minuich in Basilicata
Orecchiette, the Minchiareddi d’orgiu for Apulia
Maccaruni, the Stroncatura, the Laganellee, and the Fileja in Calbria.
Lorighittas, the Malloreddus, the Fregula in Sardinia.
Busiati and the Maccaruna ennesi in Sicily
Instead, as far as the stuffed pasta is concerned, probably the most famous is Tortellini alla bolognese. As we said, the tradition of fresh egg pasta in Emilia Romagna is a simple search for perfection and uniqueness.
It is said that between the cities of Piacenza and Rimini alone, there are 36 different formats of fresh pasta and hundreds of fillings and condiments. That makes one every 4 kilometers circa!
These are some of the many variations:
Tortelli (for example of herbs or potatoes or pumpkin)
And then again…
From Liguria the pansoti he zembi
From Sardinia the culurgiones
From Campania the ravioli capresi
From Piedmont the agnolotti and agnolotti del plin
Schlutzkrapfen from South Tyrol
From Friuli, the cjarsons
From Lombardy, the casonseí
From Veneto the casunziei
Campania and Hard Pasta
Neapolis, a new city, that’s what the Greeks called it. Naples, a city that is superlative and is associated with a millenary culinary culture in all respects.
Dominated by Vesuvius and protected by the same name’s gulf, the city has always enjoyed an extraordinary microclimate. Thanks to its rich volcanic lands, it has always been a region sought and sought after for agriculture and grazing.
Think of the famous tomatoes S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino and Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio, Sorrento’s lemons, and also the wines, such as the famous Lacryma Christi. But even the Vesuvian apricots, Catalan grapes, and many others, not to mention cattle breeding and derived products such as cheese. Certainly not to be forgotten the famous Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.
And pasta is certainly not excluded.
Returning to our research on types of pasta is the city of Gragnano that draws our attention. Not for nothing, the Consorzio di tutela della pasta di Gragnano IPG (Consortium of Gragnano) enjoys the initials IGP for Protected Geographical Indication.
For centuries, in Gragnano, pasta’s artisans exploit the dry winds of the Mediterranean that passing through the city give way to dry the pasta slowly. Already the Romans used to produce pasta with the durum wheat semolina made in these lands, then ground in the Valley of the mills (Valle dei Mulini) and mixed with pure water from the source Forma, which comes from the mountain range of the Monti Lattari.
Since then hundreds of different types of pasta have been created. Sometimes due to the need to maintain or transport it and other times for the simple taste of inventing and trying.
In the end, after hundreds of years there is an endless variety of types of durum wheat semolina pasta, which are divided into pasta corta (short pasta), pasta lunga (long pasta) and pasta al forno (baked pasta). But also tubular pasta, pasta in nests, pasta in skeins. And we also subdivide it according to section, and so we have round, square, rectangular, lenticular and so on.
It is useless to summarize here and now all known types, but surely it will be a challenge for the future to create a complete list. Even if only to try to count them all and see how far the imagination of the craftsmen and our ancestors has gone.
Durum wheat semolina pasta has literally conquered kitchens worldwide. It is inevitable to think of a good spaghetti dish with a tomato sauce when talking about Naples.
Talking about durum wheat semolina pasta and so with “not filled” pasta, when we decide which one is the best, we could be corrupted by the sauce with which we season the pasta that will give taste to our dish.
However, a purist will decide the goodness of the pasta, not according to the filling. What counts is the processing and here, especially if it has been bronze extruded and dried slow enough (even up to 60 hours) to ensure a unique consistency even in the cooked state and therefore the “al dente” state. And of course at the right temperature, between 40 and 80 degrees Celsius.
The most striking example of the quality of the pasta is that of the “penne.” In fact, after spaghetti, penne is the most sold pasta in Italy.
Penne Lisce o Penne Rigate?
There is a sort of popular belief that has made its way into people’s heads, but that has been denied by an in-depth analysis of the subject by journalists of the program “Report of Rai 3 of the national Italian TV” broadcast last October 2020.
It turns out that both in the south and in the north of Italy, most people are convinced (or at least they were) that penne lisce (smooth penne) are of inferior quality to those scratched (penne rigate) because they do not retain enough of the sauce.
Well, this belief is false!
In fact, the “penne lisce” are of superior quality and, according to the opinion of Neapolitan, starred chefs, are precisely the “penne lisce” that hold the sauce better.
The solution to the mystery?
The processing and, to be precise, the pasta-extrusion, which must be strictly bronze-cut.
Yes, but as we know, quality costs money.
To satisfy the enormous demand, most producers see themselves forced to do the “Teflon drawing”, allowing a much faster production. But that, of course, does not give sufficient roughness to the finished product.
It is probably the fault of these “teflon drawn” pastes that penne lisce lousy reputation is due to.
Clearly, they cannot correctly retain the sauce. Therefore people prefer the ribbed (rigate) one who are still teflon-drown and having a competitive price compared to bronze drawn pasta, is offered by all supermarkets.
But of course, drying times are also crucial. According to what experts reveal in the transmission, the pasta must dry at least 9 hours, considering that the same consortium of Gragnano sets a maximum of 60 hours.
Unfortunately, probably due to pressure from important and influential producers, the new minimum drying time dropped to only 4 hours instead of 6, which was already insufficient according to the specialists interviewed by the Report’s editorial staff.
Another important detail that should not be underestimated is, of course, the raw material that, according to the purists, must be Italian wheat and not imported to ensure that it is not genetically modified.
Some Italian producers, in fact, have decided to buy the wheat overseas in the US. But it has to be said that, regardless of the origin, these pasta factories produce excellent pasta, piled with very pure water, bronze drawn and dried in a very long time.
But certainly, everyone will decide for themselves what is more important. I, personally, prefer a bronze drew and slowly dried pasta according to tradition.
If the wheat was produced in Oregon, I don’t see what’s wrong with it!
The question perhaps has to be what is better or worse:
-A grain whose genetic characteristics have been changed and which, however, resists certain parasites naturally and without additives?
-Or an untreated grain that must be protected during growth with fertilizers and pesticides, and insecticides.
Everyone is free to decide. Of course, with clear information about the final product to avoid unfair competition.
Well, which pasta is the best, fresh or durum wheat?
You will agree with me if I say that in the end, it is a simple matter of taste.
I personally am a fan of hard and very “al dente” pasta. But if I cook at home for my family, my children always tell me that they do not want pasta on the bone to understand that I have to leave it in water for an extra minute. LOL.
And what better dressing than a Neapolitan tomato sauce with a little extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese – (I also like pecorino stagionato) at the end?
When we go to the mountains, to our beloved Dolomites, and enter a “Rifugio” (mountain-lodge) after a nice walk, there is nothing better than a nice plate of tagliatelle or pappardelle with mushrooms or roe deer. Of course, always a little bit of parmesan cheese.
In short, it’s tough for me to declare a winner, but I’m sure that each of you has your own.
I also hope that this article has clarified things a little bit to those who have never studied the subject in-depth or that it will be useful to you when deciding on a menu or talking to your customers in your restaurant business.
The world of pasta is so vast that I will definitely come back to talk about it to go into one or the other topic and maybe even see some regional recipes not yet known outside the peninsula’s borders.
I wish you all the success you deserve.
See you soon