Penne. Tagliatelle. Spaghetti. Fusilli. Farfalle. Rigatoni. Linguine. Lasagne.
We all know what these are, more or less. But what about…
Capelli d’angelo, lagane, mafalde, pizzoccheri, scialatelli, fideuà, trenette, ruote, stelline, cavatelli, gigli, lumache, ricciolini, strozzaprete and trofie?
Yes, they are all still pasta.
Ok, so why are there so many different kinds? Well some are obviously just from different parts of the country, although i would remind you that the huge majority of pasta comes from the southern regions. Even the well known Barilla has its factory in Foggia, Southern Italy. This is because the climate here was conducive to growing wheat, and that in the North was more appropriate for corn and rice (hence risotto and polenta).
Are the different types of pasta important when learning how to cook authentic Italian food? YES! Some examples:
1. No self respecting Italian would make spaghetti with ragù (spaghetti bolognese). The long pasta just doesn’t work well with the thick meaty sauce – something that the sauce can collect in and stick to would be preferable. Try Penne rigate, Rigatoni or Conchiglioni. Edit: As has been pointed out, they DO use tagliatelle but NEVER spaghetti 😉
2. Long pasta is used almost exclusively with liquid sauces because they coat the long strands better. Try Linguine al filetto (fresh tomato) Pappardelle with butter and ceps, Trenette al pesto.
3. Most chefs tend to prefer the “rigate” or ridged versions of the classic shapes, saying that it renders the texture of the dish more interesting and that the sauces stick to the pasta better.
4. Stuffed pasta such as ravioli, tortellini and mezzelune are best with simple sauces like tomato sauce, olive oil with chilli and garlic, butter or cream based preparations. This is because the fillings often have a delicate flavour and anything too complex would ruin the experience.
5. Fresh pasta isn’t always better! Besides being more convienient, for many dishes dried pasta is better because it remains al dente thus retaining bite and consistency. If you do decide to use fresh pasta, remember that it does not expand the way dried pasta does so you will need more raw weight per person.
These are not rules of course, they are simply guidelines – hope can help you to prepare authentic Italian grub!
With love, from Italy