Pasta is one of the most basic staple items in western cuisine.
We eat it with sauces, in salads and soups, baked, broiled, and sometimes even deep fried.
While there may not seem to be much mystery to the everyday carbohydrate, there’s a good deal of information about pasta that you may not know. Here are some pasta facts you didn’t know you needed to learn.
1. It may be as old as the first century BC.
Pasta’s predecessor was likely a type of dough that was seasoned and deep fried before eating. This 1st Century BC dish, “lagana,” wasn’t exactly pasta, but it appears to be related to earlier forms of our beloved staple.
Other early forms of pasta are noted in Greece in the 2nd Century AD (“itrion”), in Palestine as early as the 3rd Century AD (“itrium”), and in the Arab world by the 9th Century AD (“itriyya”).
2. People used to eat it with their hands.
For many centuries, silverware was something only the wealthy used for dining. The rest of the populations of Europe ate with their hands–which meant pasta was a finger food.
Of course, the pasta that common people ate wasn’t covered in sauce. Sauces, such as the ubiquitous tomato sauce we associate with spaghetti, were another part of pasta-eating that stayed on the tables of the rich. The sauce was added to give the pasta flavor and make it more interesting.
3. The flour is usually durum.
Although we know of wheat pasta, whole wheat pasta, egg pasta, rice flour pasta, and many other gluten-free and glutenous varieties, the traditional pasta recipe calls for semolina, which is a durum wheat flour. Durum is a species of wheat that is known for producing harder grains that are higher in protein than other species of wheat.
Also known as macaroni wheat, durum is used as an ingredient in almost all commercial varieties of pasta. Some types of pasta, such as tagliatelle, require a combination of semolina and a softer grain wheat flour.
4. The most basic liquid ingredients are water or eggs.
In order to make the pasta dough, one liquid ingredient is required. Most commonly that liquid is either water or chicken eggs.
There are sometimes exceptions to this liquid rule. Some pastas are made with other birds’ eggs, oil, milk or cream, vegetable puree, or even squid ink.
5. There are more than 1,300 names for 310 pasta shapes.
There are around 310 known shapes of pasta, which can be roughly corralled into the following categories: long, short, tubes, flat, sheet, miniature, filled, stuffed, and decorative. Among linguistic regions and in different countries, there are more than 1,300 names for these 310 shapes–and that’s just what is widely known.
Thanks to these variations, your wagon wheel pasta might be known as rotelle or ruote in Italy, depending on where you go.
6. We really only serve it three ways.
Despite the plethora of shapes, sauces, and serving styles for pasta, there are really only three ways that we serve and eat the dish. The Italians have been so kind as to give us the names for those ways, which can either serve for appetizers or main courses in that country.
Pasta asciutta is pasta with a sauce on it–like spaghetti. Pasta in brodo is pasta in a soup. And pasta al forno is pasta that has been baked–think lasagna or baked ziti.
Whether it’s handmade, purchased from the store, or served steaming in your favorite Neapolitan pizzeria, pasta has long been one of the most basic, filling, and delicious dishes around. So go get yourself a plate today!