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PASTA Interesting Shapes, exciting colors
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by: Celebrity Recipes

Long.  Flat. Tube, cord-or ribbon-like. Spear-or butterfly-shaped. And yes, even curled. Indeed, pastas come in all shapes and sizes. But did you know that there is more to this favored foodstuff that the addition of your favorite sauce? Here are a few interesting facts concerning pasta:

Origins. A lot of people contend that pasta originated from China, considering that noodles were first made in that ancient country. However, technically speaking that is, pastas may have originated from Italy, bearing in mind that the pastas we know today—at least the more common forms—came from this Mediterranean country. Also, the pastas that we commonly cook are made from semolina, the granular product obtained from the endosperm (a plant tissue) of a type of wheat called durum. Considering that most Chinese noodles were made from rice flour or buckwheat, Italians can honestly say that they do have a claim on the invention of pasta.

What’s in a name? Strike two for the Italians. The word pasta of course, comes from the Italian word that also means “paste.” The word may refer the fact that before pasta are shaped and dried, they are paste-like in consistency. Moreover, the ancient forebears of the Italians—the Romans were technically proficient in the creation of pastes which they invented not only for filling teeth cavities, but also for the creation of fake gemstones. Paste that!

Form. Did you know that there are over 100 different kinds of pastas in Italy alone? Indeed, almost every town and region of Italy have their very own kind of pasta (which of course, brings to mind the practice in the Philippines of almost every town having their own kind of pancit e.g. pancit Malabon, pancit Lang-Lang of Imus and pancit de Choca of Cavite City). Anyway the diversity of pasta in Italy has also given rise to the creation of pastas of different shaped and sizes. As such, we now have the cord-like spaghetti (“little string”), the finer type of which is called spaghettini, the vermicelli (“little worms”), the tube-like macaroni and its variants: the dita lisci (which is elbow shaped) and the rigatoni (which is also elbow-shaped but fluted). There are also shell-shaped pastas which are produced through special dies. There are also the ribbon-like pastas such as the wide lasagna and the narrow linguine. There are also the so-called farfels which are special pastas that are ground, granulated and shredded. Of the wide pastas, there are also several kinds such as the farfalloni (“large butterflies”), the lancette (“little spears”), the fucilli (“spindles” or spiral-shaped), and the riccioline (“little curls”), and more.

Anyway, the special shapes of pastas, as most food-technologists found out are actually shaped in such a way that they are less likely to break or crack when transported—indeed, when was the last time have you seen a cracked macaroni? Moreover, the dryness of pastas are such that they actually be stored some lengths of time (when uncooked)  before spoilage sets in—they usually last for three to six months  and more when properly kept.

Have you noticed that uncooked pastas are almost always yellow in color? Blame it on xanthophylls which are found naturally in semolina. Xanthophylls determine the desirable yellowish pigment that color more pastas. Nonetheless, this yellowish pigment is usually lost when pastas are processed. Thus when pastas are cooked, they almost always turn white. However, not all modern pastas are just yellow or white in color. The addition of spinach, beets and other colorful vegetables (and their dyes) can give pasta a desirable green or red in color. Plus the addition of eggs can also heighten the yellowish tinge that is readily associated with homemade pasta dough.

Function. Lest you think that the Italians are obsessed with enchanting the visual attributes of their food, there is actually logic to the different shapes and sizes of pasta. Indeed, the varying shapes of this foodstuff were actually developed to complement specific characteristics such as the ability to absorb liquid (for easier cooking) and the ability to hold sauces.

Speaking of sauces, stronger sauces are said to complement the less intricately shaped pastas like the spaghetti—because the sauces tend to cover all the sides of the pasta, thus the starchy taste of these kinds of pasta tends to neutralize the spices in the sauce; while subtler sauces are said to complement the more shapely pastas—because the folds in the pasta are said to mold more of these sauces, thus more flavor.

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September 19, 2017

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