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Old 04-04-2012, 01:15 PM   #1
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Luca’s lengthy treatise on Italian pasta – Part I

You will pardon me for the following wordy introduction. I would be very pleased if you read it but, if you’re in a hurry, feel free to skip to section The world of Italian pasta and the following.

Being a very shy lad is not an easy position, I can assure you. When it’s time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, I’m the one who stealthily crouches behind a sofa, hoping no one will remember his presence in the room. But there are times in life when one needs to show oneself that one’s existence is not a complete waste; after all, if God almighty put me here, there must be some good buried deep in my soul.
So, I decided to come to the aid of all the pasta italiana eaters of this forum. It is the least I can do: you have been really kind to me, and in this somewhat sombre time in my life you’re really helping me to carry on.
Now, let’s imagine a hypothetical dialogue about pasta between Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, two immortal characters created by the wonderful mind of P. G. Wodehouse.
“Jeeves.”
“Yes, sir.”
“I say, Jeeves, my old bean is literally fizzling.”
“Indeed, sir.”
“This Italian chef who took charge of Flippo Tupperware kitchen is feeding the old chap with these pasta dishes.”
“Yes sir, I’m aware of this somehow exotic situation. My nephew operates as a chauffeur at Stroppington Manor, sir.”
“Exotic may be the right word, Jeeves. Old Flippo absolutely loves the stuff, and keeps on blabbing about ravioli, spaghetti, perciatelli and some other unpronounceable strange recipes.”
“I can imagine, sir. Lord Tupperware is a slightly mercurial gentleman, if I may say so, sir.”
“Well, if you mean fickle, you’re absolutely right! However, yesterday at Stroppington I gave the impression to be an eminent expert in the field of Italian pasta, to impress this very nice girl, Flippo’s cousin Florence. I was invigorated by some glasses of a strong Italian red wine, I must say. And now I’m trapped: Florence invited me to speak on the subject at a devilish girls’ cooking school, and I could not refuse. I’m not that kind of chap.”
“I understand, sir.”
“But I cannot tell the difference between a ravine and a ravioli! Jeeves, a master plan of yours is needed to solve this puzzle!”
“I think that you should consult the DC forum on the Internet, sir. There you will surely find exhaustive information on the subject.”

I can assure you that asking an Italian “what is pasta?” is like asking a good old Eskimo “what is ice?”. He, I mean the Italian specimen, will stare at you, eyebrows raised, speechless for some moment. Then he will start inundating you with such an amount of passionate gibberish that you will promptly become an advocate of one of those terrible low carb diets. And if you ask ten Italians to illustrate the difference between ravioli, agnolotti, cappelletti and tortellini, you will obtain ten very different answers. Furthermore, if you consult Gillian Riley’s wonderful “Oxford Companion to Italian Food”, at the entry “Pasta” you will not find a single definition, but eleven cross-references to other entries.

The world of Italian pasta
The Italian word comes from the Latin word “pasta” which, among the ancient Romans, meant “flour mixed with water and salt”. Nowadays in Italy pasta is a generic term, which can refer to many different things. However, here we are talking about “pasta alimentare”, which I will liberally translate with “pasta intended to be used as a food”. Let’s be clear: in Italy we just say pasta, you will not ask a grocer a kg of pasta alimentare… This specific pasta is basically a mixture of flour and water. But from this deceivingly simple start, a sort of cookery Tower of Babel comes out.
Now that I managed to create an inextricable confusion, let’s put some balls in the proper holes.

Pasta morphology
On this first part of the treatise, I will address the unfathomable subject of pasta morphology. As you may well know, one way to decipher pasta is by looking at its size, shape, surface and stuffing, if any. So we have:

Long pasta, like spaghetti, tagliatelle or linguine. Long pasta can be further divided into:
– round-section pasta, like spaghetti or pici
– square-section pasta, like tonnarelli or scialatielli
– rectangular- or lens-section pasta, like trenette or linguine
– flat-section pasta, like tagliatelle or lasagne
– tubular pasta, like bucatini and perciatelli

Short pasta, like penne, farfalle or fusilli, which can be divided into:
– free-shape pasta: in the field of short pasta, you will find very simple shapes and fancier ones, like farfalle (which resemble small bow ties), radiatori (which resemble, well, radiators) and spiral-shaped fusilli
– tubular pasta, like penne and tortiglioni
– curved pasta, like gomiti
– shell-shaped pasta, like conchiglie
– disk-shaped pasta, like orecchiette or corzetti
– knotted or rolled pasta, like strozzapreti and strascinati

Very small pasta (called pastina), like filini, stelline, tempestini.

Pasta sold in sort of nests, like tagliatelle, tagliolini, pappardelle.

Stuffed pasta constitutes a huge realm. It is generally not so large in size. There are many different shapes of stuffed pasta, with various stuffing; I will not dare to talk about the stuffing, here. The following are the main kinds of Italian stuffed pasta:
– ravioli, usually with a squared shape
– tortelloni, square but folded to form a sort of triangle
– tortellini, similar to the tortelloni but smaller
– agnolotti, square shaped
– cappellini, small size, similar to the tortellini

About the surface, we have smooth and ridged pasta, sometimes for the same shape: for example penne lisce (penne smooth version) and penne rigate (the ridged one).

Wow, it’s been hard… In Part II I will talk (probably only to myself) about the ingredients of Italian pasta.
You’re warned.


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Old 04-04-2012, 01:40 PM   #2
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That is very interesting. I hadn't thought about classifying pasta that way. I'm looking forward to Part II.
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Old 04-04-2012, 02:09 PM   #3
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as usual, luca, you are informative and entertaining all in one breath. your topic of italian pasta catches me totally by surprise. i'd no idea how many different varieties of pasta there are out there until you began enumerating them in this post. personally, i probably only use eight or so different pastas for my dishes overall, and maybe just three of those 95% of the time. i can't wait for your second installment on the subject. will you have time and space to indicate what sort of dishes work best with the different types of pastas? also, i'd be interested to know how many different varieties of pasta you use on a regular basis, which ones are your favorites, which you make from scratch or not, etc., etc., etc.....
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Old 04-04-2012, 02:38 PM   #4
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Looking forward to parts 2 & 3, even though it may drive me to drowning myself in
Vecchia Romagna Etichetta Nera.
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Old 04-04-2012, 03:21 PM   #5
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Interesting! I didn't know there were so very many different shapes (or as you say: morphology).

I look forward to the ingredients....like egg pasta? spinach pasta? what else?
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Old 04-04-2012, 03:59 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taxlady View Post
That is very interesting. I hadn't thought about classifying pasta that way. I'm looking forward to Part II.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Soma View Post
Interesting! I didn't know there were so very many different shapes (or as you say: morphology).

I look forward to the ingredients....like egg pasta? spinach pasta? what else?
I'm working on it, Taxlady.
Yes Soma, I mean the ingredients used to produce pasta, flour, eggs and other stuff, like you say, as spinach and more.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vitauta View Post
as usual, luca, you are informative and entertaining all in one breath. your topic of italian pasta catches me totally by surprise. i'd no idea how many different varieties of pasta there are out there until you began enumerating them in this post. personally, i probably only use eight or so different pastas for my dishes overall, and maybe just three of those 95% of the time. i can't wait for your second installment on the subject. will you have time and space to indicate what sort of dishes work best with the different types of pastas? also, i'd be interested to know how many different varieties of pasta you use on a regular basis, which ones are your favorites, which you make from scratch or not, etc., etc., etc.....
Thanks for your suggestions Vitauta, I will surely write a Part about all the sauces, and maybe a final note relating to my personal preferences.

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Looking forward to parts 2 & 3, even though it may drive me to drowning myself in
Vecchia Romagna Etichetta Nera.
As the old advertising said, Justplainbill, "Il brandy che crea un'atmosfera"!
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Old 04-04-2012, 09:55 PM   #7
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Thank you Luca, awaiting the next installment.
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Old 04-05-2012, 06:09 AM   #8
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@ Luca: Tasting Italia Region by Region

Buongiorno Luca,

I wish to compliment you on your exemplary article or thesis as you titled it.

Firstly, from my viewpoint, Valle D´Aosta, Piamonte, Lombardia, Liguria, Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia, Tuscana, Emilia Romagna, Umbria e Marche, Abruzzi e Molise, Lazio ( Roma ), Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicilia, Apulia ( Puglia ) and Sardinia, all are PROFOUNDLY STEEPED in regional cuisines all their own, based on local product availability and distinct topographies as you know ...

It is estimated that there are approximately over 300 pasta varieties, numerous which have never been exported and have local colloquial names too. More often than not, many dishes date back to their historical roots; The Romans, The Greeks, The Hungarian Austrian Occupation, The Moorish ( the eggplant, almonds & the cannoli ), The French, The Swiss, The Germans, The Inquisition & The Religious Orders ( preti signifies priest), The Spanish ( the tomato, potato and the chili pepper ) and of course, contemporary global Chefs and lesser, however, Immigration in the big cities.

With this in mind, I wish to thank you for breaking all of this down into Simple English, for all of here at D.C. I am certainly very grateful.

Since, we had bought the little condo in Gargano Peninsula, I have been rewriting many of my paternal Grandmom´s recipes, collecting recipes from the varying villages of the 70 km. trip down to the tip of the toe ---
and playing in the Kitch with these gorgeous ingredients ...

OH YES, one more point, you are absolutely correct, as in Spanish Pasta signifes DOUGH not "Macaroni" which denotes, some one a bit of an idiot or Crazy in Italian !!!

ha ha ...
This article, should be published ... You are a wonderful writer too.

Kindest regards.
Buon Pasquas.
Grazie.
Margaux.
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Old 04-05-2012, 05:35 PM   #9
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I loved this post. It's even more amusing if I imagine you giving this as a lecture while wearing that blond wig. I'm drfinitely looking forward to Part II.
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Old 04-06-2012, 03:15 AM   #10
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Thank you Luca, awaiting the next installment.
Working on it. It will be an after Easter installment.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Margi Cintrano View Post
Buongiorno Luca,
[…]
This article, should be published ... You are a wonderful writer too.

Kindest regards.
Buon Pasquas.
Grazie.
Margaux.


Quote:
Originally Posted by purple.alien.giraffe View Post
I loved this post. It's even more amusing if I imagine you giving this as a lecture while wearing that blond wig. I'm drfinitely looking forward to Part II.
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