Pasta Made from Durum Wheat Flour – Advice on Cooking Pasta Successfully

Pasta Made from Durum Wheat Flour - Advice on Cooking Pasta Successfully

Pasta Made from Durum Wheat Flour

The first “dry” (dried) pasta manufactured in Italy seems to date from the time of the Etruscans, as evidenced by the frescoes in the funeral chapel of Cerveteri (fourth century BCE). Originally, pasta {lagan) was cooked in the oven, but it was only from the Middle Ages that it began to be boiled in water. This method of cooking gave the pasta the texture and flavor we appreciate today.

It was also during the Middle Ages that the first artisans appeared in Italy who produced pasta in volume: first in Pal-ermo, then in Naples and Genoa and, a century later, in Puglia and Tuscany. For a long time, pasta production was linked to these port cities as they benefited from natural ventilation that allowed pasta to dry slowly, and therefore to be kept longer. The degree of cooking varied through the centuries. Initially, it was served very well cooked as an accompaniment to meat. Pasta as a separate dish in its own right was consumed more and more al dente from the seventeenth century onward. In the nineteenth century, itfound its ideal ally in tomato sauce.

Dried pasta is prepared from durum wheat flour and water and is mainly produced industrially. It is manufactured with an extrusion machine that pushes the dough through a bronze mold to create the desired pasta shape. This technique produces a pasta with a rough surface that “holds” the sauce. The higher the quality of the flour and water, the better the pasta. The dimensions and the quality of the bronze molds, as well as a long, natural drying time also contribute to the quality. For industrial or artisanal pasta, instructions for longer cooking times indicate a high-quality product.

Pasta shapes and sizes
Dried pasta can be divided into seven sub-categories:

  • Long, cylindrical, and compact (different diameters): vermicelli, spaghettini, spaghetti, etc.
  • Long, cylindrical, and hollow: bucatini, ziti, etc.
  • Long, rectangular or flattened: linguine, fettuccine, tagliatelle, trenette, bavette, tagliolini, etc.
  • Long, wide: pappardelle, lasagna, reginette, etc.
  • Short, smooth: farfalle, fusilli, penne lisce, eliche, paccheri, etc.
  • Short, ridged: rigatoni, penne rigate, sedanlni, tortiglioni, etc.
  • Small, soup pasta shapes: avena, risi, stelline, etc.

There are also many special pastas on the market; in addition to durum wheat flour, they can contain other flours to enhance them, such as chestnut, quinoa, spelt, etc., and/or colorants and natural aromas (cuttlefish, truffle, chili, and so on).

Equally worth a mention are dietetic pastas, where some ingredients are replaced for people who are gluten intolerant or require low-salt products.

Advice on Cooking Pasta Successfully

1. Choose the shape of the pasta to complement the sauce it is accompanying. For example, spaghetti goes well with just oil or butter; pappardelle combines well with Bolognese sauce, and short pasta such as rigatoni is very well adapted for cooking in the oven.

2. Cook the pasta in a large saucepan with plenty of water. Allow 4 cups (1 liter) of water for every 4 oz. (110 g) of pasta and 2 teaspoons (10 g) of salt per liter. Never use less than 4 quarts (4 liters). The salt is added to the water only when it reaches boiling point to avoid slowing the process down. The pasta is immersed in the boiling water and the cooking time is calculated from the moment the water comes back to a boil.

3. Pasta should be stirred two or three times during cooking; this prevents it from sticking together, or to the bottom of the sauce pan, and ensures it cooks evenly. Immerse the pasta in the water, wait 30 seconds after the boiling resumes, then give the pasta a first stir. Give it a second stir midway through and a third if the cooking time is long.

4. Only add a little oil to the water prior to cooking lasagna (the strips are wide, and tend to stick together on the surface). Avoid adding oil to the cooking water of other pasta to prevent a film of grease forming that will stop the sauce from clinging to it.

5. Cook pasta al dente: it will be more digestible and have more flavor. If it is to go in the oven, drain a few minutes before the cooking time is completed.

6. Drain the pasta through a colander. Season and serve immediately.

7. The best way to dress the pasta is to heat it through in a skillet with the sauce a few minutes before serving. This allows you to reheat and mix them together evenly. The pasta is drained and immediately added to the skillet with the sauce already hot. It is not necessary to cook the pasta that is to be reheated for less time (very al dente) because the additional heating is very rapid, providing the pasta used is of good quality.

Today, a new way to cook pasta has evolved in Italian cooking: a technique called risottata, meaning to cook the pasta in the manner of a risotto. The pasta is cooked in a skillet with the sauce by adding a ladle of water whenever necessary, until the pasta is al dente. This process allows the pasta to become completely impregnated with the flavors of the sauce.

8. Always reserve a little of the pasta cooking water to dilute the sauce so that it combines better with the pasta, particularly if the sauce seems slightly dry.

9. Use leftover pasta to make a gratin in the oven with a little Parmesan, tomato sauce, and/or bechamel. You can even make timballi: pasta pies (with puff pastry or flaky pie dough), to which you can also add bechamel, tomato sauce, and Parmesan. Other additions could be a little diced charcuterie (sausage, mortadella, ham, etc.) and/or various cheeses (scamorza, fontina, mozzarella, etc.). You can also make a pasta omelet.

10. Use the cooking juices from meat, fish, and vegetables for seasoning pasta; they make quick and economical sauces.