Think Italian food and you can be sure to come up with pasta, maybe just after pizza! Soft pasta dunked in a tomato or meat-based sauce, light pasta salads, pastas in casseroles and main-course dishes - the possibilities are endless! Here's calling all pasta lovers to a guide on different types of pasta and how it can be made into a healthy meal.
Pasta originates from the Italian word for paste. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Pasta made of whole wheat contains more dietary fiber. Most commercially made pastas available on the shelves of stores are prepared from semolina paste. Pasta is an affordable and nutritious base for a good meal - combine it with vegetables, meat, nuts or legumes and you have a great dish going. You can make the pasta dish even more nutritious by adding spinach or asparagus and beans. Italian pasta is a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates.
Types of pasta
Here is a complete guide to choosing between different types of pasta. Find out the difference between fresh and dried pasta. Dried pasta that is commercially available is available in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Dried pasta is convenient since it keeps for a long time if stored correctly and holds it shape better than fresh pasta. This makes it ideal for heavy sauces. Fresh pasta, as the name suggests, is more tender and chewy since it is not completely dried. Fresh pasta is generally available as ribbons and can be stored for about 5 days in the refrigerator. Fresh pasta goes best with light and delicate sauces since it is highly absorbent.
Pasta comes in various shapes, some of which are a specialty of a particular region or town of Italy. Some fancy pasta makers come up with special shapes. Dried pasta is either made with durum wheat flour (di semola di grano duro) or eggs, flour and salt (pasta all'uovo). Exotically shaped pasta is extruded through dies that give them a unique shape. A popular type of pasta is the long strand variety. You can opt for Spagettti or Spaghetteni or Bucatini. Cylinder shaped pasta is often used in soups and baked dishes. Strips of pasta such as Fettuccine, Tagliatelle and Linguine are used along with tasty sauces made of tomato-mackerel or smoked salmon or creamy mascarpone sauce. Sheet pasta is used in baked dishes.
You can get them as lasagna sheets or cannelloni. Snail shell and spiral shaped pasta can help add an extra zing your salad or pasta pot dish. You can go in for tiny bits of pasta to garnish your soup - tiny stars, teddy bear shapes, little seed shapes. Hot peppers, mushrooms, saffron, lemon, garlic and other herbs or spices are popularly used to lend flavors to pasta. Pasta made with eggs has more flavor and is brighter yellow in color.
Tips on selecting good pasta
- Good quality pasta does not stick together. It must have a consistent look with a bright amber color. Pasta that clumps together is not right for your dish.
- A subtle nutty flavor is a hallmark of good quality pasta.
- Pasta that is not limp but has a bouncy springy feel to it is good pasta that will blend well with various sauces.
Low carb pasta
Since pasta has a low Glycemic Index (GI), it does not trigger quick rise in blood sugar. Instead, it is a good source of B vitamins, iron and niacin. Pasta is low in sodium and virtually cholesterol free, as long as you don't dunk it in very rich sauce. Sometimes fresh pasta is made with vegetable puree. Fresh pasta made with whole eggs is higher in fat when compared with dried pasta. When combined with seafood or vegetables, the pasta is lower in fat and cholesterol. You can pick up pasta made from whole-wheat paste or enriched with soy flour, wheat germ or dairy products.
With a sizeable section of the American population being on some form of low-carb diet such as Atkins, the sales of pasta has seen a decrease on account of its high carbohydrate value. Several leading manufacturers of pasta have launched low-carb versions. They are either created with soy flour or contain egg whites to boost protein. Low carb pasta typically contains 7 grams of carbs per serving of 7 ounces when cooked when compared to 42 grams of carbohydrates in regular pasta. Low carb pasta costs much more than regular pasta and according to most consumers, doesn't taste as good. But Bread and pasta makers are bringing out low carb versions of their products to cater to the low carb brigade.
One of the oldest pasta makers is the Chitarra. This pasta maker dates back to the 1800s from the province of Chieti from the Abruzzi region of Italy. Most pasta machines are made of chrome-plated stainless, which make them durable. Hand cranked pasta makers require you to roll out the dough into sheets before cutting. You also need enough space to lay the finished pasta on a floured surface. You can opt for the electric machine to make pasta of different shapes. Change the die for a variety of shapes. Pasta makers can come up with molds and dies to come up with pasta in shapes as intricate as cartwheels and bow ties.
All you need to be sure of is the proper consistency of liquid and flour. You can make a quick batch of pasta with the electric pasta machine. Cleaning pasta makers is not very easy, as the dough tends to get into most parts of the machine. The electric pasta machine is more difficult to clean. Electric pasta machines tend to be more expensive at about $400. If you make a lot of pasta regularly, it is worth the investment. Homemade pasta requires time and expertise with the pasta machine. You should be able to make fresh pasta with all-purpose dough or semolina flour. Judicious use of flavoring agents can give you many an exciting possibility with pasta.