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Pasta (Italian ''pasta'', from Latin ''pasta'' "dough, pastry cake", from Greek παστά (''pasta'') "barley porridge") is a generic term for foods made from an unleavened dough of flour and water, and sometimes a combination of egg and flour. Pastas include noodles in various lengths, widths and shapes, and varieties that are filled with other ingredients like ravioli and tortellini. The word pasta is also used to refer to dishes in which pasta products are a primary ingredient. It is usually served with sauce.
There are approximately 600 different shapes of pasta. Examples include spaghetti (thin rods), maccheroni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Two other noodles, gnocchi and spätzle, are sometimes considered pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy.
Pasta is categorized in two basic styles: ''dried'' and ''fresh''. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years under ideal conditions, while fresh pasta will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Pasta is generally cooked by boiling.
Pasta is made from a simple combination of water and flour or eggs and flour. Pasta is sometimes colored with spinach, tomatoes or food dye, and sometimes flavored with spices or cheese.
Under Italian law, dry pasta (''pasta secca'') can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina.
[[http://gazzette.comune.jesi.an.it/2001/117/2.htm | Presidential decree 9 February 2001, law #187]] Durum flour and durum semolina have a yellow tinge in color. Italian pasta is traditionally cooked ''al dente'' (Italian: "firm to the bite", meaning not too soft). Outside Italy, dry pasta is frequently made from other types of flour (such as wheat flour), but this yields a softer product that cannot be cooked ''al dente''. There are many types of wheat flour with varying gluten and protein depending on variety of grain used.
Particular varieties of pasta may also use other grains and milling methods to make the flour, as specified by law.
Some pasta varieties, such as pizzoccheri, are made from buckwheat flour. Fresh pasta may include eggs (''pasta all'uovo'' 'egg pasta'). Whole wheat pasta has become increasingly popular because of its perceived health benefits. Most whole wheat pastas have a mixture of whole grain and regular grain ingredients.
Pasta's origin continues to evoke speculation. While many different cultures ate some sort of noodle-like food, composed mostly of grain, the key characteristics of pasta are durum wheat semolina, with a high gluten content, made with a technique that allows the resultant dough to be highly malleable. Thus, the many different shapes (i.e., ziti, spaghetti, ravioli) that characterize "pasta." South of Europe, in Arab North Africa, a food similar to pasta, known as couscous, has been eaten for centuries. However, it lacks the distinguishing malleable nature of what is now referred to as pasta, couscous being more akin to droplets of dough. In China, noodles of millet or rice have been eaten for centuries, but lacked the durum wheat semolina paste that denotes pasta.
Historians have noted several lexical milestones relevant to pasta, none which change these basic characteristics. For example, the works of the 2nd century AD Greek physician Galen mention ''itrion'', homogeneous compounds made up of flour and water.
The Jerusalem Talmud records that ''itrium'', a kind of boiled dough, [ was common in Palestine from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD, A dictionary compiled by the 9th century Syrian physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali defines ''itriyya'', the Arabic cognate, as string-like shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking. The geographical text of Muhammad al-Idrisi, compiled for the Norman King of Sicily Roger II in 1154 mentions ''itriyya'' manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily:]
West of Termini there is a delightful settlement called Trabia. Its ever-flowing streams propel a number of mills. Here there are huge buildings in the countryside where they make vast quantities of ''itriyya'' which is exported everywhere: to Calabria, to Muslim and Christian countries. Very many shiploads are sent.
''Itriyya'' gives rise to ''trie'' in Italian, signifying long strips such as ''tagliatelle''. One form of ''itriyya'' with a long history is ''laganum'' (plural ''lagana''), which in Latin refers to a thin sheet of dough,
and gives rise to Italian ''"lasagna"''.
The Chinese were eating noodles made of millet as long ago as 2000 BC. This was confirmed by the discovery of a well-preserved bowl of millet noodles over 4000 years old. However, durum wheat was not known in China until later times. The familiar legend of Marco Polo importing pasta from China originated with the ''Macaroni Journal'', published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States. Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lagana" in his ''Travels'', but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Durum wheat, and thus pasta as it is known today, was introduced by Arabs during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association,
thus predating Marco Polo's travels to China by about six centuries.
In the 1st century BC writings of Horace, ''lagana'' were fine sheets of dough which were fried and were an everyday food.
[ Writing in the 2nd century Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for ''lagana'' which he attributes to the 1st century Chrysippus of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavored with spices and deep-fried in oil.] [ An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called ''lagana'' that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing, a possible ancestor of modern-day ''Lasagna''.] [ But the method of cooking these sheets of dough does not correspond to our modern definition of either a fresh or dry pasta product. The first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the thirteenth or fourteenth century.] The name (λαγάνα, ''lagána'') survives in modern-day Greece to denote an unleavened, flat bread eaten during the Great Lent. The term "lagana" is also used in the Southern region of Calabria, where it indicates a flat noodle.
Varieties of pasta
Image:Pasta 2006 1.jpg|Long Pasta
Image:Pasta 2006 2.jpg|Short Pasta
Image:Pasta 2006 3.jpg|Short Pasta
Image:Pasta 2006 4.jpg|Minute Pasta (''Pastina'', used for soups)
Image:Pasta 2006 5.jpg|''Pasta all'uovo'' (egg pasta)
Image:Pasta 2006 6.jpg|Fresh Pasta
Image:Pasta 2006 7.jpg|Pasta for ''Pasta al forno'' (baked pasta) dishes
Pasta is generally served with some type of sauce; the sauce and the type of pasta are usually matched based on consistency, ease of eating etc. Common pasta sauces in Northern Italy include pesto and ragù alla bolognese, which usually adds meat to the sauce. In Central Italy, there are simple sauces such as tomato sauce, amatriciana and carbonara. Southern Italian sauces include spicy tomato, garlic, and olive oil, with the pasta often paired with fresh vegetables or seafood. Varieties include puttanesca, ''pasta alla norma'' (tomatoes, eggplant and fresh or baked cheese), ''pasta con le sarde'' (fresh sardines, pine nuts, fennel and olive oil), ''spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino'' (literally with garlic, [olive] oil and hot chili peppers).
Fettuccine alfredo with cream and cheese, and spaghetti with tomato sauce (with or without ground meat or meatballs) are popular Italian-style dishes in the United States.
As pasta was introduced elsewhere in the world, it became incorporated into a number of local cuisines, which often have significantly different ways of preparation from those of Italy. In Hong Kong, the local Chinese have adopted pasta, primarily spaghetti and macaroni, as an ingredient in the Hong Kong-style Western cuisine. In Cha chaan teng, macaroni is cooked in water and served in broth with ham or frankfurter sausages, peas, black mushrooms, and optionally eggs, reminiscent of noodle soup dishes. This is often a course for breakfast or light lunch fare. This method often involves cooking the pasta well beyond the al dente stage and washing the starches off the pasta after cooking, measures frowned upon in Italy or in Hong Kong's more authentic Italian eateries.
Two common spaghetti dishes served in Japan are the Bolognese (ミートソース) and the Napolitan (ナポリタン).
In India, Macaroni has been adopted and cooked in an Indianized way. Boiled macaroni is sautéed along with jeera, turmeric, finely chopped green chillies, onions & cabbage.