Friday, August 19, 2011

Pasta - The Shape of Things to Come

Originally published June 4, 1984

Inexpensive, easy to prepare and practically imperishable (when properly stored), pasta - as typically Italian as Grand Opera and Chianti - has much going for it as one of the great dishes of the world.

Most of us are familiar with several varieties of pasta, Italians have more than a hundred different shapes and sizes to choose from - ranging from tiny golden specks called pastina, used mainly in light soups and invalid broths, to huge ribbed rigatoni, so large and hearty that they are individually stuffed with meat, cheese and tomatoes.

The delightful names the Italians give to these shapes are proof of their affection for pasta. Spaghetti (which means little strings) and macaroni are, of course, best known to us, but they are just two of the immense pasta family: amorini, little cupids; farfallette, little butterflies; conchiglie, little shells; capelletti, little hats; and tirabaci, kiss-bringers, are just a few of the delicious forms pasta takes. And strange as it seems, the cut and shape of pasta, in one or another of these many forms, alters the taste of the finished dish, for it affects the cooking and the amount of sauce included with each mouthful.

Even more important than the size and shape of the pasta is the kind of sauce that accompanies it. Not all Italian pasta sauces are tomato based. One of The Kitchen Mouse’s favorite recipes serves well-drained spaghetti with only butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese; another adds one or two egg yolks and a little cream to this basic recipe for a really delicious sauce.

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