Pasta is a universal product consumed worldwide. It is of course very popular since it is convenient, nutritional and economical. So it’s a food that is loved by people of all age group, not only for being easy to make, but it can also be a healthy food option when combined with veggies and nutritious sauces.
Pasta is often considered the symbol of traditional Italian cuisine. Thanks to an unbeatable tasty quality and a scent of passion, the Italian difference is unparalleled. However, Pasta’s appearance goes back so far in time, and further from Italy.
The origin of pasta probably dates from the Neolithic period. The oldest traces of pasta known to date are hand-drawn type noodles made from two millet flour, Setaria italica and Panicum miliaceum. Millet is a term for several species of plants in the Poaceae family. It is cultivated in Africa and Asia. The most cultivated millet is “pearl millet”, which is dated to -2000 in China.
It was in the Middle East that the Arabs began to dry pasta. The diversification of forms was still the creation of the Arabs until the second half of the Middle Ages.
The history of Italian pasta dates back to the time of the Etruscan-Romans who cooked a noodle called a “lagane”. This was rediscovered when Asian noodles made their way to the Mediterranean. The Italians then refined the manufacturing process by replacing rice with a key ingredient: durum wheat semolina.
Yet while pasta was considered the food of the rich in Renaissance Italy, by the late 17th century the dish was principal for the commons- in Naples at least.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the pasta industry was thriving in Naples, mainly because the surrounding region had the ideal land and weather conditions for growing durum wheat, which was highly valued due to its long shelf life, their affordable price and their great versatility.
However, tomato sauce did not come until quite late, first mentioned in 1891 in a culinary pamphlet, although it was frequently used from the beginning of the 16th century. The Mediterranean climate and diet favorable to fresh herbs and vegetables allowed culinary exploration, which led to the creation of a great selection of pasta dishes whose notoriety spread abroad.
The pasta passion was brought to the United States during the immigration flows between 1870 and 1920, but the dish only became popular after WWII. This popularity is mainly due to the American soldiers who were fascinated by Italian cuisine.
According to 2019 statistics from the International Pasta Organisation, the U.S. now consumes a whopping 5.95 billion pounds of pasta every year, while the average American apparently wolfs down approximately 20 pounds annually.
Pasta comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Its production process can be divided into a series of steps. The first is mixing, where dough is made from semolina and warm water.
Then comes the phase of coloring and flavoring by adding eggs, vegetable juices, herbs and spices to the mixture if a flavored category is desired.
The mixture is thereafter pasteurized to make sure that it is free from bacteria.
The dough is given the shape according to the type of pasta that has to be produced, using different machines for producing different shapes.
After that, pasta is placed in the drying tank where the moisture, heat and drying time are strictly regulated.
The dried pasta is folded in pre-measured amounts and filled into plastic containers to be packed for distribution later.
Pasta is available either fresh or dry. Fresh pasta must meet three criteria: a certain percentage of egg in it, it must be made at 12% humidity and with superior durum wheat semolina. The fresh pasta is then passed through a dough sheeter, a machine that flattens the dough until it is a millimeter thick. The most famous fresh pastas are tagliatelle, fettuccine and the very famous ravioli.
As for dry pasta, they are made with a moisture content of less than 12% and with durum wheat semolina. These are the ones often found in our stores. They can be made of different shapes. The most popular are spaghetti, farfalle, macaroni and fusilli.
Irresistible as it is, this dish requires perfect cooking. It should be a little tough in the middle but not very hard. A few tens of seconds of boiling too much and it becomes a soft filament, called Scotto. Although in this matter the tastes diverge: For a long time, pasta was eaten very cooked, like an hour and a half or even two of slow boiling in very fatty broth, as the recipe books still recommended in the 17th century. The expression al dente dates only from the interwar period.
So, the pasta is now ideally cooked “al dente”, a term used to describe pasta that is firm, not overcooked and barely crunchy.
Pasta cooked al dente not only guarantees a better taste, but it also is easier to digest and allows better absorption of slow sugars for a long-lasting appetite suppressant.
Usually, it is advisable to always cook your pasta in a large volume of boiling salted water. For the proportions, follow the 1-10-100 rule depending on the weight of pasta to be cooked: 1 liter of water and 10 g of salt for 100 g of pasta.
Add the pasta only when the cooking water is boiling, and stir immediately until it comes to a boil.
While crunching “pasta al dente”, you will see a small white dot in the heart of the dough. This small dot indicates perfect cooking of the pasta, keeping a firm heart to the bite.
Well, that’s the long-established way we’ve been cooking pasta. But According to TV foodie Alton Brown, the way we’ve been preparing our lovely dish is all wrong. And he claims knowing the ultimate technique for making the perfect pasta.
Alton Brown is a chef, television host, author, and a spiritual explicator of the fundamentals of cooking. In fact, he’s been on top of the culinary game for over 20 years.
Author of seven books, including I’m Just Here for the Food, which won him a James Beard Award, he has also hosted numerous television series including Iron Chef America. He can be seen now on the Cutthroat Kitchen game show. Most importantly, he is the creator, director and host of the Good Eats Award-winning series, which aired on the Food Network for 13 years, and is now airing on the airwaves of the Cooking Channel.
Good Eats, which combines food science, popular culture, comedy skits, innovative cuisine and the occasional puppet burp, has drawn millions of admirers. Brown explores the science and technique behind the cooking, the history of different foods, and the advantages of different kinds of cooking equipment. The show tends to focus on familiar dishes that can easily be made at home, and also features segments on choosing the right appliances, and getting the most out of inexpensive, multi-purpose tools. Each episode has a distinct theme, which is typically an ingredient or a certain cooking technique, but may also be a more general theme such as Thanksgiving. Good Eats is the third longest running Food Network series, behind 30 Minute Meals and Barefoot Contessa.
Going back to our beloved dish! The cooking icon said he opened his mind to new possibilities to explore better tastes.
Brown proposed an unconventional way of cooking pasta, and on his website, he tried to convince his readers of his innovation.
Brown admits that for long shaped pasta such as spaghetti, plenty of water is essential for a perfect cooking. However, he claims that for short shapes, using less water is better.
Brown also encouraged people to not boil water first, but to start the cooking of pasta in cold water. He suggests that all the ingredients are put together in the container with 64 ounces of cold water to one box of pasta. Once the water has boiled, reduce the heat and simmer for 4 and half minutes.
The technique that Brown proposed also included the method in which the pasta has to be removed from the heat after being cooked. He specifically recommended the use of a spider strainer rather than draining the contents of the vessel with a colander to preserve some of its hot concentrated water, which according to him was a magic ingredient that has great assets, especially used while reheating before serving but also used to thicken up the sauce.
One of the many people who tested Brown’s technique was Writer Bryn Gelbart, from Insider. And he later shared his deductions with his readers online. Gelbart stated that the noodles cooked Brown’s way did have a better texture, and they were more comparable to fresh pasta than the first batch.
Other people also gave positive feedback on Brown’s method online. They specifically stated that the technique helped them cook noodles quicker and easier. So you might want to give it a try, and eventually grow fond of new tastes!