Pasta is the Italian designation or name given to a type of starchy noodle or dumpling food or dish typically made from grain flour, commonly wheat, mixed into a paste or dough, usually with water or eggs, and formed or cut into sheets or other shapes. It is usually cooked by boiling, baking or frying. Rice flour, or legumes such as beans or lentils, are sometimes used in place of wheat flour to yield a different flavour and texture, or as a gluten-free alternative. Pasta is a staple food ingredient of Italian cuisine.
In North Africa, a food similar to pasta, known as couscous, has been eaten for centuries. However, it lacks the distinguishing malleable nature of pasta, couscous being more akin to droplets of dough. At first, dry pasta was a luxury item in Italy because of high labor costs; durum wheat semolina had to be kneaded for a long time.
The art of pasta making and the devotion to the food as a whole has evolved since pasta was first conceptualized. It is estimated that Italians eat over 27 kg (60 lb) of pasta per person, per year, easily beating Americans, who eat about 9 kg (20 lb) per person. Pasta is so beloved in Italy that individual consumption exceeds the average production of wheat of the country; thus Italy frequently imports wheat for pasta making. In contemporary society pasta is ubiquitous and individuals can find a variety of types in local supermarkets. With the worldwide demand for this staple food, pasta is now largely mass-produced in factories and only a tiny proportion is crafted by hand.
Other additions to the basic flour-liquid mixture may include vegetable purees such as spinach or tomato, mushrooms, cheeses, herbs, spices and other seasonings. While pastas are, most typically, made from unleavened doughs, the use of yeast-raised doughs are also known for at least nine different pasta forms.
Fresh pastas do not expand in size after cooking; therefore, 0.7 kg (1.5 lb) of pasta are needed to serve four people generously. Fresh egg pasta is generally cut into strands of various widths and thicknesses depending on which pasta is to be made (e.g. fettuccine, pappardelle, and lasagne). It is best served with meat, cheese, or vegetables to create ravioli, tortellini, and cannelloni. Fresh egg pasta is well known in the Piedmont region and Emilia Romagna region in North Italy. In this area, dough is only made out of egg yolk and flour resulting in a very refined flavour and texture. This pasta is often served simply with butter sauce and thinly sliced truffles that are native to this region. In other areas, such as Apulia, fresh pasta can be made without eggs. The only ingredients needed to make the pasta dough are semolina flour and water, which is often shaped into orecchiette or cavatelli. Fresh pasta for cavatelli is also popular in other places including Sicily. However, the dough is prepared differently: it is made of flour and ricotta cheese instead.
Ingredients to make pasta dough include semolina flour, egg, salt and water. Flour is first mounded on a flat surface and then a well in the pile of flour is created. Egg is then poured into the well and a fork is used to mix the egg and flour. There are a variety of ways to shape the sheets of pasta depending on the type required. The most popular types include penne, spaghetti, and macaroni.
The ingredients to make dried pasta usually include water and semolina flour; egg for colour and richness (in some types of pasta), and possibly vegetable juice (such as spinach, beet, tomato, carrot), herbs or spices for colour and flavour. After mixing semolina flour with warm water the dough is kneaded mechanically until it becomes firm and dry. If pasta is to be flavoured, eggs, vegetable juices, and herbs are added at this stage. The dough is then passed into the laminator to be flattened into sheets, then compressed by a vacuum mixer-machine to clear out air bubbles and excess water from the dough until the moisture content is reduced to 12%. Next, the dough is processed in a steamer to kill any bacteria it may contain.
The storage of pasta depends its processing and extent of drying. Uncooked pasta is kept dry and can sit in the cupboard for a year if airtight and stored in a cool, dry area. Cooked pasta is stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of five days in an airtight container. Adding a couple teaspoons of oil helps keep the food from sticking to itself and the container. Cooked pasta may be frozen for up to two or three months. Should the pasta be dried completely, it can be placed back in the cupboard.
The forming process involves the dough entering an extruder in which the rotation of a single or double screw system pushes the dough toward a die set to a specific shape. As the starch granules swell slightly in the presence of water and a low amount of thermal energy, they become embedded within the protein matrix and align along the direction of the shear caused by the extrusion process.
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. These affordable dining shops evolved from American food rations after World War II due to lack of supplies, and they continue to be popular for people with modest means. Two common spaghetti dishes served in Japan are the Bolognese and the Napolitan. In Nepal, macaroni has been adopted and cooked in a Nepalese way. Boiled macaroni is sauteed along with cumin, turmeric, finely chopped green chillies, onions and cabbage. In Greece hilopittes is considered one of the finest types of dried egg pasta. It is cooked either in tomato sauce or with various kinds of casserole meat. It is usually served with Greek cheese of any type.