Pasta is one of those dishes that can be as simple or as dressed up as you'd like, and with countless possible varieties to choose from-spaghetti, fusilli, lasagna, farfalle, and cavatelli, just to name a few-pasta is incredibly versatile. It's easy to prepare, mixes well with different ingredients, and inexpensive to buy, making it a popular choice. And while pasta's ties with Italian cuisine may be strong, noodles come from all over the map. In the Western world, noodles are typically made from wheat flour, water, and egg. In Asian cuisine, they can be wheat-based, as in chow mein and udon, or made from buckwheat (soba), beans (cellophane), rice (rice vermicelli), and sweet potato (Korean vermicelli). For more information on some of the most popular types of pasta, check out our visual guide to pasta.
Strings and Ribbons
Fresh-Tasting Tomato Sauce and Spaghetti
Macaroni and Cheese
Cavatappi with White Beans and Golden Onions
Orecchiette with Lentils, Onions, and Spinach
International Pasta Dishes
Spaetzle in Brown Butter
Fresh vs. Dry
There is a difference in taste between freshly made pasta and dried pasta. Fresh pasta is usually lighter and more tender, whereas dried pasta is more firm and thicker. Certain shapes, like long string and ribbon pastas, lend themselves more easily to fresh pasta. Pastas that are grooved or tubular are usually available only as dry pasta. You can tell when fresh pasta is finished cooking when it rises to the water's surface; it should only take a few minutes. Dried pasta will take about twice as long. Read the manufacturer's instructions so you don't overcook it. When you overcook pasta, a lot of the starches have been released, "muddying" the water. The result: gummy taste and mushy texture.
Don't Throw the Water Out
When you're finished cooking and have drained the pasta, don't rinse off all the hot water. The starch that was released when the noodles cooked will help the sauce bind to them. And if you're making your own sauce, reserve some of the boiled water and incorporate it. The starch will further help the sauce stick to the pasta.
Generally, many (but not all) Italian pasta shapes correspond to a kind of sauce. Thin round strands like spaghetti and angel hair work well with sauces that aren't very chunky or thick: perhaps marinara or even just some olive oil. Flat, ribbonlike pastas such as linguine and pappardelle can take thicker sauces, like carbonara. Rotini and other corkscrew-shaped pastas work well with thicker chunkier sauces, as do tubular macaroni or cannelloni. Stuffed pastas such as ravioli and tortelloni are usually matched with light sauces to balance the typically rich fillings.
Esther Sung first joined Epicurious.com in 2006. Prior to this, she spent several years in book publishing, including at Harper Entertainment, where the proverbial three-martini lunch was sadly nowhere to be found. When not in the office, she moonlights at the Bottle Shoppe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and through this she has developed a fondness for Syrah and Malbec. A quasi-vegetarian, she admits to having relished eating yuk hwe, a Korean raw beef dish.
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