Pasta’s ethnic roots are a topic of cultural debate, many theories exist regarding its origin. One of the most enduring versions is that of Macro Polo having brought it to Italy from China. Whichever the case might be, its rise in popularity can be attributed to numerous factors; the most important being the industrialisation of the production process in the late 17th century.
Today, several varieties of pasta can be found and enjoyed in most parts of the world. In Italy, serving fresh pasta, made at home from scratch, continues to be a matter of pride and honor. Whereas, many householders in other parts of the world prefer dry pasta for its longevity and ability to store well. Fresh pasta need not always be superior tasting to dry pasta. Depending upon the region is hails from, pasta can be made using durum wheat, semolina, all-purpose flour, chicken eggs, duck eggs, water, vegetable purees, etc.
Following are some of the most common varieties of Pasta:
Spaghetti & Linguine: Spaghetti is long, thin and noodle like in shape. Usually found dry, it is best served with light, sweet tomato or oil based sauces. Linguine is similar to spaghetti in shape, only flatter which allows it to sit more elegantly on a plate. The extra surface compliments light cream based and seafood sauces.
Penne & Rigatoni: Penne is tubular in shape and cut in an angle to resemble the nib of a pen / old feather quill. Rigatoni are larger and cut in a square shape. The ridges along the side help to hold thicker tomato or vegetable based sauces, e.g.: Carbonara. They also bake well in cheese based dishes.
Conchiglie & Orecchiette: Originating from Southern Italy, these ear / shell shaped pieces can hold (due to their cup like shape) heavy, cream and / or meat based sauces best. Vegetables based sauces made using raw tomato, broccoli or anchovies also work excellently with this. They can also be used in cheese bakes.
Spirali & Fusilli: Long and thick, these might be hollow or solid. Traditionally spun by pressing and rolling over a small rod, Fusilli gets its name from the Italian word fuso meaning spindle. Spirali is a thinner, more tightly spun version of Fusilli. Both resemble corkscrews. Their twisted shape traps smooth sauces like pesto best. They also work well with sauces that have big chucks of meat in them.
Farfalle & Macaroni: Like mini bow-ties, Farfalle means butterfly owing to its ‘wings’. It holds light sauces well. Macaroni are tiny tubes usually used in minestrone soups or cheese sauces that are baked. Both are preferred in cold pasta salads.
Cannelloni, Fettuccini & Tagliatelle: For this category, thin sheets of fresh egg pasta are folded into tubes (cannelloni) or cut into thick (fettuccini) or thin (tagliatelle) strips. Cannelloni is usually baked with heavy meaty sauces and / or cheese dishes, while fettuccini and tagliatelle work best with cheesy butter sauces.
Lasagna & Ravioli: Made using thin sheets of fresh egg pasta, lasagna is made by layering meat and / or vegetables, tomato based sauce and cheese between each sheet and baking it. For ravioli, small sheets of pasta are folded over dollops of stuffing (vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, etc.) and pinched together to form delicate parcels. Sauces vary from like herbed butters to heavy ragus.