Pasta’s unexpected origins
The history of pasta is hotly disputed, with the Italians claiming its origins in their country and the Chinese in theirs. Science is on the side of China, with archaeological research showing that pasta dates back over 4,000 years! What is certain is that no one has done more to popularise pasta around the world than the Italian people.
How many varieties of pasta are there?
Even the Italians are unsure of the exact number, however it is estimated that there are around 300 types of pasta in Italian cuisine. Italians love to cook and are not afraid to try new things, resulting in new pasta varieties appearing from time to time. On the other hand, some may be withdrawn from sale. The reason? Good Italian pasta is made from a springy dough that combines perfectly with its given sauce. If a new pasta fails to do this, Italian consumers will forget about it without regret.
Italy’s most popular pastas
The various classifications of pasta can make you dizzy. Macaroni is mainly divided into long and short lengths. It is not only the quality of the dough that counts, but also the surface of the pasta, whether it is filled, thick or thin. Although most people combine pasta with sauce, Italians specialise in this. Thick pasta is perfect for fillings and meat sauces, whereas thinner varieties make for a perfect duo with a light, thinner sauce.
The most popular pasta in Italy is spaghetti, combined with carbonara, Bolognese sauce or the classic cacio e pepe,which is pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper. Our culinary journey through Italy’s regions of Italy is about discovering new flavours. Here are the five regions of Italy and their most popular pastas.
1. Orecchiette con cime di rapa – Apulia
A picturesque and peaceful region of Italy, Puglia is famous for its whitewashed trulli houses and, of course, its traditional orecchiette pasta. If you spend some time in Bari, you’ll see this delicious pasta being made in the city’s narrow streets. This distinctive pasta has a thinner dough in the middle and a fluffier dough at the ends, resembling little ears. Orecchiette con cime di rapa is pasta with turnip tops, making for an interesting, healthy and filling dish.
Although it sounds simple, prepare yourself for a wealth of flavours. The springiness of the pasta and the slightly bitter taste of the turnip make a perfect combination, further enriched with anchovies, while onion and chilli pepper add a slightly sharper note. If you like your food crispy, then you’ll find that many restaurants serve this dish with a crunchy sprinkling of browned breadcrumbs. Boun appetito!
Plan a trip to Puglia!
2. Bucatini all’amatriciana – Lazio
A classic recipe from Rome is Bucatini all’amatriciana. Its rich, bacon-tinged scent alone is enough to stimulate the taste buds. Bucatini is a pasta similar to spaghetti, albeit thicker and with a characteristic hole in the middle. The traditional version of this dish was created by shepherds and has just three ingredients – pasta, bacon and spicy-salty hard pecorino cheese.
A more modern recipe adds sweet Italian tomatoes and a contrasting spicy trio of garlic, onion and chilli. The dish is enhanced by the aforementioned aroma and flavour of bacon cooked in white wine.
Plan a trip to Lazio
3. Trofie al pesto – Liguria
Liguria is not only a great destination for an Italian holiday, but also an ideal place for basil lovers. Basil from Prà is known as the green gold of Liguria and its world-famous pesto is a notable regional product. Aromatic and slightly spicy, it is used as a condiment for many dishes and is a popular tourist souvenir as jars of green pesto can be found in almost every grocery store.
Trofie al pesto contains short pasta with a slightly twisted shape that is reminiscent of wood shavings – a shape that ensures the sauce coats the pasta perfectly. The recipe for the iconic pesto sauce consists of just seven ingredients – local basil, garlic, slightly bitter and spicy olive oil, pine nuts, coarse salt and two hard cheeses – Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Fiore Sardo. The proportions of the dish are also important – 50 g of pesto is used per 100 g of pasta. If you enjoy an original take on a classic, try the version of this dish with the addition of green beans and boiled potatoes.
Plan a trip to Liguria!
4. Pasta alla norma – Sicily
Sunny Sicily is a place where aromatic, intensely sweet tomatoes reign supreme. Pasta alla norma is a short Italian pasta– usually penne or rigatoni – with tomato sauce and vegetables. It sounds like a classic, but the dish is colourful and the seemingly contrasting flavours blend perfectly and are sure to surprise you.
Pasta alla norma contains fried aubergine that either comes diced or, for a crispier dish, sliced. Then there is the salty flavour of ricotta cheese, the intense aroma of basil and the pungency of both garlic and onion. Of course, the recipe cannot be complete without olive oil and a pinch of salt. It should be noted that a well-prepared dish will never be greasy, despite the addition of the fried aubergines.
Plan a trip to Sicily!
5. Tortellini in brodo – Emilia-Romagna
Do you like pasta with a delicious filling hidden in the dough? The Emilia-Romagna region is famous for its stuffed egg pasta and Tortellini in brodo is the perfect combination. The filling was once associated with the region’s poorer inhabitants, using leftovers from the tables of the nobility. The six-milimetre-thick pasta hides a large portion of a perfectly seasoned pork loin, prosciutto, Bolognese mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, egg and nutmeg filling.
If Italians were asked to describe the taste of this stuffing, they would probably say that it tastes like a family reunion, due to the fact that Tortellini in brodo is a festive dish that brings the whole family together in the kitchen. The pasta is cooked in an aromatic chicken broth and served hot with the broth and sprinkled with cheese. The perfect excuse for a long feast with your loved ones.