The Different Types of Pasta Plus a Bonus Semolina Pasta Recipe
The different types of pasta have always been popular for their versatility and ease of cooking. But how much do you really know about it? Do you know how to properly cook all the types of pasta? Are you familiar with the term “al dente”? Maybe you’d like to learn how to make your own fresh pasta. We’re going to cover the basics about the different types of pasta to help you in your culinary journey and teach you how to make fresh pasta from with a pure semolina pasta recipe.
Pasta Dough from Scratch is Amazing
Pasta is a dough and is similar in production to items in the bake shop. Making the different types of fresh pasta is relatively easy, and the main ingredients in most pasta recipes are semolina flour, egg, and water. Semolina flour is a hard flour with impressive protein content. It is a staple in traditional homemade pasta recipes and is what gives it its signature yellow coloring. You’ll see it available readily in grocery stores and other food markets.
We have an extensive list of valuable posts related to pasta making on our site. Be sure to check them out.
Resources and Tools
One of my best memories as a cook was making fresh pasta with my five-year-old daughter. Making fresh pasta can be simple and fun, but as with most things, you will need a bit of practice to improve your skill. Making pasta is all about finesse more than it is about procedures.
Unless you are sticking to just making plain old hand-cut linguini or sheets of lasagna, you will need a pasta machine to get yourself going. There are two types of pasta machines; a hand crank type, and powered type. The powered pasta machine is typically attached to a stand mixer and is quite costly but it is the quickest and most productive.
Best Hand Crank Pasta Machine
As a professional chef, I have used a multitude of pasta machines. I have had some that I detested, and some that I adored. In almost every instance, the machines I liked best were those that were built of high quality. If you need a pasta machine, be sure to check out my recommendation on Amazon by clicking here.
Best Powered Pasta Machine
For any serious production or time-saving needs, nothing will beat out the speed and efficiency of a powered pasta machine. I personally use the attachment for my KitchenAid Stand Mixer, which you can check out by clicking here.
Homemade Pasta – Also Known as … Macaroni?
Macaroni is actually the proper term for all types of pasta produced with wheat flour and water. It is only in North America do we call elbow pasta “macaroni”. It’s one of those erroneous things that are deeply ingrained in North American culture. In your journey to become a better cook, these are the type of things you will notice and you will be better for it! Knowing what you’re talking about is important. For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to macaroni as a type of pasta.
There is a myth that noodles were first invented in China and discovered by Marco Polo during the 13th century. The story goes he introduced the noodles to Italy and the rest is history. The truth is, Middle Eastern and Italian cooks were preparing fresh pasta long before Marco Polo came along.
Dry vs. Fresh Homemade Pasta
The type of pasta you find in the grocery store is a dried pasta that is extruded at manufacturing plants and left to dry into a hard dehydrated dough. As with any dried product, you tend to lose a bit of flavor and texture during the process and the appeal of fresh homemade pasta is that you retain all of those qualities.
Fresh pasta dough recipes are easy to make, but it’s a bit more difficult to extrude into shapes and you’ll need a pasta machine in order to properly create your desired shapes. While it is very possible to use a knife or roller to cut your own shapes, it usually takes much longer and in the professional culinary industry speed is of the essence.
There is nothing to say you cannot enjoy the process and take your time either – in fact, we encourage it. Experimenting is the only way you gain speed.
“Macaroni is actually the proper term for all types of pasta produced with wheat flour and water.”
Types of Fresh Pasta
We’ll jump right in and describe with visual aid the different names and shapes of pasta. The importance of knowing these shapes is to avoid any confusion when looking or communicating pasta types to colleagues or customers.
There are 3 categories of Italian pasta
Ribbon Type of Pasta
They are defined by their width and length. There are many variations and in-betweens for pasta. You will constantly see different names for different types, but these types define the pasta.
Tube Type of Pasta
Tubes are the cylindrical tubes made by extrusion. They are generally short, but can be long (Canneloni, for example). They include
Some of these you might not be familiar with but have probably seen many times before. Ziti, for example, is what’s used in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Spira is the name given for any spiral pasta, including fusili.
Shapes Type of Pasta
Shapes cover the rest of the pasta-sphere. These come in many different sizes and shapes, and there are new forms coming out on a regular basis. You’ll see these as
- Conchiglie (Shells)
- Farfalle (Bow-tie)
- Rotelle (Cart-wheel)
- Orzo (Rice-shaped)
It is important to remember that pasta comes in hundreds of variations in shapes and size. It would be impossible to list them all here, as many of them are hybrids of the different types of pasta.
Asian types of noodles do not have the wealth of variety that Italian pasta has. They aren’t usually flavored or colored by use of vegetables or herbs either. Virtually all Asian noodles are ribbons with varying degrees of thickness. The differences between them come down to the type of flour used to produce the noodle.
Wheat Noodles – Also known as egg-noodles, they are the most popular and widely available of the Asian noodle. They are available fresh or dried and can be deep fried after boiling to create crisp golden noodles (Chow mein) use mainly as a garnish.
The Japanese have their own types of noodles made from wheat as well. The thin variety is known as Udon, while the thicker variety is called Somen.
Rice Noodles – These are the dried, thin noodles made from rice flour. Ideally, you’ll want to soak these in hot water before cooking and rinse in cold water after cooking to remove any starches and prevent sticking.
Buckwheat Noodles – Buckwheat noodles are used in Northern Japan and in the Tokyo region. These are called Soba noodles. They are available fresh or dried and do not need to be soaked before cooking. They are often used in soups or broth but can be substituted for Italian-style pasta.
Fresh Semolina Pasta Recipe
It is much harder to recreate many of the shapes that you see in dried pasta in fresh pasta. The manufacturers of dry-pasta have very expensive extruding machines that allow them to do the shapes you see in stores. While dry-pasta might have the edge when it comes to shapes, fresh homemade pasta has a much bigger advantage.
Fresh pasta is much more flavorful and the texture of fresh pasta is much more refined. There is no real al-dente for fresh pasta, but rather the goal is to ensure even gentle cooking. Another advantage that fresh pasta has is its ability to form stuffed fresh pasta, such as ravioli and tortellini. Creating homemade pasta dough is simple and we have supplied a basic recipe for you to build off of.
Storing Fresh Pasta Dough
Once your fresh pasta dough is finished, the first thing you will probably notice is that it likes to stick to each other and it can soon become a general chaotic cluster of dough. To prevent this, you’ll want to employ a few key preventative measures. The first measure is that you want to have the fresh pasta spread out as much as possible as the weight will contribute to the unwanted combining. If you have long, ribbon pasta, it is okay to have 2 or 3 layers on top of each other as long as you employ the second preventative measure.
The second measure is applying generous amounts of flour between layers to act as a barrier. This will help keep the fresh pasta separated. Be careful though: Long term storage in this manner results in the flour absorbing moisture.
Lastly, the best method is to cook fresh pasta once it’s ready. Once cooked and cooled properly it can be stored safely for up to 3 days.
Cooking Fresh Pasta
Cooking fresh pasta differs from cooking dry pasta in that if the dough is freshly made, it will be delicate and require a tenth of the time to cook. Start with a stock pot with lots of water. The more water the better, as the circulatory motion produced by simmering/boiling water helps prevent sticking.
If you use too little water, you will see a starchy concoction that is neither desired nor is it efficient at all. Salt the water generously, as salt is absorbed into the fresh pasta while it cooks more than afterward.
- Bring the water to a boil. The fresh pasta should be durable enough to withstand boiling temperatures. If using frozen pasta, the fresh pasta will sink to the bottom and rise to the top once finished. If you are finding your fresh pasta is breaking up and/or dissolving in the water, either increase or change the amount of flour or knead the dough further to develop more gluten. Always keep stirring the pasta to ensure it does not stick.
NOTE: There is the myth of using oil in the water. There is absolutely no reason to use oil in the water. It does nothing and is a waste of perfectly good oil. The oil will just remain on the top, never interacting with the fresh pasta. If you have foaming or overboiling problems and use oil to solve it, try reducing the heat. It works much better and best of all, it’s cheaper.
- The fresh pasta is done when the starch has been cooked out. This is hard to tell without testing the pasta yourself, but depending on the thickness you should estimate around 5-7 minutes for ravioli/stuffed and around 3 minutes for very thin pasta such as spaghetti or linguine.
Once the fresh pasta is finished, get a colander and gently dump the water through the colander ensuring the pasta lands inside. If you are serving the pasta right away, rinse the pasta using hot water to rid the surface of starches that can make the pasta stick once cooled. If you are storing the pasta for another day, rinse in cold water.
After you have rinsed it, pour olive oil over it and toss to coat evenly. This gives flavor and helps keep it separated.
Properly Cooking Dry Pasta
Similar to the method of cooking fresh pasta, cooking dry pasta has a few different steps. Use the same amount of water and salt in the water. Bring to a boil and add the pasta, stirring continuously until the water comes back up to temperature. Because dry pasta takes longer to cook, keep stirring often. You will get a feel for when pasta is done by stirring the pasta. The way in which the pasta hits the spoon/spatula when stirring can indicate doneness.
Dry pasta is done when it reaches the al dente stage. This is defined by pasta giving only slight resistance when bitten into. It is Italian for “To the tooth”. Throwing pasta against the wall does nothing except dirty up your kitchen.
There are countless amounts of pasta sauces out there, but you can break them all down into 6 categories. These include Ragu, Seafood Sauces, Vegetable Sauces, Cream Sauces, Garlic-oil Sauces, and uncooked sauces.
Ragu is defined as the sauce that remains after braising a dish. The flavorings, meat or poultry are browned, and then a tomato product and stock, water, wine, milk or cream are added. Very common in classic Italian dishes in which much of the tougher cuts of meat are cooked in this method and then combined into the sauce and poured over the pasta.
There are two types of seafood sauces – White and red. White seafood sauces are made and flavored with herbs and made with white wine or stock. A red seafood sauce uses tomato as its base. Very common in Cajun cooking and central American cuisine.
This type of sauce include both traditional sauces (Made from tomatoes and stock, flavored with garlic and peppers) and modern sauces, such as Primavera.
Quite simple. Uses cream or milk and sometimes a roux. Cheese is usually added for increased flavor. A common base for these sauces is the bechamel sauce.
Olive oil is used as and is flavored with garlic and herbs. It can be served hot or cold, cooked or uncooked. Pesto is a popular uncooked, cold sauce.
There is an endless variety of uncooked sauces that can be used and are generally dressings and garnishes such as fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil, or olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, basil, and hot pepper flakes. Capers, anchovies, and olives are common due to their strong flavor. Fresh vegetables and cubed cheeses can also be used.
There is an order to the chaos that is pasta. It is one of the areas that has seen so much change that the classics have been all but lost. As long as you understand the different sauces and how to create those sauces you are farther ahead than the majority of amateur cooks.