[pah-stuh; especially Brit. pas-tuh]
pasta, generic name for thin pieces of hardened, unleavened dough that are molded into various shapes and boiled, not baked. Pasta is commonly associated with Italian cuisine, though similar wheat flour and rice flour pastas, usually called noodles, have been known in Asia for a long time (remains of millet flour noodles dating to c.2000 B.C. have been found in China). Pasta is believed to have been introduced into Europe during the Mongol invasions in the 13th cent. The basic ingredient of Italian-style pasta is semolina, a durum wheat flour, which is moistened with water, kneaded to a smooth dough, and rolled out and cut or formed into various shapes, such as ribbons, tubes, or disks; they may be twisted or ribbed. Thin strands are known as spaghetti (Italian for "little strings") and very thin as vermicelli ("little worms"). Pasta may contain eggs as well as such flavoring and coloring agents as tomatoes, spinach, and squid ink. In Asia, noodles are a common staple, as in Japan's soba (buckwheat noodles served with a soy dipping sauce), Korea's chilled beef and noodle soup, and China's lo mein (stir-fried wheat noodles paired with a variety of other ingredients) and chow fun (rice noodles). Many other countries have created their own pasta dishes, such as sweet noodle kugel (a Middle-European Jewish dish). Fresh pasta is also served as stuffed dumplings in many countries; the Polish pierogi, kin to Russian piroshki, are filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables. The Chinese serve potstickers, wontons, and many other types of dumplings, and the Italians serve cheese- or meat-stuffed ravioli, tortellini, and other types.

See M. L. and J. D. Scott: The Complete Pasta Book (1988); S. Serventi and F. Sabban, Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food (tr. 2003).

Pasta (Italian for "dough") is a generic term for Italian variants of noodles.

There are approximately 350 different shapes of pasta. A few examples include spaghetti (solid, thin cylinders), maccheroni (tubes or hollow cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Two other noodles, gnocchi and spätzle, are sometimes counted as pasta because they are traditional in Italy. Pasta is categorized in two basic styles: Dried and Fresh. Depending upon whether or not pasta includes eggs as an ingredient, the shelf life of pasta can be several years.. Pasta is boiled before consumption.


Pasta ingredients span a wide range. Most pasta's are made from a combination of simple flour and water mixtures. Pre-packaged speciality pasta often includes spices and cheeses, while others include added coloring from spinach, tomatoes, and food dye.

Under Italian law, dry pasta (pasta secca) can only be made from durum wheat or semolina flour. Durum flour has a yellow tinge in color. Italian pasta is traditionally cooked al dente (Italian: "to the tooth", meaning not too soft). Abroad, dry pasta is frequently made from other types of flour (such as farina), but this yields a softer product, which cannot be cooked al dente.

Particular varieties of pasta may also use other grains and milling methods to make the flour. Some pasta varieties, such as Pizzoccheri, are made from buckwheat flour. Various types of fresh pasta include eggs (pasta all'uovo). Gnocchi are often listed among pasta dishes, although they are quite different in ingredients (mainly milled potatoes).


Though the Chinese were eating noodles as long ago as 1500 BC (known thanks to the discovery of a well-preserved bowl of noodles over 4000 years old), the familiar legend of Marco Polo importing pasta from China is just that—a legend, whose origins lie not in Polo's Travels, but was introduced by Arabs during their conquest of Sicily. (newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association.)

The works of the 2nd century CE Greek physician Galen mention itrion, homogeneous compounds made up of flour and water. The Jerusalem Talmud records that itrium, a kind of boiled dough, was common in Palestine from the 3rd to 5th centuries CE. But these references are vague and simply speculate on a possible connection to modern pasta.

A dictionary compiled by the 9th century Syrian physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali defines itriyya as string-like shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking, probable evidence of Arab influence on the ancestor to modern-day dried pasta. One form of itrion with a long history is laganum (plural lagana), which in Latin refers to a thin sheet of dough. In the 1st century BC work of Horace, lagana were fine sheets of dough which were fried and were an everyday food. Writing in the 2nd century Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lagana which he attributes to the 1st century Chrysippus of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavored with spices and deep-fried in oil. An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called lagana that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing, a possible ancestor of modern-day Lasagna. But the method of cooking these sheets of dough do not correspond to our definition of either a fresh or dry pasta product. The fact remains that the first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the thirteenth or fourthteenth century. The question of their origin continues to evoke speculation. The name (λαγάνα, lagána) survives in modern-day Greece to denote an unleavened, flat bread eaten during the Great Lent. In Polo's time paste was already made the it,s only a myth

Varieties of pasta

Pasta comes in many different shapes and forms: from short to long, from straight to curly, from strip-shaped to nubbly.

In Italian supermarkets, pasta can be commonly bought in dozens of different shapes, and usually every pasta-dish requires the right shape of pasta.

Common varieties of pasta include: spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, tagliatelle, vermicelli and ravioli


Common pasta sauces in Northern Italy include pesto and ragù alla bolognese; in Central Italy, simple tomato sauce, amatriciana and carbonara, and in Southern Italy, spicy tomato, garlic, and olive oil based sauces, often paired with fresh vegetables or seafood. Varieties include puttanesca, pasta alla norma (tomatoes, eggplant and fresh or baked cheese), pasta con le sarde (fresh sardines, pine nuts, fennel and olive oil), spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (literally with garlic, (olive) oil and hot chili peppers).

Fettuccine alfredo, with butter and cheese, and spaghetti with tomato sauce with or without ground meat or meatballs are popular Italian-style dishes in the United States.

As pasta is introduced elsewhere in the world, it has been incorporated into a number of local cuisines that may have significantly different ways of preparations from those of its country of origin. In Hong Kong, the local Chinese have adopted pasta, primarily spaghetti and macaroni, as an ingredient in the Hong Kong-style Western cuisine. In the territory's Cha chaan tengs, pasta, most commonly 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 . The method often involves cooking the pasta well beyond the al dente stage and washing the starches off the pasta after cooking, measures frowned upon in Italy or in Hong Kong's more authentic Italian eateries.


One frequently reads, or hears on food shows that "pasta is made from durum semolina" or "pasta is made from semolina flour". Both of these statements are specious to some extent. It is impossible to make a pasta or dough from semolina. The granules will not stick together when water is added to it. All semolina must first be ground into flour before it can be made into a dough, and all commercially produced flour, at this time in history, begins as semolina which is produced as part of the milling process. Therefore all commercial flour, of any color or wheat type, is 'semolina flour' unless it is ground directly from the wheat kernel which is seldom the case. Before the introduction of modern milling methods however, the harder portion of the endosperm would resist the action of the millstones and this would be collected and was called semolina. Having a higher gluten content than the softer parts of the endosperm, the flour made from it was ideal for making pasta because it maintains its integrity better when cooked in boiling water. This distinction is important to prevent confusion.

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