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