Store-bought pasta is a kitchen staple both amateur and professional cooks are very much fond of – especially when a quick, under-a-minute meal is needed.
But thanks to all the YouTube videos that are making cooking look and feel as easy as it is to peel a banana, making perfect pasta from scratch can be a breeze. Whipping up real food from scratch has unquestionably become a trend amongst our generation. However, something that’s missing, apart from having the delicious, eggy pasta on hand, is the right choice of sauces to go along with certain types of Italian-born noodle. In order to really make your pasta shine, you also need to pick the right sauces to go with it.
And to become a pasta master, we knew we had to learn from the guru. During one late afternoon on a sultry summer day, we met up with Chef Francesco Deiana of the excellent pasta shop, La Dotta La Grassa, for a pasta-fuelled talk. As a former chef de cuisine at Bocconcino in Moscow, Russia, as well as the current head chef of Via Maris, Vesper and of course, La Dotta and La Dotta La Grassa, the Italian-born chef has long been getting his hands dirty in the flour-specked business for decades; time and practice have proven he’s the master of pasta-making. He’s someone who’s so passionate about the egg-enriched dough that it leads us to think that the man probably dreams about, and talks to pasta in his sleep.
Those hankering to learn more about pasta, don’t fret, our pasta 101 is here to help you. And although you may be no Jamie Oliver or evem Chef Francesco himself, it is high time to act like you are. Scroll down for Chef Francesco’s insights and thoughts on the different types and shapes of pasta, how to cook them, and the sauces that would pair best with each type, just so you can recreate this ultimate people-pleaser pasta meal at home, like a pasta pro.
Pasta divides Italy into parts.
Italian cuisine, as many may know it, is merely all about a few types of pizzas and pasta. So the first thing you’ll need to acknowledge before we get into the main part of it, according to Chef Francesco, is that Italian cuisine is multidimensional; the cuisine which you see as one-dimensional is actually built upon subsets of regional cuisines throughout the country.
And in Italy, one type of pasta dough is basically made into a hundred different types of pasta. Each city boasts varieties of pasta that are different from one another. Although some have similar shapes, the length and size can vary. So the list of pasta types in Italy, as you can imagine, is simply endless. But to make it easier, you can divide the Italian-born noodle into a few categories: dried, fresh, short, long and stuffed pasta.
Now, the North is all about fresh pasta and the South is more keen on dried ones whilst the stuffed pasta is made and cooked throughout the country – it’s the pasta that unites the North and South as one. The difference between dried and fresh is just in the use of the ingredients; dried pasta is made simply out of semolina flour, water and salt (no egg) whilst fresh pasta is composed of eggs and more water. A rule of thumb is that the egg yolk is always used for the richness of the dough; egg white is used for chewiness and flour is added for a little bite and semolina flour is for the rough texture.
Common types of pasta and the sauces that should go along with each one
Not all pasta is perfect with tomato sauce. And not all cream sauce is good with all types of pasta. It is essential to know your pasta to then be able to cook the perfect Italian noodle bowl.
Shape: rigatoni is a dried tube-shaped pasta with a large hole in the middle and striped skin (riga means stripe). Thanks to these qualities, rigatoni is able to hold up the sauce very well inside the hollow space and on its skin.
Sauce: anything thick and chunky like chopped tomato sauce and ultra-meaty ragu will be absolutely perfect for this.
Shape: translated as a seashell in Italian, conchiglie boasts a shell-like shape that welcomes all the chunky, meat-packed sauces to really cling to it. Conchiglie is also a dried pasta that’s available in different sizes: small, mini, medium and jumbo.
Sauce: Chunky tomato and Bolognese sauce.
Shape: casarecce is a dried, short pasta with smooth skin and rolled shape. Here’s the kind of pasta that tastes extra yummy when it’s super al dente.
Sauce: due to its flat and twisted shape, casarecce will match marvelously with lusciously smooth marinara, Sicilian pesto, and creamy sauces since it can hold silky sauces better than the meaty ones.
Shape: fusilli is a dried, corkscrew-shaped pasta. Because of its slenderness, the sauce that goes well with it shouldn’t be too thick or chunky, otherwise, it wouldn’t adhere to the pasta.
Sauce: pesto (lemon and arugula pesto would be perfect) and marinara sauce.
Shape: first of all, don’t mistake this for spaghetti. Bucatini is a dried, straw-like pasta with a teeny-tiny hollow centre. And although bucatini gives the spaghetti effect to the dish, it can hold the sauce better than other long noodles, thanks to the hole that runs through the pasta.
Sauce: hearty, pancetta-pecked carbonara sauce is an ideal choice for bucatini.
Spaghetti Alla Chitarra
Shape: Spaghetti alla chitarra belongs to the long pasta family. The same shape as spaghetti, this type of noodle is made fresh with eggs and durum wheat semolina. So like other fresh pasta, it is meant to be eaten right after or within a few days of being made.
Sauce: Spaghetti alla chitarra contains a dense eggyness. So it is delightful when paired with beef-laden or thick sauces.
Shape: known to be a slightly wider version of tagliatelle, pappardelle is a flat, ribbon-like fresh noodle.
Sauce: This type of pasta is home to any beefy, rich ragu which is apparent through its name “pappare”, an Italian word for “gobble up”.
Shape: tagliolini has a cylindrical shape with a layer that’s slightly thicker than a paper.
Sauce: because of its thinness, this type of pasta would go very well with light and smooth sauces like truffle-enriched butter sauce. Chunky sauces can make the noodle disappear under the pile of meat and veggies. After all, eating a pasta dish means having to really taste the pasta itself, right?
Shape: known also as fettuccine (commonly used in the South), tagliatelle is a fresh, ribbon-like pasta that is very similar to pappardelle – except it is narrower in size.
Sauce: Bolognese or any decadent meat sauce.
Shape: translated as “little tongues,” linguine is a slightly wider and flatter version of spaghetti.
Sauce: linguine pairs beautifully with herby pesto. It also tastes scrumptiously good with clam and white wine sauce or just in any fat-based sauce like garlicky olive oil.
Shape: ravioli is a stuffed pasta in square or round shape. You can also really get creative with the fillings. Any hearty meat, cheese or a mix of vegetable will do.
Sauce: stuffed pasta is made with more egg than semolina, therefore, it is quite fragile. So make sure you go for the light, oil-based sauces which would be perfect to toss the ravioli in.
Shape: this stuffed, belly-button-shaped pasta is known for its iconic figure and its array of sumptuous fillings, for example, cheese, a mix of meat and cooked vegetables.
Sauce: traditionally, tortellini is served in this umami-packed broth which is known to be a staple Christmas meal. This stuffed pasta is also gorgeous in simple tomato, cream, and even butter-enriched sauces.
How to cook the perfect pasta
Whether it’s a dried or fresh pasta, the overall process for cooking up the perfect pasta is pretty much the same except for the cooking time.
The basic formula Chef Francesco always goes for is for every 100 grams of pasta, you need approximately one litre of water and ten grams of salt. There’s no need to add oil into the pot since it can prevent the sauce from adhering to the noodle.
First off, the water must be put to boil without any salt added to it. Once it is hot, not boiling, you can add the salt in, then next, the pasta.
For dried pasta, follow the cooking time on the package or check the noodle after a few minutes to check the texture. You want it to be al dente and still have some bite to it, definitely not too soft since pasta will continue to cook when you mix it with the sauce on the stove. The water of the pasta after you finish cooking it is also very starchy. Chef Francesco highly recommends you keep some to add into the pan later on as a trick to thicken the sauce up.
For fresh pasta, it tends to get cooked really fast so one or two minutes will be plenty of time. Keep in mind that the pasta will also continue to cook on a pan just like the dried pasta, so make sure you don’t overcook it in the water.
As for stuffed pasta, the dough itself uses more egg than semolina flour. As a result, the dough will be extra fragile so it only needs a short cooking time. Depending on the size and the stuffing, the cooking time can be as short as one or two minutes.