Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tour of Italy ~ Day 16... Pasta Power!

       Like I was explaining in yesterday's post, we have learned the most offten pasta is a dish served just before the main meal, like you here in America serve salad. Italy salad to usually served right after the meal course and just before first course desserts. It has been estimated that there are over two hundred pasta shapes and sizes and each has a different name bases on the region where you dine upon it. Most often the root word of the pasta gives you a hint at what it's shape is, for examples, look below at some of the pasta featured and the root word and shape is explained.

Spaghetti: is a long, thin, round style pasta made of semolina or flour and water.  Traditionally, most spaghetti was 20 inches long, but shorter lengths gained in popularity during the latter half of the 20th century and now spaghetti is most commonly available in a variety of lengths. Spaghetti is the plural form of the Italian word spaghetto, which is a diminutive of spago, meaning "thin string" or "twine."

Capellini: Like spaghetti, it is rod-shaped, in the form of long strands.  literally "thin hair" with its diameter between 0.85 mm and 0.92 mm[1] is a very thin variety of Italian pasta.

Capelli d'angelo: a form of Capellini which literally means angel hair has a diameter between 0.78 and 0.88 mm[2] is an even thinner variant of capellini and they are often sold in a nest-like shape. Capelli d'angelo has been popular in Italy since at least the 14th century. As a very light pasta, it goes well in soups or seafood and light sauces.

Fettuccine: is a popular pasta that resembles spaghetti in appearance. It is normally cooked with creamier sauces. This pasta is found largely in the south and central part of Italy. The name has a meaning of "little ribbons."

Farfalle: are commonly known as "bow-tie pasta," the name is derived from the Italian word farfalla "butterflies." This pasta dates back to the 16th century. It originated in Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. Farfalle come in several sizes, but have a distinctive bow tie shape.


Fusilli are long, thick, corkscrew shaped pastas. The word fusilli presumably comes from fusile, archaic or dialectal word for "rifle", referring to the spiral-grooved barrel of a gun. It can be found in plain or whole wheat varieties, and other colours can be made by mixing other ingredients into the dough, which also affects the flavour, for example, beetroot for red, spinach for green, and cuttlefish ink for black.

Penne: is usually a cylindrical shaped pasta cooks well with meatier sauces. The meat and sauce seep into the hollow center as it cooks. Its shape is derived from the metallic pen used during World War II, called a "pennino."

Rigatoni: is a pasta made for baking, it has a ridged edge that is expert at capturing sauce. Preparation can involve stuffing it with meat, cheese or other ingredients. It is very popular in southern Italy and its name comes from "rigato," which means "ridged."

Rotelle: is the pasta resembling wheels with spokes. It is similar to Fiori and it's name derives from the Italian word for little wheels. They are also known as wagon wheels. Fact: Rotelle was once a popular product sold in Ohio supermarkets by the former Ippolito's Ideal Macaroni Company of Cleveland, Ohio, under the name "Choo Choo Wheels".

Anelli:  are small, thin rings of pasta that are generally used for soups and pasta salads.

Gemelli is a type of pasta that derives from the Italian for twins. Even though it is not twin tubes twisted around one another, as they may appear to be, but rather a single s-shaped strand twisted into a spiral.
Gemilli is also sometimes called 'Unicorn Horns'.

 Lasagna: this versatile pasta can be baked with layers of sauce and meat in-between. It can also be rolled around ingredients such as meat or cheese and cooked. Each region in Italy has its own variation of lasagna.

Gnocchi: a small dumpling is comprised of dough made from potatoes. The round shaped dough is boiled and is mixed with various sauces and in soups. They can also be made from wheat or rice flour.

Orecchiette: is a kind of home-made pasta typical of Puglia or Apulia, a region of Southern Italy. Its name comes from its shape, which reminds one of a small ear. In Southern Italy, you will often see women sitting outdoors in the spring and making the dough  and forming it into small cylinders, which they cut into little cubes. Then they press down each cube with their right thumb, dragging it on the board, thus making it curl slightly. Then they insert their thumb on the reverse side, making it pop out with a little convex bulge.

And since the focus of today was all about pasta, we thought we would give you the recipe for our favorite Bolognese sauce, that could be enjoyed over any of the pasta from above.

Ragu / Bolognese Sauce


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1/2 large eggplant
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  •  salt and papper
  • 3 pounds ground combinationof Italian sausage, beef, salami and turkey or chicken
  • 2 cups whole tomoates squished
  • 1 cup hearty red wine
  • 2-4 cups Water or beef stock
  • 3 bay leaves, crushed
  • 1 bunch thyme, pulled from stems
  • 1 pound favorite pasta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


 Chop the onion, carrots, celery, eggplant and garlic into a coarse small chunks.In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the diced veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.
Add the ground meats and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE MEATS! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the whole squished tomates and cook  about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Add water to the pan until the water or beef stock is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.
Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

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