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All about pasta               

April 2010  

All about pasta

pastaPasta plays an important part in many people’s lives and is so familiar that few people consider what it is actually made of.

There was a very funny April 1st spoof broadcast by the BBC many years ago on pasta growing in Italy. This gave a description of an orchard of pasta trees and interviewed pasta “harvesters”! For many people who had given the origins of pasta little thought, it was easy to believe pasta was just another plant that could be cultivated and used in tasty dishes.

Today most of us know that pasta is mainly made from a mixture of flour and water, but when you look into it a little more it seems the best pasta is always made from Durum wheat. Many pasta makers advertise the fact that their pasta is made from 100% Durum wheat , but what does this mean?

Durum wheat is the name of just one specific type of wheat. It is thought to have originated in Ethiopia or around the Mediterranean and it was early recognised as a useful food. There is evidence of it in cultivation in early Egypt before spreading slowly across the world. It finally reached America in the mid 19th century when it was first cultivated in Montana and South Dakota.

It is a good wheat for a number of reasons. It grows exceptionally well in certain areas and it generates a higher yield than other wheats in areas of low rainfall. But even better, durum wheat is particularly appropriate for cooking. It is high in protein and very dense and strong which makes it perfect for pasta making. There are a number of pastas on the market which are based on other wheats or have been poorly made and these bring a disappointing, pappy texture. Durum is very reliable in producing a good firm texture.

Another benefit is colour. Most of the durum grown today is amber durum which has grains that are larger than those of other types of wheat and also have a natural amber shade which gives pasta its slightly yellow golden colouring, much more appetising than plain white.

Once the durum wheat has been cut, it goes through several processes before being made into pasta. First the wheat is cleaned to remove any foreign material or broken kernels. Then it is tempered; this controls the moisture levels in the wheat and also toughens the seed coat to help separate the bran and endosperm. Then it has to be milled and today this is a complex procedure involving repetitive grinding and sieving.

Finally it becomes Durum flour when it is simply mixed with water and sometimes egg to form a dough which is then kneaded, rolled and cut into shapes. Then it can be packaged and sold fresh, or dried for longer life and convenience - today you can buy both fresh and dried pasta in most supermarkets. But there is a difference. Dried pasta has a firmer, denser texture when cooked and is suited to chunky, meaty or oily sauces. Fresh pasta has a softer, more absorbent texture and takes on the flavours of the sauce more readily; it goes really well with buttery or creamy sauces or sauces with delicate flavours. Dried pasta is by far the top seller because of it keeps well and cooks quickly, making it ideal for modern lifestyles.

While most of us know just a handful of popular pasta shapes, from macaroni and spaghetti to the shell like conghiglioni and spiral fusilli, there are literally hundreds of different pasta shapes available today. This isn’t just for appearance, the cut and shape has been perfected to allow different weight sauces to cling in different ways. Long thin pasta suits oily, more liquid sauces while wider pasta and more complicates shapes are better for thicker, chunkier sauces where there is room for them to nestle and cling to the pasta. Sheet pasta such as lasagne and cannelloni are perfect for baked oven dishes.

If you are interested in the different types of pasta available, a good place to visit is where you can see the names and pictures of a huge range of pasta shapes.


Nutricentre Discount for laterlife visitors If in any doubt about any of the information covered in health and nutrition related articles and it's relevance for you, consult your GP.




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