24 Nov Dried Pasta vs. Fresh Pasta – Not a Freshness Debate.
In the traditional Italian menu, the first course is a delectable dish whose purpose is to quell the appetite just a touch, while setting the tone for the rest of the meal. Among pasta, gnocchi, and rice dishes, which all qualify as first courses, pasta is by far the most common.
There are two main kinds of pasta: fresh and dried. Even though fresh pasta is often depicted as the most traditional, it’s not actually the most commonly consumed in Italy. Not only is industrially made dried pasta more convenient, it has different properties that make it best suited for a number of preparations. Handmade fresh pasta however maintains an aura of prestige, and it’s the only kind featured in high class restaurants.
Fresh pasta is usually made (by hand or by machine) with all-purpose flour and water, often with the addition of egg, which acts as a binding agent (“pasta all’uovo”, in Italian). Typical examples are tagliatelle and linguine, as well as lasagna sheets. Fresh pasta may also be filled (e.g.: ravioli, tortellini, etc.).
Generally speaking, dried pasta is industrially made with durum flour and water, and it’s then air dried and sold in boxes. Besides the undisputed practicality of the packaging (which can keep at room temperature for several months), quality durum pasta maintain its cooking point better than fresh pasta, making it the preferred choice for preparations that require the pasta to remain firm as it begins to cool down.
As for the cooking, both the fresh and the dried kinds of pasta are commonly boiled in plenty of salty water, then drained quickly and finished in the chosen sauce. They can also be cooked (and served) in broth, or baked in the oven along with sauces and other ingredients (although dried pasta may be partially boiled first).
When boiling dried pasta, most Italians follow the cooking time indicated on the box, usually between 10 and 15 minutes. Fresh pasta, instead, cooks in as little as 3-5 minutes, since it doesn’t need to re-hydrate. For more tips about cooking pasta see: Cooking Pasta 101.
To conclude this brief overview, one final note on the origin of pasta names. The various cuts are creatively named after their shape or texture. Here is a list of the most common, along with their literal translations.
- Bucatini, from ‘bucato’, holed (hollowed);
- Cannelloni, from ‘canna’ = hose;
- Conchiglie, from ‘conchiglia’ = shell;
- Farfalle, from ‘farfalla’ = butterfly;
- Fettuccine, from ‘fettuccia’ = ribbon;
- Filini, from ‘filo’ = thread, wire;
- Fusilli, from ‘fuso’ = spindle;
- Linguine, from ‘lingua’ = tongue;
- Penne, from ‘penna’ = quill;
- Orecchiette, from ‘orecchio’ = ear;
- Rigatoni, from ‘rigato’ = striped;
- Rotini, from ‘roteare’ = to twirl;
- Spaghetti, from ‘spago’ = twine;
- Tortiglioni, from ‘ritorto’ = twisted;
- Tubetti, from ‘tubo’ = tube.
See Pasta Names Explained for photos.