Unravelling the pasta puzzle: Are you eating pasta wrong?

Pasta is a staple in many households. But with the plethora of options available at the supermarket, how do you know which is the right shape, size, and quality for your recipe? There’s a lot to consider when cooking an authentic and satisfying pasta dish. Here’s what you should be looking for when selecting the perfect packet.

Shopping for the right pasta

The journey to pasta perfection begins long before boiling the water and whipping up a sauce. It starts in the supermarket aisle, where you’re faced with a decision that can make or break your meal.

While it might be tempting to grab the first package of pasta you see, taking a moment to consider your options can make a world of difference in terms of flavour and texture. 

Dried pasta is typically made with semolina and water, shaped, and then dried in a factory at a specific temperature. The drying temperature and time are crucial factors that influence the quality of the pasta.

Slow-drying vs fast-drying pasta

The secret to superior pasta lies in slow drying at a low temperature of 35 to 45°C, which can take anywhere from 18 hours to three days. This gentle process preserves the pasta’s natural flavour and texture, ensuring it holds up well during cooking. 

On the other hand, pasta dried quickly at high temperatures for just a few hours is left with an orange hue and a compromise in quality. So, when selecting pasta, avoid yellow or orange dried pasta made with semolina. Instead, look for an ivory colour, which is a sign of slow drying at low temperatures. 

However, this rule does not apply to fresh egg pasta, which may naturally be yellow due to the presence of egg yolks, or wholemeal pasta.

Texture

When pasta is made, it’s forced through a die – perforated metal plates that cut and shape the pasta into specific forms or patterns. Dies come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from simple to intricate designs, each intended to create a distinct pasta shape. They also come in different materials. 

Manufacturers making cheap pasta mostly use Teflon dies. A die coated in Teflon will produce pasta that is smooth and shiny. Glossy pasta looks good while it’s in the packet, but when cooked, the sauce will slide right off rather than sticking to it.

Take a closer look at the supermarket shelf and you might find an alternative: bronze-cut pasta, extruded through bronze dies. Using bronze is more traditional but its popularity has waned over time due to the lower cost of Teflon. Pastas extruded through bronze dies boast a slightly rougher texture and increased porosity, making them an ideal surface for sauces to cling to.

Choosing the right shape

One of the most delightful aspects of pasta is its diverse array of shapes and sizes, each suited to different sauces and culinary styles. When choosing the right shape, consider the characteristics of your sauce and the overall dish you wish to create.

For hearty, chunky sauces such as ragù or Bolognese, opt for robust shapes such as rigatoni or penne, which can trap the sauce and provide a satisfying bite in every forkful. Lighter, delicate sauces, such as pesto or aglio e olio, pair beautifully with long, slender shapes such as linguine or spaghetti, allowing the sauce to evenly coat each strand.

Experimenting with lesser-known shapes can also add excitement to your pasta repertoire. From orecchiette, perfect for cradling peas and pancetta, to trofie, ideal for creamy sauces, the possibilities are endless.

Fresh vs dried pasta

Alec Morris, author of the cookbook Pasta et Al, recommends choosing fresh pasta from the refrigerator section over dried pasta. “You’ll find that there are restaurants or grocers that sell pasta in the fresh section in the fridge,” says Mr Morris. “If you try this sort of pasta, you’ll often find that you’ll enjoy a meal that’s pretty close to the homemade, handmade experience.”

Mr Morris also emphasises the importance of buying local pasta to ensure it hasn’t spent too much time in storage. “Fresh and local is always best. I would personally rather buy fresh pasta, made by someone down the road, than dried pasta from Italy.”

The pasta experience

Ultimately, the best pasta experience is subjective and should be about how you enjoy the food. Whether you opt for dried or fresh, imported, or local, the act of sitting down for a meal with loved ones is what truly matters. However, being informed about the nuances of pasta quality can elevate that experience, turning a simple meal into a culinary delight.

Have you discovered a particular brand or type of pasta that has become a staple in your kitchen? Do you have any pasta-buying tips or favourite recipes to share? We’d love to hear about your pasta preferences in the comments section below.

Also read: Can pasta help you lose weight?

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

1 COMMENT

  1. Once agian, Ellie Baxter, we have the old mistake people make. A word that describes preceding verb is an adverb, therefore that should read “Are you eating pasta wrongly”, not wrong. In fact ‘Incorrectly’ would be more appropriate.As a writer and editor, you should know that . English language education in schools is bad, let’s not support it.

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