Pasta is the generic Italian name for many noodle-like pastes or doughs
that are made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are far too
many different kinds than can be counted. The two main types are fresh
pasta, or pasta fresca, and dried pasta, or pasta secca.
Fresh egg pasta is the most common fresh pasta and can be homemade or store-bought. It is more typical of northern Italy, where the land is fertile and
eggs have generally been more plentiful and affordable. Southern Italians tend to rely more on dried pasta. Dried pasta is far less expensive to produce and
keeps well in the hot, dry climate. In southern Italy, fresh stuffed pasta like ravioli and cannelloni are served more for holidays and special occasions.
Italians don't compare fresh egg pasta to dried pasta: one is not considered better than the other. They are simply different and the sauces that accompany
them should respect that difference.
The fresh pasta that enjoys uncontested recognition as Italy's finest is that of
Cream sauces are popular also and vegetable and light tomato sauces are
made during the warmer months. The basic dough for homemade fresh pasta
consists of eggs and all-purpose flour. No salt, olive oil, or water is added.
The only other ingredient that may be used is spinach or Swiss chard for green
Fresh egg pasta is often cut into strands that vary in width, such as fettuccine,
pappardelle, and lasagne. It is also filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables to
create ravioli, tortellini, and cannelloni. In Emilia-Romagna, where Parmigiano-
Reggiano is also made, freshly grated cheese is usually grated over the
The Piedmont area, near the border of France, is also known for its fresh egg
pasta. Here egg yolks only are blended with flour to make the dough. This
results in a very refined flavor and texture and is most often cut into strands.
This pasta can be served simply with a butter sauce and thinly sliced truffles
that are native to this region.
Fresh pasta can also be made without eggs. In Apulia, semolina flour is mixed
with water and shaped into orecchiette, which is pinched with the thumb, or
cavatelli, which is rolled into a cylinder. In Sicily, it is also rolled around a
knitting needle to make fusilli. The Sicilians also make a fresh pasta for
Dried pasta is also sometimes referred to as factory-made pasta. The finest
dried pasta is made from golden semolina flour ground from durum wheat and
mixed with water. Once shaped, the pasta must be fully dried before it can be
packaged. Good quality dried pasta should have a slightly rough surface and
compact body that maintains its firmness in cooking, since it swells
considerably in size when cooked.
Typical sauces for dried pasta are based on olive oil rather than butter. But as
some of the recipes bear out, there are several butter-based sauces that
combine well with dried pasta. In southern Italy, dried pasta is most often
married with a tomato sauce, which may be plain or with meat, seafood, or