Pasta has formed an important part of Italian cuisine for a long time. And even though National Geographic News reported that the oldest noodle was excavated from China, pasta - in a different form - was present in ancient Rome! “Lagana” – wide sheets of dough made from flour and water and cooked in liquid – was a popular food choice for the ancient Romans and eventually became what we now call lasagna. A variety of shapes and sizes of pasta began to emerge in the Middle Ages, as did the practice of boiling the dough, though the custom of cooking your pasta al dente emerged later in history. Records from the 15th and 16th centuries indicate a practice of cooking macaroni for up to two hours – apparently Medieval Italians preferred their pasta to be mush! Now, of course, we know a little more about bringing out the best possible flavor.
Al dente literally means “to the tooth” in Italian. It means your pasta should have a slight bite or snap that you can feel when you chew it. The texture allows for more of the actual pasta flavor to come through, and it creates a better combination with the sauce. Al dente pasta also happens to be healthier for you than mushy pasta. Your body takes longer to break down the carbs in al dente pasta, keeping your blood sugar levels more stable and your body more sufficiently filled and fueled.
Pasta is found all over Italy, but we think that some of the best comes from Torre Annunziata, a city along the southern foot of Mount Vesuvius. Its mild climate makes it the perfect place for producing pasta. Pasta is best when subjected to a slow drying process in warm – but not too warm – temperatures.
Pro Chef Tip: For the perfect al dente pasta, use a big pot with four to six quarts of water per pound of pasta. Add salt to the water and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the pasta. Stir your pasta frequently and taste-test the noodles for the right consistency. Never trust the suggested cooking time on the package. Drain the pasta as soon as it reaches al dente and then toss it with a cup or so of sauce or 2 tsp. of olive oil (not water) to prevent it from sticking. Top with some Parmigiano-Reggiano, garnish with fresh basil, and buon appetito!
In honor of Italian month, we’ve cooked up some great Italian recipes for you to try out. It’s also Vegetarian Awareness month and vegetables are a staple of Southern Italian fare. Be sure to check out our recipe page for authentic Italian food, with a vegetarian twist!
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