Pasta, an Italian wheat-based staple, though simple, has quietly taken the world’s plates by storm. In Singapore, a casual jaunt to a supermarket, a cafe, or even a coffeeshop will elicit an appearance of the essential ingredient; while a quick search on Google begets no fewer than 30 authentic restaurants that serve the comforting dish.
As Andrea De Paola, Head Chef of Zafferano Italian Restaurant & Lounge, puts it: “As an Italian, pasta is the first dish that comes to my mind when I’m planning to have a meal. Pasta is celebrated in many movies, and Italians write poems about it too.”
Pasta is one of the world’s most accessible foods; it is affordably priced and easily mass produced, because it is so easy to prepare. This is the reason why in Italy, pasta is the dish that is never missing on our tables at every meal, every day.”
Denis Lucchi, Resident Chef of Buona Terra concurs: “The essence of pasta lies in the simplicity of its ingredients. Simple, accessible ingredients like water, flour, and sometimes eggs, make pasta an approachable food for everyone.”
Form and function
The first pasta shape that immediately comes to mind is probably spaghetti – long and thin cylinders similar to the Asian noodles we enjoy. Other popular types of pasta include macaroni, a tubular pasta; linguini, flat thin noodles; and fusilli, a corkscrew shape with delightful sauce-catching crevices.
A simple change of shape will result in different pairings of sauces and ingredients. A twist here or a press there, and you will have a totally different dish.”
Andrea De Paola, Head Chef of Zafferano Italian Restaurant & Lounge
De Paola’s favourite shapes to make are tortellini or cappelletti, stuffed pasta formed into little ring shapes that resemble little hats or tiny wontons.
He says: “This pasta needs a lot of effort and patience, and the result is always a bomb of flavours. Even though the pasta shape may look the same, the filing can always be a surprise. The filling is where the chef can decide on the most innovative or traditional combinations.”
As for Lucchi, “pasta can also be extremely filling and used in many different ways, based on the sauce we decide to pair it with.” His vote goes to the short and “fat” tubular pasta shapes called paccheri (smooth and large tubes) and mezze maniche (grooved “short sleeved” tubes), for their al dente mouthfeel.
To mark World Pasta Day, why not expand your pasta repertoire? There are altogether over 600 pasta shapes to savour, but here are eight delightfully unusual pasta shapes to try first:
Taking its name from paccharia, which means “slaps” in Neapolitan, this is the sound the tubular pasta makes in the pan while cooking, says De Paola. He adds that this pasta has a firmer texture as it must be consumed al dente, and would pair well with just a simple tomato sauce.
Although not traditionally made from flour, there’s still wheat in this pasta shape. Breadcrumbs, egg and Parmesan cheese are formed into a dough and passed through a potato ricer, directly into boiling water or a broth — it can also be eaten dry with a little sauce, says Lucchi.
This central Italy speciality, sometimes described as little “pasta nuggets”, was previously served on Buona Terra’s autumn menu, complemented with a spinach puree, an egg emulsion, toasted breadcrumbs, cheese, wild mushrooms, and finished with shavings of black truffle.
While we’re familiar with spaghetti, its cousin from Naples, the spaghettoni, is thicker and has a rougher texture, thanks to the use of a bronze die (the circular plate that the pasta dough is extruded from). This means the sauce clings better to each strand, says De Paola.
He notes: “This pasta takes a longer time to cook and has a more al dente texture, which provides complex textures to the dish and it is perfect for rich seafood sauces. We occasionally serve this on our lunch menu at Zafferano, with lobster or cod ragout that elevate this humble pasta.”
This is a classic from the south of Italy, particularly the regions of Calabria and Sicily. Some trivia, as shared by Lucchi: “Busiate is named after a native plant that was, back in the day, used to shape the pasta dough into a twirl, resembling a telephone cord. It differs in each region, but now, some use a knitting needle instead.”
Could this be the cutest pasta shape? However, the couscous-like fregola sarda has over 1,000 years of history — part of this longstanding heritage is the process of roasting the semolina pearls in the oven till dry, which adds an extra layer of flavour to dishes.
Shares De Paola: “At Zafferano, we pair this pasta as a side with our Chilean sea bass, as the roasted notes remind me of the toasted bread usually served with cacciucco (Tuscan fish stew).”
As with all things handmade, perfection is an art that takes skill, patience and practice. Orecchiette is no exception. Meaning “little ear” in Italian as an allusion to its shape, the Pugliese pasta is made by curling each cube of dough with a knife on a chopping board, then turning it with the thumb to form its unmistakable concave appearance. Orecchiette is usually eaten with meat ragu or simply with in-season vegetables, says Lucchi.
This very rare pasta shape from Sardinia is made by pulling semolina dough into very thin threads with one’s hands — 256 delicate strands of pasta are layered into an intricate sheet and usually served with lamb broth.
It’s one of the most complicated pastas, with very few people in the world that have mastered the technique, notes De Paola. Hence, it’s apt that the name of the pasta means “the threads of God”.
This stuffed pasta from Sardinia resembles a dumpling, but instead of meat or seafood, it’s typically filled with potato, pecorino cheese and fresh mint. To make this unique shape, Lucchi says that the dough is rolled into a layer, topped with the filling, then folded in a pattern that looks like a wheat spike atop the plump parcel.
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