Ahoy! According to Justin Dunham: As a general taxonomy, you can split pasta up into a few categories: sheets, strands, shapes and tubes.
Hi there! As I browse through pasta recipes I often wander, do we really need to follow the kind of pasta written in each recipe? I mean, what other (significant) differences can each pasta have? (other than shapes?)
Sheets are fairly easy to explain; they’re made for dishes like lasagna that are prepared as casseroles or as pies, rather than as a dish that’s eaten from a bowl with just a fork. Some have ruffles, I assume for sauce retention.
Strands are a pretty simple shape, right? The main variation among them is thickness.
- Thin strands are meant for light sauces, like a simple angel hair with olive oil and garlic, or perhaps a thin tomato sauce. Otherwise, the strands get lost in the sauce, and you don’t get their texture at all. Also, with thin strands, the lubrication provided by thinner and oil-based sauces helps keep the strands from sticking together.
- Thick strands are meant for heavy sauces. There’s a reason it’s fettucine alfredo, and not angel hair alfredo. (I think putting it this way does the best job of explaining the difference. If there were angel hair in your alfredo, would you even notice its presence?)
- Spaghetti is kind of in the middle, and is a nice all-purpose pasta for this reason. If you are really detail-oriented, you can look for square spaghetti, which has slightly more surface area for sauce to stick to.
For tubes and shapes, the main variation is also by size.
- Very small tubes, like ditalini and small shapes, like orzo or even alphabet pasta, are meant for soup. Some authorities make distinctions between pasta for soup and pasta for broth, but I won’t get into that here.
- The bigger the shape or tube gets, the heartier the sauce you can serve it with. So rigatoni, for example, could be good with a bolognese because the tubes are big enough to fill up with sauce and ground meat. Note that apparently spaghetti bolognese is not really served within Italy.
- The giant shapes, like giant shells, are meant to be stuffed. Giant shells are also often baked, and this is generally possible with the larger pastas like ziti. They won’t fall apart after being in a hot oven for a while. Ravioli and tortellini are stuffed too, and their size is dictated by the same considerations as above, and also how much you’re putting in them.
I think he got the most of it there. Hope this helps (and yes to the Mie Aceh foodwish!)!
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