Pasta is a broad term used to describe a wide variety of noodles made from a dough of durum wheat flour (semolina), salt, and a liquid (water, milk and/or eggs). One of the most-loved foods in the world, almost every country has their own pasta specialty. The Germans make spaetzle, the Poles enjoy pierogi and there are hundreds of rice- or soy-based noodles used throughout the Orient (see soba; udon).
Though it's been said that Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy after returning from his travels in China, archaeological studies suggest that noodles likely originated in Central Asia as far back as 1000 BC. It seems pasta existed in Asia and Europe long before Polo's expeditions.
Varieties, Buying and Storage Tips
Factory produced and fully dried before being packaged, dried pasta is typically made with just semolina flour, water and salt. However, it can also be made with different types of flours and seasonings.
Dried pasta is readily available in many shapes and sizes at grocery stores and Italian markets. When buying, check the package to make sure the pieces are unbroken. If the noodles look crumbly or dusty, choose another package. As a general rule, imported pasta is superior to American factory-made products.
Most dried pasta can be stored indefinitely in an airtight glass or plastic container in a cool, dark place. Dried whole-wheat pasta is the exception—it may turn rancid if stored for longer than one month.
Often made with eggs instead of water, fresh pasta has a brighter color and flavor and a higher nutritional content. It's made fresh daily at Italian specialty stores and can also be found refrigerated or frozen at most supermarkets. Though not available in as many shapes and sizes as dried, fresh pasta offers a greater variety of flavor choices.
There are also many wonderful recipes for making your own fresh pasta at home.
When buying, check the date on the package to buy the freshest available. Make sure the pasta looks fresh—not dry or moldy.
More delicate than dried, fresh pasta should be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to five days. It can also be frozen for up to four months. Frozen pasta can go straight from the freezer into boiling water.
Pasta Flours and Flavors
Whether buying at the market or making at home, the flour and flavor combinations for pas