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Pasta is a generic term for Italian variants of noodles, food made from a dough of flour, water and/or eggs, that is boiled. The word can also denote dishes in which pasta products are the primary ingredient, served with sauce or seasonings.

There are approximately 350 different shapes of pasta. Examples include spaghetti (solid, thin cylinders), maccheroni (tubes or hollow cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Two other noodles, gnocchi and spätzle, are sometimes counted as pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy. Pasta is categorized in two basic styles: Dried and Fresh. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years under ideal conditions, while fresh pasta will keep for a couple of months. Pasta is generally boiled to soften it before being eaten.

Most pastas are made from a simple combination of flour and water. Pre-packaged speciality pasta often includes spices, cheese or added coloring from spinach, tomatoes or food dye.

Under Italian law, dry pasta (pasta secca) can only be made from durum wheat or semolina flour. Durum flour has a yellow tinge in color. Italian pasta is traditionally cooked al dente (Italian: "to the tooth", meaning not too soft). Abroad, dry pasta is frequently made from other types of flour (such as farina), but this yields a softer product which cannot be cooked al dente.

Particular varieties of pasta may also use other grains and milling methods to make the flour. Some pasta varieties, such as Pizzoccheri, are made from buckwheat flour. Fresh pasta may include eggs (pasta all'uovo). Gnocchi are often listed among pasta dishes, although they are quite different in ingredients (mainly milled potatoes) and therefore can't be called pasta because they don't contain flour.
Published by Margo on Dec 29, 2008

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