A pasta primer: fresh vs. dried

Burning Questions


What's the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta?

The term "fresh" generally refers to pasta made by hand with soft wheat flour and eggs. "Dried" implies a factory-made product made from hard wheat moistened only with water.

What is most important to understand, however, is that neither type of pasta is superior to the other.

Scholar Clifford Wright theorizes that what is known as dried pasta first was made around 1000, possibly in Sicily.

Water and hard wheat flour were kneaded into a paste (pasta is Italian for paste), formed into shapes and dried in the sun. Hard wheat flour, also called durum semolina, is high in protein and produces a hardy, resilient noodle. The dough must be kneaded for a long time to achieve the proper texture.

Fresh pasta, that is, pasta made with soft (low-protein) wheat flour and eggs, appeared a few centuries after dried. It is often associated with Emilia-Romagna, the region of Italy of which Bologna is the capital. Fresh pasta dough is kneaded for only a short time before being rolled into sheets.

It is the sheet -- sfoglia -- of fresh pasta that is the starting point for what comes next. Cut into wide strips, it becomes lasagna; narrower strips are pappardelle and still narrower strips are tagliatelle and tagliarini. (In Rome, tagliatelle are known as fettuccine.) Or the sheets can be cut into smaller pieces that are folded around fillings to produce ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, etc. Unlike dried, fresh pasta can be cooked almost immediately after being made.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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