Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview





Quick Link:  Basic Pasta Recipe Below








Pasta Intro

Pasta History

Pasta Sauces

Fresh Pastas

Le Penne

Pasta Tip

Links to Pasta Sites

Pasta Cookbooks / Machines




Pasta Introduction

Pasta in Italy is a generic term for the durum wheat dough that Italians boil and serve with sauce or oil or butter or in soup.

Pasta is a staple of the Italian diet.  It's served as a first course, in portions much smaller than those eaten outside of Italy.

There is even a patriotic tri-colore (tri-color of white, red and green the colors of the Italian flag) dish that some people serve on patriotic occasions. 

Three colors of tagliatelle (or other colored pasta) are prepared, and then they are seasoned with three different colors of sauces. 

For example, on the serving dish you would see white pasta with tomato sauce, the green pasta with white sauce (besciamella), and the red pasta with a green sauce (pesto).

  • Tomato or Beet juice is added to pasta to make red pasta. 

  • Spinach is added to make green pasta. 

  • Squid ink is added to make past black. 

  • Tumeric or saffron is added to make pasta yellow.

An odd fact:  It's even cooked for pets in Italy, as pet food, purchased from pet shops.

There are two categories of pasta:

  • pasta asciutta (dried pasta) can be stored for years without going bad, but requires a longer cooking time than fresh pasta

  • pasta fresca (fresh pasta) has a very short cooking time, but it cannot be stored for very long before going bad


Fusoli (from Laporta)


Fusili (rifles from Laporta)


Pasta History

The history in Italy of pasta cooked and seasoned with a sauce can be traced as far back as the Etruscans (900 B.C.) who seasoned their pasta with game (venison) based sauces.  The story of pasta coming from China is a myth.


Mparrettati (from Laporta)


Filei (from Laporta)


Maccheroni (from Laporta)


This passed on to the Romans and then appears in the first Italian cookbook in Italian, rather than Latin, by Anonimo Toscano, from the end of the 1300’s, and published for the first time in 1963 by Francesco Zambrini. 

(I have a page about Ancient Italian Cookbooks.  It's about three cookbooks that were written from 1380 to 1500.)

Ravioli (raffioli) are mentioned in Anonimo Tocano's early cookbook, and the recipe is repeated in the later books.  The ravioli (the dough made with flour and water) are filled with all kinds of things, both sweet and savory (often a mincemeat), and either boiled in broth or fried, and sometimes topped with sugar.  Today in Italy ravioli is also used as a generic term for a filled pasta.


Lasagna shows up early too, and is just a flat thin pasta of flour and water cooked in broth and topped with extra animal fat for good measure.  But there is an early recipe for a baked dish that layers a crust or pasta (pastello) with other ingredients, which resembles today's lasagna.

Maestro Martino’s De arte coquinaria from 1450 has recipes for vermicelli and maccheroni.  And his sun-dried pastas could be stored for up to 3 years, and when cooked, were cooked for 1 to 2 hours! 


Tagliatelle:  Martino calls it maccaroni romaneschi, but it is the same as today's tagliatelle, even to the point of telling us we can cook them in the nest form or separated into string form.  The pasta is rolled around a bastone, club, which today in Italian is called a matarello, the the rolling pin is removed and the pasta is cut.  He says to cook it in broth or water, then serve it seasoned with butter, cheese and sweet spice mix.  Interestingly, today in Italy you can buy a tagliatelle that is twisted, and called maccheroni.  And in Italy maccheroni is used as a generic term for pasta.

Tagliatelle (from Laporta)


Spaghetti:  Martino calls this triti or formentine, but as described it is recognizable as today's spaghetti or linguini.  He says to make it like the tagliatelle, but cut it much thinner.  It's served up the same as tagliatelle.

Spighetti (from Laporta)


Bucatoni:  Martino call them maccaroni siciliani, and explains that you make a flour pasta that includes egg white and rose water.  Then you roll strips of the pasta as long as your hand, around a wire as thick as a piece of straw (spagho), then remove the wire.  This makes a thick, hollow pasta that today is called generally bucatoni (or bucati).  He says to dry them in the sun.  I actually call them fire-hoses, because that is what they remind me of.  They are very heavy, and need to be cooked a long time, but perhaps not the 2 hours that Martino recommends!


Vermicelli:  This soup pasta is the same as today's soup pasta called vermicelli (little worms, or larvae).  Martino says to cook them for 1 hours, and to color the dish yellow with saffron, unless you cooked them in milk.


Pater Nostri (Our Fathers from Laporta)


Ruote (wheels from Laporta)


Pasta Sauces

The earliest seasonings for the cooked pasta were meat sauces, milk, butter, cheese, vegetables, and only after the arrival of the tomato from the New World, and then some time to be convinced it wasn’t poisonous, did tomato find it’s ideal partner in pasta. 

Practically every family in Italy has a favorite sugo or salsa for their pasta, so I won’t waste time putting one here.  (I provide a link below to a recipe site with lots of sauce recipes.)

But I will put a recipe for an older pasta sauce, originally Italian (with some variation in ingredients) and now considered French:  La besciamella (white sauce).  The De' Medici called it colla, which means glue, and when it cools it is very glue-like, but when it is warm it makes a rich and exotic pasta sauce.


Maniconi (from Laporta)


Paccheri (from Laporta)



La besciamella - Béchamel or White Sauce

  • 50 grams of butter

  • 4 tablespoons of white flour

  • ½ liter of milk or chicken broth (milk for vegetable pastas, half/half for meat and fish pastas)

  • 50 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

  • Salt to taste

  • Grated nutmeg

Most recipes have you melt the butter, then add the flour, and then slowly whisk in the hot liquid.  I find that unnecessarily laborious and too often end up with balls of flour.  I never have a problem when I start with cold liquid, whisk in the flour, then heat it up slowly, whisking as it cooks. 

After a low boil, whisking continually, for about 5 minutes, it is usually ready. 

Remove it from the heat and add the butter and cheese and stir until they melt.

Then add the salt and nutmeg to taste.  To give you an idea of how much nutmeg you might use, I like a lot of nutmeg, which usually means about ½ a teaspoon.



Gigli (from Laporta)


Gnocchietti (from Laporta)


Orecchietti (from Laporta)



Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is made in sheets and cut and shaped in the various types of pasta. 

To make fresh pasta at home, one must have:

  • a pasta machine to create the sheets, (this is not a necessity, but your pasta will generally be thicker without one unless you are very strong and have lots of experience and patience)

  • a rolling board, (or marble counter, or floured tabletop)

  • a rolling pin, (the Italian matarello is ideal for pasta making because it is 3 times as long as a pie crust rolling pin)

  • patience,

  • patience

  • and more patience. 

And as with all artistry, practice makes perfect.

Basic Pasta Recipe

250 grams sifted flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 teaspoon salt


Sift the flour into a mountain on your work surface.  Make a bowl shape in the middle of the mountain. 


Put the rest of the ingredients in the 'bowl'.  Mix it all together with your fingertips, then your hands until you have a firm ball of pasta dough. 


Add flour a bit at a time until the dough is dry enough to roll out.


If you have a small rolling pin, it is best to divide the dough in two, and work each section separately.  Roll out the dough into a thin sheet.


To make tagliatelle, lightly flour the sheet, then fold it up accordion style.  With a large, sharp knife, slice the roll up into tagliatelle-wide strips.


Gently shake out the strips into the tagliatelle strands.  Set them on a floured board or tray.  Cover them with a kitchen towel and let them dry a bit until you are ready to cook them.


Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so stand ready to remove the pasta from the boiling, salted water, and put on the sauce or seasonings, and serve it immediately.


Then accept the raves with grace and humility.


Here is a recipe that is a bit easier, called Gnocchi di spinaci or malfatti alla fiorentina.  It requires none of those things listed above.  It is typically served during Lent.  (I provide a link below to a page with a good, brief summary of pasta making.)


Gnocchi di spinaci / malfatti alla fiorentina - Spinach Gnocchi / Florentine Misshapen Things

  • 1 kilo freshly cooked spinach, all moisture removed, chopped finely

  • 500 grams of fresh ricotta cheese

  • 200 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 large eggs, or 3 small ones

  • Ground nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon or so)

  • Salt to taste

Mix together the chopped spinach, cheeses, eggs, nutmeg and salt. 

Shape small balls of the pasta, then lightly flour them. 

Cook them in boiling water until they float. 

Remove them and season them immediately and serve.

A simple seasoning is best, like melted butter with some sage and Parmesan cheese.  But you can use a tomato sauce if you prefer.


Trofie (from Laporta)


Casarecce (from Laporta)


Le Penne

Penne are thick tubes of pasta about as long as your thumb.  They are as much a staple of Italian pasta as spaghetti.  They hold up well to strong flavors and retain their chewy texture even when not served immediately. 

Men seem to love this type of pasta, and to prefer it over spaghetti.  Cook them according to the instructions on the package, which should indicate the number of minutes they should be boiled in salted water.

Mezze penne (Rigate)


Penne (from Laporta)


Pennoni (from Laporta)


Some Penne Variations:

Cream and Ham Sauce: 

  • Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pot over a medium heat,

  • then add fresh cream and let it evaporate a bit on a high heat for at least 5 minutes. 

  • Add diced cooked ham,

  • the cooked Penne,

  • grated Parmesan cheese,

  • salt and pepper to taste. 

  • Let it cook just a few minutes more, stirring continually. 

  • Adjust the amounts of cream and ham to suit your personal tastes and the amount of pasta the sauce is to cover. 

Cream, Ham and Pea Sauce:  Cook the sauce as described above.  When you add the cooked Penne, add cooked peas to the sauce as well.

Cream, Garlic and Mushroom Sauce: 

  • Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pot over a low heat and add chopped garlic cloves to personal taste. 

  • Cook for a few minutes, then add fresh cream and let it evaporate a bit on a high heat for at least 5 minutes. 

  • Add chopped, sautéed mushrooms

  • and the cooked Penne,

  • and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

  • Let it cook just a few minutes more, stirring continually. 

  • Adjust the ingredient amounts according to your personal tastes and the amount of pasta the sauce is to cover.


Lumaconi (big snails from Laporta)


Pasta Tip

Just one last word, concerning the cold-water-on-cooked-pasta debate: 

  • One cup of cold water thrown over just cooked pasta, works well as a break on cooking, long enough to get the pasta seasoned and served up at table. 

  • But you should never rinse the cooked pasta under running water because you lose the flour-water coating that has formed over the pasta, which helps the seasonings cling to it.


Conchiglie (shells from Laporta)



Links to Pasta Sites

Pastificio Laporta

AllRecipes Pasta Sauces

A simple overview of pasta making


Festosi (celebrations from Laporta)


Pasta Cookbooks from Amazon (and Machines)