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  Corkscrew Issue 33, September 2005   
Matching Wine and PastaMatching Wine and Pasta  Contents 
Issue 32, Summer 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 34, October 2005

Matching Wine and Pasta

The most classic dish of Italian cooking, thanks to its endless ways of preparation and condiment, allows the realization of excellent matchings

 When talking about Italian cooking and when asking about thinking of the main dish, the association with pasta certainly is obvious and easy. Despite the use of cereals flours for the production of pasta, as well as flours produced from other plants, is common in some cultures and traditions of the world - it is enough, for example, to think about the millenary cooking tradition of China - it is in Italy pasta finds its main culinary expression. Pasta can be obtained from flours of different origins - such as wheat, rice and soybean - however, in the Italian tradition pasta is mainly produced with wheat flour. Even tough pasta apparently seems to be a simple food, according to a culinary point of view - and therefore to anything concerning the matching with wine as well - this renowned Italian food has an incredible versatility and can be used for the preparation of endless recipes.

 Thanks to its versatility in cooking, pasta is in fact used in hundreds different ways, different cooking techniques and condiments in which - apparently - the only limit seems to be represented by fantasy only. Whether it is true fantasy allows pasta to get its endless shapes, taste and colors, its preparation requires skill and attention in order to obtain an impeccable and tasty result. Pasta is so common and spread in Italy that every region, frequently every city, has its typical recipes in which pasta - in its endless ways - gets married to the typical ingredients and foods of every place: a bound which is repeated since centuries and which is strongly associated to local cultures and traditions. The notoriety of pasta - and of its countless and tasty recipes - has gone beyond Italian borders and arrived in other countries of the world therefore getting new shapes and being protagonist of new recipes, frequently adaptation of famous Italian preparations.


A red wine can be a good match
for pasta
A red wine can be a good match for pasta

 The most renowned type of pasta - not only in Italy but also in the world - certainly is spaghetti, with its typical shape recalling a “spago” (Italian for string), from which takes its name. Indeed, pasta is produced in different shapes and sizes in order to exalt specific culinary preparations as well as to keep the rich sauces with which is being seasoned. Every region exalts and uses its own typical shapes of pasta, therefore it is pretty impossible to give a complete and exhaustive list of the many existing specialties. Moreover, fantasy of pasta makers - who continuously invent new shapes, although frequently for commercial reasons instead of culinary ones - makes the creation of a complete list even harder. Pasta is not simply defined for its shape: a fundamental factor is represented by the type of flour used and the way it is being produced. In Italy pasta is mainly produced with wheat flour (Triticum Vulgaris), usually kneaded with eggs or water, and with durum wheat flour (Triticum Durum), generally kneaded with water.

 

One Thousand Ways of Being Pasta

 Pasta is generically classified in long and short according to shape. It is defined as long the pasta having a long and thin shape - such as, for example, spaghetti, tagliatelle, linguine and fettuccine - whereas belong to the generic category short all the pasta having a size of few centimeters, such as rigatoni, fusilli and penne. Fantasy of pasta makers, which in the course of centuries created different shapes, has however made this classification pretty limited. In fact, there are types of pasta whose shape is hardly classifiable in one or the other category, most of the times bizarre shapes created for commercial purposes only. The shape of pasta - as well as the way it is drawn - represents a factor of primary importance for the preparation of recipes. As the pasta is always seasoned with sauces of different consistencies and fluidities, the capacity of keeping the condiment - and therefore to obtain a satisfactory result according to an organoleptic point of view - is largely determined by the shape.

 In general terms, there are two characteristics allowing short pasta to keep the sauce: hollow shapes, where the sauce can deposit and gather, and holes - of variable diameter - going all the way long of pasta, and in which the sauce can penetrate. Even in long pasta can be found holes, such as in bucatini or ziti, in order to favor the penetration of the sauce as to give more taste. No matter the type, drawing - that is the technique used to give the dough its final shape - it is of fundamental importance. In fact, according to the material used for the construction of the draw-plate, pasta gets a more or less accentuated roughness. The pasta drawn in bronze draw-plates gets a higher roughness, as well as a more opaque aspect, whereas the one drawn in teflon or steel draw-plates, tends to get a higher shininess and a pretty smooth aspect. Therefore, the higher the roughness of pasta, the higher the capacity of keeping the sauce.


 

 Not all the types of pasta are being produced by means of a drawing process. In the homemade preparation - and sometimes in the industrial process as well - the dough is progressively thinned with a rolling-pin in order to obtain a sheet. This sheet is then folded many times and cut with a knife in order to obtain the so called flat long pasta - such as tagliatelle, taglierini and fettuccine - as well as in rectangular shapes for the preparation of lasagna and cannelloni, or in irregular lozenges for the preparation of maltagliati. Even in this case, fantasy can be used to obtain pasta with countless shapes. In many areas of Italy, notably in the regions of southern Italy, it is used the so called chitarra (Italian for guitar), a particular tool made of many wires, and with which are being obtained the famous spaghetti alla chitarra with the classic square section. Giving a complete list of all the types of pasta, because of its high versatility, is a pretty hard job and with unavoidable reductive results.

 Versatility of pasta is not limited by its virtually endless shapes. In fact, to the dough - besides flour, water and eggs - can be added other ingredients in order to modify both the color and the taste. Tomatoes, spinach, truffle, hot pepper, spices, cheese and any other ingredient suggested by fantasy - properly reduced in the form of sauce or ground - can be added to the dough which will be subsequently drawn or processed according to the desired shape. Among the most classic and renowned examples of special pasta are mentioned the so called paglia e fieno (literally, straw and hay), tagliatelle produced with two different dough and of which one enriched with boiled and mashed spinach. Special pasta, besides the visual effect produced by the color of the added ingredient, must be carefully considered according to its organoleptic qualities - in particular in all the cases in which the added ingredient is characterized by strong flavors and aromas - as this aspect will influence the choice of the wine to be matched.

 An important category is represented by stuffed pasta, such as ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti and agnolotti. Stuffed pasta is being generally obtained from a sheet - properly cut according to the type - and then stuffed with tasty fillings produced with many ingredients, usually according to the many regional traditions of Italy. Meat, fish, mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkin, cheese and bread, are some of the ingredients used for the preparation of stuffed pasta. Even some types of short pasta, such as rigatoni and maccheroni, can be stuffed with different fillings. A specific case is represented by lasagna - renowned everywhere in the world - in which boiled rectangles of sheet are layered in a baking-tin and alternated with a rich and thick sauce. In stuffed pasta is extremely important to know the composition of the filling used for stuffing because - together with the condiment - it will represent a fundamental factor for the choice of the wine to be matched.

 

Cooking Pasta

 Despite the recipe and the sauces used for the preparation of pasta, a fundamental factor, in order to obtain an excellent result and a better appreciation, is represented by cooking. Without considering any possible personal taste, the best way to cook pasta is al dente (literally, “tooth style”) . For a good al dente cooking, it is necessary to consider the quality and the type of pasta, factors which will help in determining the time. Although al dente cooking is a pretty subjective concept for which everyone has his or her preference, in general terms al dente cooking is obtained when pasta, during chewing, has a certain consistency and “hardness”, as to however define it cooked and not raw. To be avoided is the excessive cooking, both because it makes pasta less digestible, as well as for the fact it loses taste and freshness. It should also be remembered fresh pasta - that is the one prepared at home or by artisan pasta makers - requires a shorter cooking time than dry pasta, that is the one generally produced by industrial pasta makers.

 As a general rule, for a good cooking it is advisable to use at least one liter of water for each 100 grams of pasta. A greater quantity of water gives better results, as it avoids pasta to stick and favors the opening of long shaped pasta. Use a pot with a height greater than its diameter and with a volume enough to avoid any spilling of water during boiling. Wait for the water to boil, then add salt for a quantity of 10 grams for each liter. Before throwing pasta in the pot, it is advisable to wait for the salt to be completely melted and for the water to resume boiling. Pasta must be thrown in the pot all at once, occasionally stirring with a fork in order to avoid pasta to stick to the pot and to allow its opening. As soon as pasta is cooked al dente, pour a glass of cold water in the pot: this little trick will stop the cooking while keeping pasta perfectly al dente. Drain pasta while paying attention to leave it a little wet and not dry. Add pasta to the sauce: it is now a advisable to saute it on the pot - or to mix it with a wooden spoon - over the fire: this procedure is very important because it allows the pasta to absorb the condiment and makes it more tasty.

 

Matching Pasta with Wine

 The choice of a wine for the matching with pasta is mainly determined by sauces and condiments as well as the cooking techniques. According to an organoleptic point of view, pasta - with no condiment or sauce - has a basically sweet taste because of the high contents of starch. This organoleptic quality, in order to be properly balanced in an enogastronomical matching, requires a wine having a good crispness or an appreciable effervescence, therefore it can be chosen a white, rose, slightly sparkling or sparkling wine. Most of the times, the basically sweet taste of pasta is covered by sauces and condiments used for the preparation of the recipe, for this reason the matching with a wine must particularly consider the overall organoleptic qualities of the dish. Because of the high versatility of pasta - which can be perfectly used for the preparation of soups, seasoned recipes and even complex baked recipes - the choice of the wine is therefore wide and can virtually include every type.

 For the choice of wine, it will also be considered any possible filling used for stuffing the pasta as well as any other ingredient used for the preparation of the dough. Even the cooking technique plays a primary role. In fact, pasta can be boiled in water or in broth, as well as baked, usually with rich and complex sauces. The baking technique - as in case of lasagna, timballi and pies - allows pasta to highly absorb the taste of the sauce, however - because of the high temperature - it can sometimes get a basically bitter taste, an organoleptic quality usually covered by the condiment. In pasta will however be evident its basically sweet taste, therefore a crisp or slightly sparkling wine will be appropriate for the matching. With rich and complex sauces, in particular braised meat sauces, a red wine with an adequate structure can be used for the matching with pasta. In general terms, when choosing a wine, it is appropriate to consider the structure of the recipe: a pasta seasoned with a light and delicate sauce requires a wine having a similar structure and delicacy; a pasta seasoned with a rich and robust sauce, requires a robust wine. In other words, although the basically sweet taste of pasta should be considered, the choice of wine is largely conditioned by the sauce, by its ingredients and its preparation.

 




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  Corkscrew Issue 33, September 2005   
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