Pasta is a staple food ingredient of Italian cuisine. Pasta is made with starchy noodle or dumpling food, commonly made from wheat flour. It is mixed with water or eggs into a paste or dough and formed or made cuts into sheets or shapes. It is usually cooked by boiling, baking or frying. Sometimes Rice flour, or legumes such as beans or lentils, is also used instead of wheat flour to get a different flavour and texture. Gluten-free alternative is also available.
Pastas are divided into two broad categories: dried (pasta secca) and fresh (pasta fresca). Most dried pasta is produced commercially via an extrusion process, although it can be produced at home. Fresh pasta is traditionally produced by hand, sometimes with the aid of simple machines.
Pastas are classically used in one of three kinds of dishes:
- Pasta asciutta (or pastasciutta), cooked pasta is plated and served with a complementary side sauce or condiment.
- Pasta in brodo, the pasta is part of a soup-type dish.
- Pasta al forno, the pasta is incorporated into a dish that is subsequently baked in the oven.
Pasta dishes are generally simple, but individual dishes vary in preparation. Some pasta dishes are served as a small first course or for light lunches, such as pasta salads. Other dishes may be portioned larger and used for dinner. Pasta sauces similarly may vary in taste, color and texture.