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Pasta Primer

Pasta Primer

Pasta’s many benefits make it an easy choice for menu building.

It’s no wonder that almost all foodservice operators today (with the exception of QSRs) feature pasta on their menus in one way or another. Why? Because pasta offers many benefits, both to operators and to consumers.

For operators, pasta’s appeal lies in its versatility (there are more than 150 pasta styles/shapes available along with several flavor profiles and colors), attractive price points (dry pasta is inexpensive, frozen and fresh or refrigerated pasta costs more), ease of preparation (basically boil and serve) and menu flexibility (pasta can be used in soups, salads, side dishes and entrees and in a wide variety of ethnic applications, from Mediterranean to Asian to Mexican).

Consumers like pasta because it’s a comfort food and it has a healthful profile (low in fat and cholesterol, high in complex carbohydrates).

Pasta is a simple food made from two ingredients: a liquid (water or milk) and flour (semolina made from durum or other high-protein hard wheats). Noodles are made with eggs, which is what separates them from other dry pastas. Noodles include fettuccine, medium and wide egg noodles.

Matching Shapes & Sauces

The most successful pasta dishes are those that match the right pasta with the right sauce. For example, hearty pastas, such as linguine or fettuccine, are best served with more robust, heavier sauces, such as marinara with meat sauce. Tubular pasta or those with ridges (mostaccioli or radiatore) are best coupled with chunky sauces. More delicate pastas, such as capellini, are best paired with light sauces and mildly-flavored add-ins, such as sautéed vegetables.

Here are some common pasta shapes, their literal translations and application tips.

Angel hair/capellini: "Fine hairs"; thin delicate strands may be used in soups, salads and stir-fry applications.

Ditalini: "Thimbles"; very small, hollow pasta most often used in soups.

Farfalle/Bow ties: "Butterflies"; this fluted-edged pasta pairs well with meat or cheese sauce; also may be used in salads and/or soup.

Fusilli: "Twisted spaghetti"; this long spiral corkscrew-shaped pasta can be topped with any sauce or used in casseroles, salads or soups.

Manicotti: "Small muffs"; ridged hollow 4" tubes ideal for stuffing.

Mostaccioli: "Small mustaches"; medium to large macaroni with a ridged or plain surface; ends are cut diagonally.

Orrecchiette: "Ear shaped"; common in Southern Italy; pairs well with seafood and cheese-based sauces.

Orzo: "Barley"; this small rice-shaped pasta is common in Greek dishes, but can also be used for salads or sides.

Raditore: "Radiators"; this ruffled, ridged square-cut pasta works with thick sauces and in casseroles, soups and salads.

Ruotes: "Wagon wheels"; kids love this die-cut shaped pasta, but is also makes an interesting alternative for use in pasta salads and whimsical dishes.

Ziti: "Bridegrooms"; a medium-shaped tubular pasta, perfect for thick chunky sauces and meat dishes.

Best pastas for baking: lasagne, rigatoni and ziti. Best pastas for stuffing: cannelloni, jumbo shells, manicotti. Best ones for soups: alphabets, ditalini, orzo, pastini.

Cooking Tips

The key to preparing pasta is not to overcook it. To achieve the ideal "al dente" texture (firm, not mushy), follow these simple tips:

• Use one gallon of water for every pound of pasta.

•Cover the pot until the water reaches a rapid boil, then add the pasta gradually to allow the water to continue to boil. The boiling water helps circulate the pasta for uniform cooking results.

• Stir the pasta during cooking time to prevent sticking.

• Follow the package directions for cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking, undercook the pasta by 1Ú3 of the cooking time specified. Note: Don’t use the directions from one manufacturer for another manufacturer’s product since pasta products can vary in size and thickness.

• Taste the pasta to determine if it is done.

• If so, drain pasta immediately and follow the rest of the recipe. If the pasta will be used for cold applications (i.e. salad), rinse it in cold water immediately.

Storage Tips

Always store pasta in unopened packages or containers kept in a cool, dry place away from heat. Pasta should be stored away from strong odors since it has a tendency to absorb odors. When stored properly, dry pasta can be kept up to a year or more.

If you are preparing pasta in advance, store cooked pasta in the refrigerator. To reheat, dip quickly into boiling water prior to service.

Cooked pasta can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Add a little oil to keep it from sticking together. Store cooked pasta and sauce separately, as the cooked pasta will absorb flavors and oils from the sauce.


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