Pasta is making a comeback
Quinoa, barley, spelt, buckwheat, freekeh: are all nutritious grains and great to introduce to your little one from six months, but who also doesn’t love the simplicity of a warming, classic bowl of steaming pasta.
Whether buying fresh, dried, or making your own, our very own Italian Piccolinos tell us how it’s done!
Be it bow-shaped farfalle, fusilli spirals, angel hair wisps or straight-up fettuccine; pasta has been a staple in British households since the 1960s.
But pasta is thought to have come about around the 8th Century in Sicily. This early pasta was made using flour from durum wheat, which Sicily specialised in. Under Italian law, dry pasta - or pasta secca - can only be made from this type of wheat, and the vast bulk of pasta is still made in Italy today!
But pasta popularity outside of Italy really took off at the turn of the 20th Century with large-scale Italian immigration to the New World. Outside of Italy the most popular pasta is Spaghetti, but there are thought to be around 350 different types and shapes of pasta around the world. In Italy they break this down even further, with each Italian region cooking the shapes differently and calling them at least four different names.
The great legend Antonio Carluccio said of pasta “It is pleasurable with a good sauce, but it should just be coated, otherwise you lose the taste of the pasta. It is a complex carbohydrate which releases all the goodness slowly and you feel satisfied for a long time. I don't know one person who doesn't like pasta.”
Nutritionally speaking we are big fans of this staple ingredient as part of a balanced, varied diet. Pasta, whether fresh or dried is a source of protein, and the complex carbohydrates, which are energy-yielding nutrients. The complex carbohydrates found in pasta are also thought to increase our production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that triggers feelings of well-being. Therefore, it is no surprise to us that the average Italian eats around 27 kilograms of pasta a year! Our founder Cat is definitely one of those Italians!
Types of pasta
Cooks use different shapes and sizes of pasta for different recipes. Each foodie has a reason for why they use a certain shape, whether it is what their mothers used, what shape they like making or for more practical reasons, such as how a shape holds its sauce.
Some cooks say thin pastas, such as angel hair, should be served with thin sauces, while thicker sauces work better with thicker, heavier pastas. People often pair flat pastas with cream sauces, while tomato sauces seem to cling better to round pastas.
With a twist, roll and tuck, or a simple dimple or twiddle, a wholly different kind of dish will emerge depending on the pasta you pick!
Here are some of our favourite pastas, perfect for little ones to master chewing and finger food, and for grown-ups alike.
The most popular pasta on the planet – most of us know and love spaghetti. It is so popular that it accounts for almost two-thirds of all pasta produced worldwide! The long, thin, cylindrical pasta works well with all pasta sauces – from heavy meat sauces to thin fish broths. The iconic Italian way is with carbonara sauce (a simple combination of garlic, pancetta, egg and cheese). For little one’s under one, simply snap dried spaghetti into quarters and let them eat the cooked pieces with a little olive oil or butter as finger food.
Fusilli comes from the Italian word “fuso”, meaning spindle. The traditional short spiral pasta originated in Southern Italy but there’s also a long version. These corkscrew-shaped beauties are a mix between rotini (with tighter twists) and eliche (with looser spirals). The tight spirals are particularly great as a soft first finger food for babies and have a lovely texture. They are also great for thicker, chunkier sauces, as the pieces cling to curls. We love fusilli with chunky tomato sauces.
Cut to resemble the nib of an old feather quill, penne’s slanted ends draw in sauce as a pen nib would ink. If you’re shopping for it in Italy you’ll find both lisce (smooth) and rigate (ridged) versions, but the latter is more common as the ridged texture helps thicker sauces cling to the pasta. Make sure you cook your penne al dente – this translates to “with bite” – and serve with a flavourful sauce like pesto. Fun also for little ones to suck the sauce through the middle of the pasta pieces!
A classic comfort dish in the UK and US, macaroni cheese is not an Italian dish. These small pieces of pasta are also great in minestrone soup and to introduce small pasta sizes to your little one. While not nearly as well-loved in the U.K. as in the U.S., the simple comfort food has been embraced by hipsters and as a result, has experienced a surge in popularity over the last decade. You’ll often find it being served in trendy eateries and from food trucks.
Lasagne, whether traditional with a meat sauce, meat free with layers of vegetables, or going a bit left field with sausage or duck. Most of us love a lasagne. The traditional way is to use fresh egg pasta, which is delicious, but to save time with dried, try soaking each sheet in boiling water for a few minutes to cut the cooking time in the ovan.
Cannelloni is in the same pasta family to lasagne, and is usually paired with the same ingredients. The only difference is that with cannelloni, the sheets are rolled around the filling, which makes a big difference in texture. You can buy these dried tubes fairly easily, so all you need to do is stuff and bake- delicious!
The tubes we love are our little ditalini, or ‘little thimbles’. These are such versatile little pasta pices, perfect baked in a dish with lots of sauce, stirred into soups, in salads or with stir fry’s. And the perfect size for little tummies and fingers eager to explore new finger foods! In addition to plain and whole wheat versions, you can get hold of coloured pasta, flavoured and dyed with natural vegetable flavours such as beetroot, tomato and spinach!
Ravioli pasta is a small sheet piece of pasta, folded over a dollop of stuffing and pinched together to form a delicate parcel. The stuffing could be anything (from meat, veg, fish or cheese), with a light or heavy sauce – anything goes! Filling and sauce are designed to complement each other.
Pappardelle are wide ribbons of egg pasta, normally reserved for heavy, gamey ragus, and made things like wild mushrooms, wild rabbit or wild boar. Lovely chunky bits from the sauce get trapped between the flat noodles and it almost eats like a lasagne. Jamie’s
The name is derived from the Italian word farfalle, which means butterfly. Farfalline is a small version of the bow tie or butterfly shaped pasta. This versatile shape can be used as the base of any dish. Bake it, stir it into soups, or create great salads and stir-fry dishes.
(“Barley”) This small, grain shaped pasta can be topped with any sauce, added to soups, or baked as a casserole. Perfect as a side dish as well as a main course.