Pasta has a complicated history. Sure, noodles were invented in China. Then the Italians pretty much made it their national dish. Now we have instant ramen, hand-rolled gnocchi, gluten-free spaghetti, ravioli filled with edible flowers, and about a million other varieties. Pasta is great because it is cheap, filling, and perfect for summer. A quick pasta salad is ideal to take on a picnic or serves as a last-minute supper. Here’s our guide to let you know what type of noodles there are, when they should be used, and a few easy recipe ideas.
Standard pasta noodles
These noodles are made from wheat flour and are most commonly used in Italian preparations. They can be enriched with egg yolks, herbs, or spices. They come in many shapes, from long, thin cappellini to thick round tunnels known as rigatoni. Generally, hearty sauces with cuts of meat go with thicker, shapelier pasta so the shapes can catch the meat. Egg noodles in particular are also used in Eastern European dishes like beef stroganoff or noodle kugel. These should be cooked until they are al dente (to the bite), where there is still a bit of resistance to the tooth. Mix cooked and cooled pasta with prepared pesto sauce, homemade sundried tomatoes, and small mozzarella balls for a light summer pasta salad.
The gluten-intolerant of the world can finally enjoy their spaghetti bolognese. Now, pasta made with quinoa, rice, or corn eliminates gluten entirely. Soba noodles are also naturally gluten-free, as long as they are 100% buckwheat. Try this with your favorite marinara sauce and meatballs and you may not be able to tell the difference.
These noodles, which are often gluten-free, are most commonly used in Asian cuisines. They cook very quickly, and are bouncy rather than al dente when cooked. They are extremely absorbent, and soak up flavor best when the sauce or dressing is applied when the noodles are still hot. Try a dressing of ponzu, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and minced cilantro and garlic for a flavorful backdrop to grilled chicken. Be sure to rinse them well before dressing and serving to avoid having them clump together too much as they cool.