Macaroni vs 'fresh' pastaI have no idea why this controversy has haunted me over the past few months, but I have learned that there are essentially two broad categories of pasta. More on this in a minute--
It all started New Year's Eve, when some friends of mine and I were at our favorite local Italian restaurant. During a small sidebar conversation with Massimo, the talented Italian-born chef, he dogmatically asserted that 'pasta' is made only with 100% Durum Semolina flour, which is a coarser grain, high-protein, yellow flour. Everything else, he asserted, is 'noodles' not pasta, and an insulting bastardization of the term.
Well, as I have come to learn, he's only partially right.
The pasta known as 'macaroni' (macaroni is not a shape, it is a type of pasta--'elbow' is a common shape) or, if it's enriched with other nutrients, 'enriched macaroni product,' usually comes in dried form and most high-quality Italian dried pastas of this type only contain two ingredients: durum semolina and water (and they don't even really contain much water when dried!) In the old days, women used to kneed this incredibly tough dough by foot for hours to get it to the consistency necessary for shaping it. I don't recommend you try this at home--last time I did my hands (yes, I chickened out and used my hands to kneed it) were sore for two days, and I was cranky and tired for the rest of the evening due to the exertion.
Anyway, macaroni-type pasta has high protein, and relatively low starch content and is customarilly cooked until 'al dente' or 'to-the-tooth'--a correctly cooked piece of spaghetti when broken will contain a visible white speck in the middle of raw pasta.
The second category is so-called 'fresh' pasta. Some people use all-purpose flour, and some use 50/50 semolina and all-purpose, but the main difference is the addition of eggs, and/or oil and water. It makes a richer, more eggy, starchy noodle suitable for stuffed pastas like ravioli, and for lasagna. Although I don't like it personally cooked to mush, it is cooked until DONE, not until 'al dente' as the fresh pasta does not have the same substance with which to (sort of) crunch, or meet your bite with that pleasant degree of resistance, a la macaroni.
This is the kind you've seen your Italian grandmother make at home, no doubt, with that little egg-well in the middle of the mound of flour on the cutting board---ah, memories. You can also use your food processor if you're a wimp.
It is also quite hospitible to innovation as well--substitute (more!) truffle oil for olive, use squid ink, or thawed, rung-out-dry frozen spinach, or tomato paste to create different flavors.