Pasta Perfect with Extra Virgin

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Gabriele Corcos and his wife Debi Mazar star in Extra Virgin, Wednesdays at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT.

For Italians, pasta is everything. It's our heritage, our comfort food, our excitement and enthusiasm—pasta is pure sexiness!

Italians cook with both fresh and dry pastas, but don't be fooled! They are very different from each other and they are absolutely not interchangeable.

We cook fresh pasta for special occasions or with special sauces: Grandma prepares it for the Sunday family lunch; the local bakery sells fresh ravioli or tortellini; and your favorite restaurant might offer fresh pappardelle to honor the wild boar that was hunted, prepared and cooked over the weekend by the locals.

Fresh pasta is traditionally prepared with semolina flour, but there are many recipes and variations, from each region of Italy and each family's tradition. There's nothing like a plate of Tortelli di Patate (Potato Ravioli) with meat sauce when a blizzard is keeping you in the house and the windows of the kitchen get steamy and wet. And there's nothing like a dish of fresh tagliolini with seafood, and a glass of dry Pinot Grigio when the weather warms up and June comes around and opens the doors to summer.

But in most cases, when Italians talk pasta, they're usually talking about the box of dry pasta that can easily be purchased at every grocery store and market. I've never been in a household that doesn't have a stash of pasta boxes in the pantry.

Dry pasta comes in a multitude of shapes and lengths, and though their textures and consistencies are mostly the same, we like to think that certain "cuts" of pasta are meant to be paired with specific sauces and ingredients. This can also be a matter of personal preference, but here are some examples to show what I mean, starting with long pastas.

Spaghetti are the most common and loved kind of pasta. They are the stereotype, staple and religion of each and every and kitchen in Italy. Most Italians prefer not to eat them with meat sauce, as it slides from the pasta and collects on the bottom of the plate. When you think spaghetti in Italy, you think red sauce, fresh pesto, seafood. Here's my recipe for Red Sauce and Spaghetti.

Tagliolini are as long as spaghetti, but they are flat instead of round. We eat them with seafood or in a bowl of warm vegetable or chicken broth when we are sick.

Bucatini and Perciatelli are traditional pastas from the center of Italy, and used for specific recipes like Pasta alla Gricia, Amatriciana, and  Carbonara. They resemble thick spaghetti with a hole that runs all the way through, have fantastic texture and a very different "bite" than spaghetti.

Pici and Bigoli are another take on spaghetti, thick and without the hole that is characteristic of the bucatini. They are regional variations, usually prepared fresh and are not widely available in stores. Pici come from Siena, Tuscany, and really want to be served with boar sauce. Bigoli come from the Veneto region and their most common use is a simple peasant preparation using white onions, parsley and anchovies.

Continue reading about short pastas and filled pastas.

Peace (and pasta!),

Editor’s note: Watch Gabriele and his wife Debi Mazar cook meals from their home Wednesdays at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.

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Thanks to Regina Pasta and for help with pasta pix.


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