Italian Language Blog

What is pasta? Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

What is pasta?

Asked that question, most non Italians would probably think of spaghetti, lasagne and the many other variations of dried or semi dried dough which are commonly referred to by that name.

But what is pasta, really?

In English, there are various ways to translate the word pasta, the most literal being ‘paste’.

Most commonly, that paste is:
un impasto di farina e acqua = a mixture of flour and water
lievitata, la pasta è usata per fare il pane = mixed with a raising agent pasta is used to make bread
non fermentata, lavorata in forme diverse ed essiccata, costituisce i vari tipi di pasta alimentare o più semplicemente pasta = non fermented, worked into different shapes and dried, it constitutes the various types of pasta alimentare or simply pasta

It follows from the above that pasta can also be translated as: pastry or dough. So, we now have paste, pastry, and dough. Let’s look at some of the ways in which the word pasta may crop up in everyday conversation, without referring to what we normally consider to be the staple of the Italian diet la pasta alimentare.

Pasta = Paste

se passi dalla farmacia, mi potresti prendere la pasta dentrificia per favore?
if you go by the pharmacy, could you get me some toothpaste please?

voglio finire questo muro entro oggi, mi potresti dare una mano a fare la pasta (impasto di cemento)?
I want to finish this wall by today, could you give me a hand to mix the cement?

maschera per il viso di argilla verde: mischiare l’argilla in polvere con un poco acqua così da ottenere una pasta densa da stendere facilmente
green clay face mask: mix the powdered clay with a little water in order to obtain a thick paste that can be easily spread

Pasta = Pastry

Paolo: “di solito, quando vado al bar, mi prendo un cappuccio e una pasta
when I go to the bar I usually get myself a cappuccino and a pastry
Anna: “
che tipo di pasta preferisci?”
what sort of pastry do you like best?
a me piacciono sia quelle alle mele che quelle al riso, ma a volte prendo invece le paste integrali vuote, che sono tanto buone!
I like both the apple pastries and the rice ones, but sometimes I have the empty wholemeal pastries
instead, which are really good!

per le crostate di frutta uso la pasta frolla, mentre per quelle di verdure uso la pasta sfoglia
for fruit tarts I use shortcrust pastry, while for vegetable tarts I use puff pastry

Pasta = Dough

il Pane Toscano viene fatto con la pasta madre, and si mantiene meglio
Tuscan Bread is made with sour-dough, so it keeps better

che tipo di farina usi quando fai la pasta per la pizza?
what type of flour do you use when you make pizza dough?

quando fai la pasta, tu ci metti le uova?
when you make pasta do you put eggs in it?
dipende, se faccio la pasta per le tagliatelle uso le uova, se faccio la pasta per le orecchiette pugliesi uso invece l’acqua
It depends, if I’m making dough for tagliatelle I use eggs, if I’m making dough for Pugliese orecchiete I use water instead


Related Vocabulary:

impastare = to knead or mix, e.g. impastare la farina con le uova ed un pizzico di sale = mix the flour with the eggs and a pinch of salt

un impasto = a mixture, e.g. per fare un impasto di cemento: una parte di cemento Portland, quattro di sabbia di fiume e una di acqua sono la dose standard
To make a cement mix: one part of Portland cement, four of river sand and one of water are the standard quantities

pasticcio = a mess, (colloquial, not just limited to a literal physical mess) e.g. Maddalena voleva far fare i documenti per il bimbo, ma al consolato romeno hanno fatto un pasticcio! = Maddalena wanted to get her child’s documents sorted out, but they made a mess up at the Romanian consulate

pastella = batter, e.g. nella pastella per i fiori di acacia fritti non ci metto l’uovo = I don’t put eggs in the batter when I make fried acacia flowers

A presto cari lettori!

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  1. Stefano:

    Ho sempre un problema far fare “qualcosa”. Quando e come si usa ? Grazie, Stefano

  2. Marco:

    Nice. Also use the word “pasto” for “meal.”

    • Geoff:

      @Marco Ciao Marco, The word ‘pasto’ has a completely different etymology, and is not related to ‘pasta’.

      Pasto comes from the verb pàscere [dal latino pascĕre «pascolare, nutrire» Mangiare, cibarsi di qualche cosa, detto soprattutto di animali al pascolo.
      It is where the English word pasture comes from. Bet you never knew that! 🙂

      Alla prossima, Geoff

  3. Kristi MacIntosh:

    Is there any way to receive the lessons without the photos? Our Italian class would love to be able to print them out for discussion. Our class meets once a week and these lesson would be so helpful.

    Thank you.

    • Geoff:

      @Kristi MacIntosh Ciao Kristi, I’ve forwarded your question to our tech department.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

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