Pasta has been eaten in Italy for many centuries, and, in Italian cuisine, specific types of pasta are usually paired with specific sauces. There are different regional varieties of pasta that are mainly differentiated by the quality of their wheat content; the varieties from Southern Italy are heavier while the varieties from Northern Italy are lighter. There are also over a hundred types of pasta shapes, or "cuts." Some of the shapes are traditional, but food artisans and companies are regularly coming out with new and interesting designs. Pasta that has a short and semi-curved shape which resembles the shape of an oil lantern is known as lanterne.
These lantern-shaped pasta cuts have many ridges on them. The presence of the ridges on the cuts makes it possible for them to soak up more sauce when they are cooked and thereby make for a more memorable meal. Lanterne cuts can be used in conjunction with a variety of meat, tomato, butter, and cream sauces to prepare many different and delicious vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Lanterne pasta, like most types of pasta, are prepared from a dough mixture of wheat flour, eggs and water. The dough is extruded through dies to give the lanterne its distinctive shape. Large pasta-making companies usually use Teflon® dies to shape the cuts, while smaller artisans may use traditional pasta dies made of bronze. The difference between the Teflon® and bronze dies is apparent in the texture of the lanterne cuts. The cuts from the bronze dies have a rougher surface texture and so are capable of soaking in more sauce.
After the lanterne is shaped, it is allowed to dry for a couple of days. Pasta-making companies generally hasten the drying process by machine drying the pasta at high temperatures. This also usually ensures that the cuts will have a longer shelf life than traditionally made lanterne pasta.
A popular dish made using lanterne cuts is ricotta salata pasta. In addition to the cuts, the ingredients to make this dish include olive oil, garlic cloves, mushrooms, shallots, ricotta cheese, cream, vegetable broth, salt, and pepper. The pasta is first boiled in salted water and then cooked in olive oil with the ingredients. It is easy to make ricotta salata pasta and preparation only takes about 20 minutes. The sauce used for the dish should be just right to coat the cuts, not to completely overwhelm them.