A Noodle by Any Other Name
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - May 5, 2004 - Mark R. Vogel
See also: Pasta, Italy’s Gift; Pasta Trivia;
The terms pasta, macaroni and noodles are often used interchangeably. But they are not the same thing. Who would think that such a simple dish could be so complicated? OK, I can’t resist saying it. It’s time to use your noodle.
Pasta is the general term for the wheat product derived from combining semolina flour with liquid, usually water and/or eggs. Use water and you have macaroni, use eggs and you have noodles. Semolina flour, made from durum wheat, is the flour of choice because of its high protein content. This provides the pasta with structure so it will maintain its integrity during fabrication anä cooking. It is resistant to water absorption, which renders it ideal for cooking pasta al dente, an Italian phrase translated as “to the tooth.” It means that the finished pasta will have some resistance to the bite and not be overly soft. Oh, and by the way, Marco Polo did not introduce pasta to Italy. Historical evidence reveals that pasta was being made in Italy in the 11th century, 200 years before Marco Polo. The earliest known evidence of pasta production goes back to about 1000 B.C. in central Asia.
Pasta is available in fresh and dried forms. While the dried, if left in a cool, dark place can last indefinitely; fresh pasta must be refrigerated and used within a few days. Fresh pasta also cooks much quicker than its dried counterpart. Some folks add oil to the pasta water, believing that it will prevent the pasta from sticking/ This is an absolute waste of time. Oil and water are chemically incompatible. The oil floats to the surface, thus preventing any mingling with the pasta. Neither does salt prevent sticking. Salt is added to the water to season the pasta. What prevents sticking is placing the pasta in already boiling water, not overcrowding the pot, and stirring, particularly at the early stages of cooking.
Lastly, there is no reason to rinse your pasta after cooking. People who practice this usually harbor irrational beliefs about “starch.” Starch is nothing more than carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not evil and rinsing the pasta will reduce them only minimally. Most of the carbohydrate is in the pasta. Simply draining it removes most of whatever carbohydrate has leeched out during cooking. Rinsing only serves to un-season your pasta.
There are countless shapes and sizes of pasta and even more sauces that can accompany it. Here are two recipes, one of which is bound to appeal to you. One is low in fat while the second is more decadent.
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 batch scallions, green and white parts chopped
• 1 yellow squash, chopped into a medium dice
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 large button mushrooms, chopped
• 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
• 1 can tomato paste
• 2 cans or 28 ounces low-fat chicken broth
• basil and parsley, chopped, to taste
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 lb angel hair pasta
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the scallions and mushrooms. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the squash. As soon as it softens add the garlic and sauté one or to minutes more. Add chicken broth, tomatoes and half of the tomato paste. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. You may not need all the paste. This sauce is supposed to be light so check the consistency as it’s simmering, adding more paste if necessary. Add the herbs one minute before the sauce is done cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. Since this is a light sauce, a delicate pasta like angel hair is best. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
PASTA WITH SAUSAGE & SPINACH CREAM SAUCE
• 1 lb of Hot Italian hot sausage.
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped.
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped.
• 1 quart chicken stock or canned broth
• 1 10 oz. package of frozen spinach, drained of all water
• 1 cup heavy cream.
• 1/2 cup chopped parsley.
• Salt and white pepper to taste
• 1 lb rigatoni.
Remove the casing from the sausage and pulse it in a food processor until just ground. Sauté the sausage and onion in the oil, until the onions are soft but not browned. Stir and mash the sausage with a wooden spoon as it sautés to ensure it remains crumbled. Add garlic about a minute or two before the sautéing is done. Add chicken stock and spinach. Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add the cream, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste at end. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.