Although today pasta is a widely enjoyed meal, it was once available only to Italian noblemen. And up until the 16th century, pasta was combined with a variety of sweet ingredients and cooked well beyond al dente or ‘just tender’.
However, in the late 17th century when living standards started to decline for the ‘not so wealthy’ and meat became too expensive, pasta was recognised as an economic meal maker. It was also the era when the mechanical preparation of pasta was introduced and sweetness was replaced with savoury ingredients including vegetables, making meals nutritionally balanced.
Noodles were the most common shape. Now there are dozens of varieties. It takes less sauce to cover pasta formed into parcels than it does to cover the same amount of pasta that has been rolled out and cut into strips. Pappardelle (papa-dell-lay) — broad ribbons — is one of my faves. It’s comfort food and marries well with creamy sauces.
Ribbed pasta such as penne is excellent for holding chunkier sauces such as bolognese and is a great all-rounder. I also love it in summer salads.
Lasagne sheets are versatile: use as a quick substitute for a pastry topping for a savoury or fruit pie — brush it generously with melted butter before baking; or make your own cannelloni tubes by rolling up short pieces of lasagne around a filling.
BROCCOLI & MINT PASTA
Use the florets only. The stalks turn it ‘pungent brassica’. Add to soups or stews that have stronger flavours.
2 cups (200g) broccoli florets
2 1/4 cups (200g) shell pasta
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 cup packed mint leave
freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
finely grated rind and juice 1 lemon
Garnish: grated parmesan chees
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the florets. Cook until bright green and tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a food processor.
Add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook until just tender. Reserve a 1/2 cup of the water.
Meanwhile, add the garlic to the broccoli and mix until smooth. Add the mint and seasonings. Pulse until smooth then — with the motor still running — slowly drizzle in the oil.
Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Add the broccoli mixture, lemon rind and juice. Toss to coat evenly adding enough reserved cooking water to make it ‘saucy’.
Serve garnished with the parmesan and walnuts. Serves 4.
ONE-POT PENNE WITH CAPSICUMS
I used roasted red capsicums from a jar.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 cups penne
3 cups chicken stock
3 roasted red capsicums (from a jar), drained and sliced
2 cups each: baby spinach leaves, grated tasty cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 smoked chorizo, sliced
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion until softened. Add the garlic and mushrooms cooking until the mushrooms are limp.
Add the penne, stock and capsicums. Stir, cover and simmer for about 6 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until the penne is tender.
Stir in the spinach, cook for 1 minute then stir in the cheeses and chorizo. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
PAPPARDELLE WITH SALMON & CAPERS
200g dried pappardelle
1 shallot, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup cream
200g wood roasted salmon, skinned
Topping: 1 tablespoon capers
dill or fennel fronds
Cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, sauté the shallot in the oil until softened. Stir in the garlic then add the tomato paste and wine. Stir well and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the cream. Add the salmon in pieces and heat gently. Add the drained pappardelle.
Serve in shallow bowls topped with the capers and dill or fennel. Serves 2.