Friday 27 August 2021

A Thousand and One Names for Pasta

Life without pasta - can you imagine? Well I can, though I would no longer want to contemplate a scenario where the 'go to' pantry ingredient was unavailable. You may not remember when you first tasted pasta because it's always been in your life...but I certainly do. It was in the late 1960's, soon after I had started in Ballymaloe House kitchen…’Children’s Tea’ was served every evening at 5.30pm - essentially supper. Myrtle loved to cook delicious food that the children loved to eat so the over-picky eaters didn't miss the junk.

On this occasion, word came from the dining room that one child would only eat spaghetti tossed in butter with a sprinkling of grated Cheddar. What was spaghetti? It certainly wasn't available in our local village shop at that time so someone was dispatched to Midleton to find a few packets. I was intrigued… Subsequently spaghetti became a favourite item on the ‘Children’s Tea’ menu.. That child who ate nothing but pasta for the entire stay is now a hugely successful international business man with a penchant for gourmet foods...

Actually, now that I think about it, we may have had macaroni in our village shop in Cullohill in Co. Laois earlier but spaghetti was a new discovery for me.

I keep wondering just how many pasta shapes there are, certainly hundreds, it's difficult to do an exact count because some have different names in different regions and dialects. Pasta manufacturers and cooks occasionally come up with new shapes or new names for old shapes - the possibilities are endless, depending on who you ask. In food historian Zanin De Vita's Encyclopaedia of Pasta, she encountered 1,300 names for pasta, which of course takes in both historical and dialect names.

Remember, alphabet pasta - alfabeto and then there's are also stelline (little stars), quadrucci (little squares), puntini (little dots). 

All pasta starts off fresh whether it's handmade at home or extruded from a machine in a factory which is then destined to be dried so it lasts indefinitely ready for us to use at a moment's notice.

I love the way pasta can be a simple supper or a luxurious main course for a special dinner party. It's the quintessential ‘handy’ ingredient for spontaneous summer meals... 

The smaller shapes are delicious served in a chicken or vegetable broth, maybe add some peas and sprinkle with a dusting of Parmesan and not just for children.

Fettuccini A'lfredo - strands of pasta, mixed with cream and butter (thickened quickly over a gentle heat) - is rich and gorgeous and lends itself to seasonal additions.

Try it with:
Lobster, prawns or scallops and chopped fresh herbs.  
Sauted cougettes and garnished with torn courgette flowers.
Smoked salmon and parsely.
Roasted pumpkin and rocket.
Red pepper and rocket.

It is also lovely to just add some delicious fresh vegetables: peas, beans, seaweed or wild greens depending on the season or what you can find in your local Farmers Market.