When I was growing up, pasta in all its many shapes and forms was simply known to me as spaghetti. At some point, said spaghetti was macaroni and vice versa. But I’ve since come to learn over time that pasta shapes and sizes are a whole art unto themselves. An art that lends itself to such broad creativity in the kitchen in terms of the different cooking methods and assorted sauces and other accompaniments that one can have with it. I’ve since come to appreciate the beauty, versatility and ease of preparation of different types of pasta. It is such a wide field that it would take several articles to discuss even the small percentage that is available in local supermarkets but we can start with a few common ones.
Ever since I knew spaghetti, my Mum and sisters always made it with mince meat. This combination is always a classic though so much more can be done with this stringy delicacy. Roasted, steamed or fried vegetables, mushroom and greens, and even beans will all accompany spaghetti well. If there is not enough flavour in the accompaniment, then make sure that you drench the spaghetti itself in a flavourful sauce. You can learn how to make basic pasta sauce here, and then you can get creative and individual on your own after that. I credit spaghetti for making me fall in love with cheese at an early age and there are very few times I make pasta without cheese. The two make such a beautiful combi.
Macaroni. Grab a packet when next you see them in the supermarket. They’re so versatile as they go well with both chunky as well as minced accompaniments. They’re a good no-fuss and easy size to and are perfect for thick heavy sauces because in the course of cooking and stirring, they scoop all the flavourful sauce and other smaller ingredients into the pockets and you’re served a mouthful of concentrated flavor with every bite. They also do well in cold salads for pretty much the same reasons as above.
Instant noodles are many people’s college food. If not college, then for those lazy days or nights at home when shopping and cooking time consuming meals is simply not on the cards. In other parts of the world they’re a staple. I’ve seen people boil instant noodles but that really is not necessary. Dunk them in hot boiled water for a few minutes and they’ll wither into a nice al-dente. Options after this are many. If you follow the instructions on most boxes, then all you need to do is add the provided flavours into the noodles in their water and have them as a soup. There are things you can do differently though. You can drain the water leaving the firm to touch noodles bare, after which you can re-fry them in your favourite vegetables, spices and herbs, or you can make a cold salad by adding raw or pre-cooked chunky vegetables like broccoli, pre-cooked meats, cured meats, chopped boiled eggs, fish flakes, or my absolute favourite – shred some leftover boneless chicken onto them, add raw vegetables, drizzle salad cream or dressing and you’re good to go.
Aren’t they just cute? The main reason why I buy bow tie pasta is for what I find to be whimsical beauty on a plate. Like they took time to look good for the consumer. With this pre-existing beauty, it takes very little effort to make them look well presented when served. For even more fun with this pasta, buy the assorted colours box and proceed to make an accompaniment of brightly coloured ingredients – be it in a salad or cooked in veggies. This pasta cooks fast and has a combination of both flat and grooved surfaces so there is enough places for sauce to adhere and to hide.
Pasta shells come in different sizes and will therefore lend themselves to different recipes.The smaller ones are to be boiled and used as regular pasta for salads or with sauces, vegetables or meats. The shells will scoop sauces and trap them inside. If you have the time, you can also stuff these but better yet, go for the jumbo shells which are way easier and more suited for stuffing. The stuffing can be whatever you fancy at any given time but only use a combination of tiny/minced ingredients.
A good combination you can start with before you build up your game could be minced meat, minced onion, spinach and cheese. Add herbs and seasoning of your choice. Cook these lightly and stuff into boiled shells, drizzle with sauce and enjoy the meal as it is. To give it more oomph, bake in an oven pre-heated to 190 dc in a shallow dish for about 10 minutes. Since everything is already cooked, you’re only baking to melt the cheese, brown and firm the top, and marry all the ingredients together.
As mentioned earlier, pasta is too wide a field to be covered in one article. We’ll look at other types and recipes in the next one.