Pasta is the soul of generosity, loves being passed round, scooped out and slithered into bowls. It adores being a second helping, and can be dressed up or down, depending on your mood, how much moola you wish to spend, or how keen you are to impress your guests. Some say that Marco Polo discovered pasta in China and introduced it to Italy in 1295. Try telling that to the Italians!
They claim the idea was theirs first and, if you’ve ever tangled with an Italian, you’ll know better than to even broach the subject. Enter the realms of fresh (home-made, egg-enriched, soft or dried) versus commercial pasta and things get really heated. Purists maintain that the only type worth eating is that which has been made by hand – a craft that shouldn’t be taken lightly or in any other way put asunder.
Others don’t give two hoots and reckon that pasta is pasta is pasta. Some make the dough if time permits (and if they possess a pasta machine), and invest in egg-enriched pasta when they’re feeling more picky.
Good quality pasta is made from hard durum wheat that ensures better taste, texture and colour.
Allow about 100g dried pasta per person and cook in about a litre of boiling water with one to two teaspoons of salt. A dash of oil helps keeps the strands separate and the pot from boiling over. Add the pasta all at once when the water is boiling rapidly, pressing the strands gently until submerged.
Cook pasta al dente (“to the tooth”). Test by biting it; your pearly whites should meet with minimum resistance. Tip the pasta into a colander, give it a couple of shakes, transfer to a warm bowl, and toss with a dash of olive oil.
When saucing pasta, be mindful of the shape of the noodles and the texture of the sauce. Flour-and-water pastas like spaghetti enjoy full-flavoured sauces based on olive oil. And, as they absorb sauces more readily, egg pastas prefer creamy sauces.
Flat pastas like tagliatelle, fettucine and pappardelle lap up creamy sauces that coat broad surfaces. Tubes like penne are best with dense sauces. Strands of long pasta like spaghetti and spaghettini wrap nicely around bulky, textured sauces.
Go easy with the sauce; pasta is the star of the show. A garnish of freshly grated or shaved parmesan cheese is obligatory (though with seafood pastas it’s a no-no).
Eat pasta with a fork, using the side of the bowl (not a spoon) to keep things manageable.
Never, ever cut the strands with your knife, or bite them off in mid-air. Slurping is obligatory.
Three-Cheese Spaghetti with Baby Greens
Salt, milled black pepper, olive oil
350g baby greens (asparagus, beans, sugar snap peas, courgettes, mung bean sprouts)
1 wheel feta cheese
log (50g) goat’s cheese
Shaved or grated parmesan cheese
This dish must be eaten the moment it’s ready, so seat your guests, cook the pasta and vegetables at the same time, and toss it all together quick-quick.
Bring three litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan with four teaspoons of salt and a dash of olive oil. Add the spaghetti and cook briskly, uncovered, for six to seven minutes until tender but firm to the bite. Drain in a colander.
While the spaghetti is cooking, cut the baby greensinto fine strips. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the vegetables until tender but still slightly crisp to the bite. Season with salt and pepper.Tip the vegetables into a warm bowl. Crumble the feta and goat’s cheese on top, then tip in the hot,drained spaghetti. Sprinkle with a little extra olive oil and toss everything together. Serve immediately in warm bowls with a liberal sprinkling of parmesan.
The ingredients of this dish meld perfectly together so a relatively simple white will work well. Try an entry-level unwooded Chenin Blanc with generous fruit to meet the greens and offset the cheeses.