Saturday, March 10, 2012

An homage to pasta

Please visit Beth Fish Reads this weekend, and every weekend, for lots of great food related postings.

When I was little, growing up in the US, there was spaghetti and there was macaroni. I'm not sure when people started saying pasta. Here we say paws-ta, while my Irish friend says pass-ta. However you say it, to my mind it is one of the world's best foods. I have posted my favorite pasta dishes over the years, but will include clickable links here today so you may go right to them if you are interested. I'd say we have pasta two or three times a week.

Pasta with sautéed vegetables is one of my go-to meals. It can be different every time depending on the vegetables. Sometimes I make a simple aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Most often in the winter I use onions, with summer squash or zucchini frozen from the summer garden. Once in a while I buy an expensive organic yellow or orange pepper which comes from far away (yesterday's was grown in Israel). In the summer, I get fresh local peppers of all colors and add them to the mix. Other than the garlic and oil version, every saute´includes onions, which I've heard referred to as La Regina della Cucina, the queen of the kitchen. I use many varieties of onions, including shallots and scallions.

Bulgur and Vermicelli Pilaf is an old favorite which I love. A couple years ago I made Pasta Fagioli for the first time.

Matt's mother makes a baked spaghetti which is delicious. She cooks the spaghetti, mixes it with sauce and cheese, sprinkles bread crumbs on top, and then bakes it. For me, she always makes a separate version without cheese. (You do know by now that I am one of the very few in the world who does not like the stuff!).

I make macaroni and cheese for my family, and this one has been a particular favorite.

And then there's the rich and delicious basil pesto.

I've made the same tomato sauce for ages, and while everyone has their own particular way, this has always been a hit in my home. Mine is based on either stewed and strained tomatoes fresh from the garden, or two 28 oz. cans of organic (crushed is my favorite) tomatoes, put through the food mill. Then I add 2 jars of tomato paste, salt, basil, and onions and garlic sautéed in 1/4 c. olive oil. That's it. Simple and delicious.

I am a homemade whole wheat bread girl, and have been for decades. I also eat only brown rice, but when it comes to pasta I like the regular semolina, not whole wheat. I know many people eat it, and even like it, but not me. On the bionaturae site I read:
The glycemic-index rating for pasta is 55, while whole wheat pasta is 40. Comparatively, white rice is 82 and white bread is 100. The more you cook pasta, the higher the rating. Please test your pasta frequently and become accustomed to eating it "al dente", as they do in Italy. Foods with a glycemic index of 100 or above are very quick to release sugar into the bloodstream.
I am very particular when it comes to cooking it. I hate mushy, overcooked pasta, and many an evening out at a restaurant has been spoiled by just such a dish. My guess is that some places cook it ahead and then heat it up. I'd so rather eat it at home where I just barely cook it. It isn't crunchy but it certainly isn't flabby either.

And now to talk of varieties and brands. Do you have favorites? I know I do. I like to buy the Italian pastas when I can, but I'm really quite fond of several Prince products. Some shapes of pasta I adore, while others I don't like at all. Every pasta is different, which amazes me when I think of it. How can a shape change the taste? I don't know, but it does.


I love vermicelli,
but don't like capellini. I like medium shells



but not penne or fusilli. I like linguine but only once in a while. I don't care for ziti but love Barilla rigatoni.


I like small macaroni



but not the larger size. Barilla's macaroni has those little ridges which I don't like so much. The very, very best spaghetti I ever had was bought at an Italian grocery store in Boston's North End. It was an 'artisan' pasta, and simply out-of-this-world delicious. Once in a while I'll see one in the grocery store and buy it, but I've not been able to duplicate that exact taste. The most wonderful egg noodles I've bought are from bionaturae.

And thus endeth the pasta epistle according to Nan. I am admittedly a pasta geek, a pasta snob, but most importantly a pasta fan.

50 comments:

  1. I buy fresh pasta from Agata & Valentina, an Italian grocery in New York City. Once you try fresh pasta, it is hard to go back to boxed pasta.

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    1. I should have mentioned fresh pasta, but honestly I have it so rarely. It isn't really available much around here. Do you live in NYC? Or do you order it? Thanks for the name.

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  2. Isn't it funny that we like different pastas better than others when it is all the same stuff with different shapes?!? I am the same way though... My talented 12yo daughter can throw together fresh pasta without a recipe and run it through the machine. It comes out really well every time. She doesn't clean up after herself though. But, nobody's perfect ;)

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    1. Oh, boy. I'd like to know what your machine is. We had one years ago but it was so noisy we got rid of it.

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  3. Oh me too Nan! Thanks for such a nice post! I could eat it or potatoes everyday. Here is my recipe for Irish Boxty

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    1. Well, potatoes are my favorite food in the world!

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  4. Love this pasta post. I get fresh once in a while but pasta is often a last-minute decision and so fresh doesn't fit that scheme. I like whole wheat pasta but you do have to be very careful about the timing. If you haven't tried it in the last 10 years, give it a go. I used to hate it. I think manufacturers are doing a better job now.

    I like shapes better than long noodles, though Mr. BFR prefers vermicelli. I cook, so I usually win. LOL.

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  5. I made sauce for pasta yesterday, very similar to your recipe, but added peppers as well, because the fridge seemed to have lots of leftover bits of raw peppers and I wanted to use them up. It was very nice - my elder daughter and I ate it with ravioli stuffed with cheese and tomato - one of those precooked 'fresh' pastas you buy and drop in to boiling water. I'd really like a pasta maker...

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    1. Sounds wonderful! I'm wondering about a pasta maker, too. :<)

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  6. Love this post, Nan. It's perfect for March, which is National Noodle Month!

    It's interesting how different pasta shapes can make the same sauces taste different. And you're so right about disliking overcooked pasta. Starch starch starch.

    My favorite shapes -- fusilli! penne! cavatelli! elbows and bowties. Not into angel hair that much. I like brown rice pasta in addition to regular semolina.

    Now, we must do something about your aversion to cheese . . . :)

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    1. I didn't know that!! Good luck about the cheese. :<)

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  7. Pasta is a go-to meal in our house too. My husband bought a pasta machine last year, and mostly we have fresh pasta these days. I agree about the al dente. Much better!

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    1. If you come back, could you tell me the brand and how you like it.

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  8. Pasta is pasta, but funny how we like one and not another.

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  9. Love your post! I could eat pasta every day. I prefer semolina but depending on the sauce I wouldn't mind whole wheat. My favorite shapes are cavatappi, paccheri and anellini!

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    1. I know cavatappi, but I'll have to look up the other two. Haven't seen them.

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  10. I love your observation about when did we start calling it pasta? Growing up it was spaghetti if it was long, and macaroni was the elbow shaped ones. One of my best friends in high school was Italian, and they referred to all genres of pasta as a generic "macaroni".

    My current favorite pasta is quinoa pasta. My family refuses to eat whole wheat pasta and I can't say that I blame them, as I have yet to find one that isn't too heavy.

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    1. Yes, I've heard that. Probably on the Sopranos. :<) I like quinoa and I like pasta but not in the same thing. :<)

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  11. We recently switched from barilla to de Cecco, but I will keep my eye out for the prince brand. The only whole wheat that we've liked was the al dente brand and, I suspect, that's because it's a blend. But that seems a reasonable compromise to me.

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    1. I've had de Cecco but it isn't as readily available around here.

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  12. Good reminder Nan that I oujght to prepare pasta more often. When I do make pasta it's usually linguini or rotini. Bertolli is the brand I usualy buy.

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    1. I don't think we have B. around here. It's interesting what brands are sold where.

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  13. Fun post! We love pasta (I say pass-ta)... I probably cook it a bit longer than you but also hate it flabby and over-cooked. I love all kinds, depending on what meal it is. But whereas we always used to have meatballs with spaghetti, we tried linguine for once and found it to be much nicer and now always have it. As the taste is exactly the same this seems a bit bizarre, but there you go...

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    1. But it doesn't seem to taste exactly the same. It must be that shapes impart a flavor or something. Fascinating.

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  14. I too love pasta and we usually eat it twice a week or so here.

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  15. I love Barilla pasta ..but I did find one whole wheat pasta a really like. Sadly I am not home and can't remember the name now..lol

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    1. I remember trying some artichoke pasta years ago, and it was okay.

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  16. Loved your ode' to pasta!! I love pasta so much that it's not even funny!

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  17. Pasta is our fall back meal. Recently we have been making a lot of pomodoro (made with cherry tomatoes and garlic) but other than that we have a jar of pre made sauce that we like that is just known as yummy pasta in our house.

    In terms of shapes - we do like the spirals and that is what I buy most of the time

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    1. I've not used the little tomatoes. Do you do that boiling thing to get the skins off?

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    2. No, just saute them and squash them down a little bit.

      The recipe that we have basically been following is the one in the video at the bottom of this post

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    3. Aren't you so nice to come back to tell me. Thank you! I know that video, and even put it on the blog! :<)

      http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2011/10/pasta-and-vegetables-new-to-me-way-of.html

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    4. LOL! Well there you go! And I think I might try doing the same thing with red and green capsicum now that I saw your version! Thanks

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    5. And you'll laugh, because I had to look up 'capsicum' :<) Duh!

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    6. Whooops! I meant to write peppers but then forgot! There are quite a few things that we call different names - for example eggplant vs aubergine and cilantro is coriander for us!

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    7. I should have known. :<) I do know the second two. I love the word aubergine.

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  18. I love, love, love pasta of any kind, any meal, but always al dente.

    I do like the Barilla products, but will buy Prince, store brand, whatever is on sale. There is one, rather expensive, organic pasta I like and the label is off of it as I sit here and stare at the half-used bag. The shape of the pasta is calamaretti. It is in the same of a large man's ring and fun to cook and eat. I often make it with sauce and peas. They get stuck in the rings.

    In reading your conversation with Marg, I like to saute onion, garlic, zucchini in season, and then toss in cherry tomatoes until they are warm and add it all to orzo with some feta or guyere or even parmesan. I'll even throw in kalamata olives if I have them.

    Now I'm hungry.

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    1. I'm not familiar with calamaretti. I'll be on the lookout for it. I bet it would be good with pesto.
      I'm funny about orzo. I keep thinking I should like it, but I don't so much. Another one I do like though is Israeli cous cous. I should have mentioned it.

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  19. Indeed, pasta is one of the most versatile foods I know. When I am on my own, I rarely make it, but RJ and I had a very simple, very delicious meal of pasta with tomato sauce the other day. It was Barilla, too, which is usually my preferred brand.

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    1. I'm just the opposite, sort of. If I'm alone, I almost always make it, but then I make it for the two of us often, too.
      Actually, I'd love to hear more about what is in your grocery stores for brands. Maybe you could take photos as you walk along the aisles, and then do a blog entry!

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  20. Wednesday is pasta night at our house (a holdover from the old ads, "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day!"

    This week I plan to make spaghetti pie (in honor of 3.14, pi day!)

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    1. I remember your post about this! The little fellow in the ad running home.
      3.14 pi day! I think I'm in the presence of genius. :<)

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  21. Ah, pasta, what would I do without you. I love it as well, Nan, and eat it several times a week. I like the garlic and oil mix, made it the other day with baby brussel sprouts (Bird's Eye) which were quite delicious. I like to add a few red pepper flakes to the oil as well.

    I make a fabulous mac and cheese from scratch, throwing in whatever cheese I happen to have on hand, usually cheddar and monterey jack, colby or whatever. Unlike you, m'dear, I ADORE cheese. Don't think I could live without it.

    When I make mac and cheese I like to use Barilla Cavatappi pasta. It is just wonderful for baking.

    I've never learned to make Fettucini Alfredo but one of these days I'll master it. It's my go-to dish at any restaurant offering it.

    I must admit I do like Barilla spaghetti above all others. And like you, I abominate mushy pasta. NO EXCUSE is sufficient. :)

    If I'm having good old spaghetti and sauce I like to throw in a few greek olives if I have them on hand. I've recently discovered two jarred sauces that I can highly recommend and this is from someone who used to make her sauce from scratch for years.

    One is Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro sauce. I love the Roasted Garlic made with Pinot Noir and fresh herbs. As good as home made, I must say.

    Another is Sacla's Olive and Tomato pesto sauce direct from Italy. It comes in a little jar and a little of it goes a long way. You don't heat it up, you just spoon out a portion and mix it in with any pasta. Add some parmesan (if you like) and you're all set. It is, however especially good with gnocchi. YUM!

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  22. Pasta! Who doesn't love pasta? My kids would have withered away to nothing were it not for pasta when they were between the ages of 2 and 8. Honest!

    My favorite brand is Barilla, but I do buy Trader Joe's pappardelle and flavored linguine now and then. My husband prefers spaghetti or linguine over any other pasta shape.. my daughters like chunkier pasta such as gemelli, farfalle, rigatoni, seashells, rotini, and our latest favorite, campanelle.

    I would love to try to make homemade pasta sometime. Sounds like a lot of work but so much fun! I bet it tastes wonderful, too!

    I live in New Jersey and don't know if this will get me in trouble for saying, but it's very likely you all heard 'macaroni' used to describe any pasta from The Sopranos. Every person I know who is Italian or of Italian descent refers to pasta as 'macaroni' around here. haha! ; )

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    1. We used to call our daughter 'the pasta queen' when she was little, and honestly she still is!
      I have heard that 'macaroni!'

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