Results tagged “pasta”


smpastafactoryitaly07080002.jpgSome notes on that store-cupboard staple we take for granted...

There are over 800 different named pasta shapes.  Some of these are just regional names for pretty much the same thing though.  Some of their names translate as ‘small bulls’, ‘little muffs’, ‘scruffy hats’, ‘pot bellied’, ‘little worms’, ‘bridegrooms’ or ‘little moustaches’.

That Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China is a plain fabrication.  Nobody knows who first made it.  The Ancient Romans, Greeks and Etruscans were enjoying pasta long before Marco came along, and the Arabs probably invented the kind of dried pastas we are used to today.  They are thought to have introduced it to Sicily in the 12th century.

smpastafactoryitaly07080001.jpgBut pasta was not commonly found on Italian dining tables until the second half of the 19th century.  Its proliferation then seems to be due to a combination of factors - Neapolitan influence carried north by Garibaldi’s returning army, new strains of wheat becoming available, and the industrial revolution which mechanised production.  And it was in America that the idea of pasta as a main course developed.  Italian immigrants generated the demand in the US which fuelled the mechanisation back home in Italy.

The word ‘noodle’, sometimes used to refer to pasta, comes from the Latin nodellus (‘little knot’), describing the tangles of pasta on the plate.

Contrary to what some say, pasta cooked al dente is better for you than well-cooked pasta.  If it’s slightly tough you chew, which breaks the pasta down and mixes it with digestive enzymes in your saliva. 

My favourite brand for dry pasta, fairly commonly available, is De Cecco.  Look out for the blue bags and boxes.  Their pasta is made using bronze die-cuts, which have irregular surfaces.  The defects in the bronze make loads of minuscule cuts in the pasta, leaving the surface rough and able to absorb sauces better than that left smooth and shiny by nylon moulds.  De Cecco also dries their pasta at low temperatures which leaves the pasta better able to retain its shape and strength during cooking.

Basic fresh egg pasta dough

Fresh pasta dough can be made with just flour and water, or with a mixture of eggs and water, with whole eggs and/or egg yolks.  The more egg you use the easier the dough will be to handle and cook, and the more yolks you use the richer its golden colour will be.  Use genuinely free range eggs, as it is the hens’ diet of green things which makes their egg yolks orange.  If you don’t have special ‘OO’ (very fine) pasta flour 'di grano duro' (made from hard wheat, with high protein content), you can use regular plain flour and it will still work. I recommend the pasta flour available from Shipton Mill.


Pappardelle with spinach, Gorgonzola and walnuts

Spinach, Gorgonzola and walnuts are a classic combination.  Feel free to use any shape of pasta!


Hubbub Cooks Pasta & Risotto workshops, 11th & 12th March 2011

HUBBUB_STRAP_red.png‘Hubbub Cooks’ is a series of cooking classes I am running in collaboration with Hubbub - a fantastic little company that delivers top quality food from my local independent shops - butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, deli and more.  The classes are open to anyone, and will be for just eight people at a time so everyone will get plenty of action.  10% off if you book three classes!

Smalltortelini0002.jpgPasta & Risotto workshops
Make pasta dough from scratch and then have fun rolling, cutting and shaping it into tagliatelle, malfatti, ravioli and tortellini. You’ll make sauces and fillings for each shape and learn the secrets of boiling and tossing pasta correctly. In addition, you’ll master the technique for making risotto and create two delicious versions using seasonal ingredients. The workshop will end in a convivial feast with Italian wines.

Red wine risotto above 2.jpgDate:  Friday 11th, repeated Saturday 12th March 2011

Time:  10am - 3pm

Location:  London N5 (Arsenal tube 2 mins walk)

Price:  £80. 
10% off when you book three or more Hubbub Cooks classes. 

To book:  Email Hubbub
, call them on 020 7354 5511 or book online on their website

Ciceri e tria

Grains and pulses make a classic combination, one found all over the world, from rice and beans in Latin America to millet and peanut sauce in West Africa.  No doubt these various pairings have evolved over the millennia due to their satisfyingly savoury flavours, their high nutritional value (the combination can cover all amino acid bases, in place of meat) and their ability to fill up the whole family at a low price.

Smcicerietria0004.JPGThe traditional Puglian fare of ciceri e tria is one of these dishes - a wholesome mix of earthy chickpeas and wholemeal pasta strips.  ‘Ciceri’ are an old Puglian variety of chickpea, slightly and smaller and tastier than the regular ones.  ‘Tria’ is an old word for pasta, coming from the Arabic word ‘ittriya’.  Comparable dishes are found all over Italy, such as the pasta e fagioli from Emilia in the north.  But ciceri e tria, also known as cece e ttria, cicerittria or similar, is particularly intriguing due to its mysterious ancient origins, which link in to the whole debate over the origins of pasta itself.  One clue might lie in the fact that some of the pasta, unusually, is fried, while the rest is boiled.  

We had a wonderful bowl of ciceri e tria at Anna Carmela’s fantastic trattoria ‘Le Zie’ in Lecce soon after we’d arrived off the boat from Greece on our culinary road trip of Europe in 2008.  It was the perfect introduction to our Italian food investigations, raising all sorts of questions about continuity and change in Puglia, its regional distinction from the rest of the Italian peninsula and links to the medieval Arab world.  We didn’t even realise then that we’d be musing on ciceri e tria again four months later in Morocco when we found a strikingly similar dish there called ‘trid’…

Yiouvetsi - easy beef 'n' pasta stew

This has to be the easiest stew recipe I know.  The laziest cook in the world could make this, and produce something as delicious to eat as it is effortless to make.  I swiped it from Susanna Spiliopoulos of Hotel Pelops in Olympia, Greece, when we stayed with her this spring.
Susanna has her own (very highly regarded) catering business and kindly shared some of her numerous culinary tips with us during our two day cooking spree in her squeaky clean professional kitchen.  For Susanna, good cooking is all about good oil, by which she of course means good Greek extra virgin olive oil, which in her case is pressed from her family’s very own olive grove up the road.



Culinary Anthropologist