Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino with a simple dressing of olive oil, garlic and chilli, big fat rigatoni with a chunky tomato and meatballs sauce or penne with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, clams and parsley – I cannot get enough of pasta! I would be shockingly bad at keeping to any form of low carb diet but fortunately I live in Italy so have plenty of opportunity to indulge my cravings. And as my Italian sister-in-law once said when choosing what to eat in a restaurant “well, I’ve not had pasta yet today…”
Some pasta facts:
- There are over 300 different types of pasta
- The word “pasta” comes from the Italian (originally Latin) word for dough
- Pasta shape and sauce should complement each other. A thinner, lighter pasta (like spaghetti) should have a thinner, lighter sauce while thicker pasta shapes work well with heavier sauces.
- “Al dente” means “to the tooth” ie firm to the bite
And pasta names aren’t just random, they do actually have origins in Italian words, here are what a few of them mean:
- Spaghetti – little strings
- Farfalle – butterflies
- Linguine – little tongues
- Penne – pens (as in a quill pen)
- Vermicelli – little worms
Here are a couple of my favourite, very simple pasta dishes that I hadn’t come across before I moved to Italy:
Pasta in bianco (white pasta) – this is so easy it’s ridiculous but it’s very tasty – cook your pasta and drain, add a glug of good olive oil and grate some fresh parmesan over the top. That’s it! It’s also yummy with a little bit of chilli oil over the top (or chillis if you’re brave enough!). If you want you can also throw in a tin of tuna or some chickpeas or cannellini beans. Almost easier than sticking something in the microwave or oven this is my go to dish when the cupboards are bare.
Pasta con lenticchie (pasta with lentils) – I use ditalini pasta for this but if you can’t get hold of that a short cut macaroni also works well. Gently fry an onion and a couple of carrots (I always use the Nigella tip of adding salt to onions when they’re cooking as it seems to sweat them rather than frying until they’re brown/burnt). Add about 200g of green/brown lentils (the kind that don’t dissolve and keep their shape) and cover with boiling water. Add salt, although I sometimes use a stock cube instead. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the water doesn’t dry out and top up with water if necessary. Cook the lentils for the recommended time (check for seasoning at the end) and then add to your cooked, drained pasta and as always, a good glug of olive oil. When cooking the lentils you can either boil all the water away and serve as more of a pasta dish or keep some liquid and serve as a kind of soup/pasta hybrid.