Printed with the permission of The Alpine Avalanche
You probably just thought of Italy when you read that word, didn’t you? Pasta probably didn’t originate in Italy. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? While it’s hard to actually pinpoint the origin of pasta, we do know that it’s been around for many centuries, and was documented in Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th century.
Pasta is typically a term to describe Italian noodles, which separates it from other noodles of the world, although pasta is likely a descendant of Asian noodles. Pasta is usually made from an unleavened dough made of wheat or buckwheat flour, eggs and water. There are two main groups of pasta – fresh and dried.
Dried pasta is usually made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina and is very high in gluten, but in recent years, the selection of gluten-free pastas made from a base of rice flour, corn flour and other non-gluten flours is readily available in most stores. I think our pantry probably has at least one of each type of pasta noodle available. I’m kind of obsessive like that.
Archaeologists have found evidence pointing to noodle production in Asia thousands of years ago… long before the Italians discovered it, yet we typically give credit to Italy for pasta.
Early Spanish settlers were said to have brought pasta to the Americas. Good ol’ Thomas Jefferson often ate “macaroni” in Paris in the late 1780s – and back then, they called any type of noodle macaroni. He loved it so much that he brought two cases of it with him back to America, and when he ran out, he had a friend in Naples bring him more. In the late 1800s when Italian immigrants began arriving in America, spaghetti gained popularity and has been an American favorite ever since.
Just about every culture has its own version of pasta. Germany and Hungary have spaetzle. Greeks eat orzo. Poland has the pierogi. Do you eat rice or noodles with your Chinese or Thai food? The noodles are different, but the basic recipes begin pretty much the same way.
Dried pasta has a very long shelf-life, but there is nothing better than homemade pasta. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. And be sure to make a batch of homemade meatballs to go with it – meatballs with spaghetti are decidedly American, by the way.
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1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a “well” in the center of the flour, add the slightly beaten egg, and mix. Mixture should for a stiff dough. If needed, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
On a slightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3-4 minutes. Use a pasta machine or hand roll the dough to desired thickness (it gets bigger when you boil it, so try to get it thin). Run it through the pasta machine or cut it into strips of desired width. Boil for approximately 2 minutes in salted water. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce, or tossed with olive oil and herbs. Double or triple the recipe to suit your needs.
½ lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup Parmesan cheese (I prefer shredded)
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon dried parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
A splash of milk
¼ cup of olive oil
For the sauce:
½ yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes)
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
Black pepper to taste
½ tablespoon dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
4-5 fresh basil leaves cut into strips
1. Combine the meat, garlic, breadcrumbs, Parm, egg, salt, pepper, parsley and the splash of milk in a large bowl, using your clean hands to really mix it up. Stick the bowl of meatball mix in the fridge for 15-30 minutes to firm.
2. After the meat has firmed, roll into balls about 1-1/2 big and place them on a cookie sheet. Dip your fingers in water before rolling the meatballs so that it won’t stick to your hands.
3. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and add about half of the meatballs to cook, turning them often to brown. When browned, set them aside on a paper-lined plate and finish the rest of the balls.
4. After cooking the meatballs, add the onion to the remaining oil and cook until it’s translucent – a couple minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and parsley and stir, then cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
5. Add the meatballs to the sauce, carefully stirring to coat them with sauce. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the fresh basil before serving.
6. Serve over homemade pasta and enjoy every bite.