Blossoming Health with Nanny Bee
By Linda Pecone
Pasta is one of my great food weaknesses. It is my comfort food go to. For me, nothing can compete with the deliciousness of a simple pasta with a little olive oil and seasoning, topped with a little Pecorino Romano cheese.
Pasta is one of the world’s most accessible foods. Nearly every country has its own unique version of this popular staple. Many of our American pasta dishes are prepared and served in much the same way as they are prepared in Italy. Often when we think of pasta we think of Italian food, and most
people believe that it originated there. While pasta is a traditional Italian staple, it actually has a very ancient history which is hard to trace.
The word pasta translates to “paste” in Italian. This is a reference to the dough, made from a combination of ground durum wheat and water or eggs. The use of durum wheat sets pasta apart from other forms of noodles. Durum wheat’s high gluten content and low moisture make it perfectly suited to pasta production. The dough is pressed into sheets, cut into a variety of shapes, and cooked before serving.
It is believed that pasta was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century. Polo wrote about it in his book, “The Travels of Marco Polo.” The Chinese grew a barley-like plant which they used to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal Polo mentioned was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as “lagana” (lasagna). Polo’s original text no longer exists so this history is left solely to retellings.
During the late 19th century, when a large group of immigrants relocated from Italy to America, pasta became a common food in the states. We are most familiar with dried pastas. Dried pasta is usually made from semolina, or purified durum wheat. Semolina isn’t overly absorbent, which makes for great al dente style pasta. It also has a long shelf life, unlike fresh pasta.
The crazy world of delicious pasta is teeming with distinctive varieties differing in shape. Italians like to name the shapes by things they resemble. Campanella means bells in Italian. Ditalinni is named for its thimble shape. Farfalle is the Italian word for butterfly. Linguini means little tongues. Manicotti is a reference to “little sleeves.” Orecchiette is named for its ear-like shape. There are so many shapes for so many sauces. Spend some time researching the best pasta for your culinary purpose.
I grew up in an Italian household and every Sunday my father would prepare a big dinner for the family. We always had a pasta dish of some kind. This recipe was my favorite. It's simple and pure comfort. It serves four pasta lovers, and six if you make it a side.
“Cacio e Pepe”
1 lb spaghetti
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano (You can also experiment with other dry aged Italian cheese such as parmesan.)
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved add the pasta and cook until al dente. (Note: Salting the water helps to season the pasta and is a very important element when cooking pasta.)
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a ladle of hot pasta cooking water. (Note: Hot water is important in order to prevent lumps.)
Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste. (Note: The key to a creamy sauce is speed.)
When the pasta is cooked, strain it from the water without draining it into a large bowl for serving. Keep the water boiling on the stove.
Quickly add the sauce to the pasta. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water, a tablespoon or two at a time, as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.
Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste.