Plastic free cookery: Pasta à la Casa
Welcome to week 2 of plastic free July! I hope your pursuit of less plastic is going well for you, because I fluffed up on day one. Not to panic: you learn from absent-minded moment and keep going. And so this week, in pursuit of reducing my plastic, I made pasta.
Pasta wasn’t always the staple of the kiwi kitchen: from a quick scan of my small cookbook collection, it seems publishers thought three pasta recipes was plenty. The 1937 Cookery Book of NZ Women’s Institutes has three pasta recipes: ‘Macaroni shape’, spaghetti and tomato sauce, and Macaroni and tomatoes. The 5th edition of Tried Recipes, compiled by the Victoria League of Auckland has a recipe for Kidneys and Macaroni, Macaroni Cheese and Macaroni Tomatoes. The 1955 edition of Edmonds has three pasta recipes; Salmon Macaroni Salad*, Chippolata Spaghetti,* and Minestrone soup (with vermicelli). Pasta’s now undeniable role in our kitchens grew from the 60s: in 1967 Edmonds released the 8th edition of their famous cookbook, with an expanded range of pasta recipes.
In 2019 I had the opportunity to travel to Italy to study conservation of historic objects. It was amazing for the art and material heritage, and the food was my secondary focus. After the tour I took a day trip to cook in the Tuscan hills, where I learned to make pasta. This is the recipe I received in the class:
Base Recipe for all types of home- made pasta.
- 400g plain flour (00 type flour or All Purpose Flour)
- 4 eggs
Sift the flour on to a clean work surface. Form a kind of volcano- shaped mound and use an egg to push the flour around to make a well in the centre. Break the eggs into the middle.
Whip the egg with a fork, slowly adding the flour to the eggs. When your fork no longer functions because thedough is too thick, use the side of your fork to scrape off any excess dough stuck to your work surface. Add the excess dough scraps to the top of your main dough and get a coating of flour on the outside of the dough so it doesn’t stick to your hands when you begin kneading.
Clean your hands and the work surface and lightly dust it with flour. Start to knead the dough with the heel of one hand. Folding it in half, pushing and turning 90 degrees. Continue to knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. If the dough gets hard, wet your hands and continue to knead and it will become softer. Wrap the dough in cling-film and place to one side to rest for around 10 minutes.
Place the dough out on the lightly floured work surface and gently roll it out with a rolling pin to form a sheet of roughly 2mm in thickness. Remember to flip the dough regularly, and keep a light dusting of flour on it so that it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin or the work surface.
When your sheet of pasta is rolled out, dust it with flour and roll it down uniformly until you have it all on a big roly-poly. With a sharp knife cut out
your noodles to a width of about 1 cm( 3/8 inch) and lay them on a clean cloth dusted with flour for about 30 minutes.
When ready, bring to the boil a pot of salted water (as salty as the sea), add the pasta and cook it for 5-7 minutes as desired.
You may notice that older recipes more often call for ‘macaroni’ than for pasta of any other shape. I had a hunch that macaroni was used as a generic term for what we now call pasta, or if the range of shapes available really was that limited. While trying to figure it out, I found The Eternal Table, written by Karima Moyer-Nocchi. (Her post on Roman Macaroni was so good I had to make it for dinner the same night I read it). I reached out to Karima to see if she had any insight.
Karima explained that the history of the words pasta and macaroni are not clear-cut, but that ‘pasta’ more often referred to dough (which makes me think there’s a familial relationship between the words pasta, pastry and paste). The first recorded use of the word macaroni was in 1273, and was a food category. ‘Pasta’ as we know it today only really came to its current use as a “chic reference for people ‘in the know’ – a sort of cultural inner-circle badge – picked up when Italian ‘cuisine’ came to dominate the international gastronomic stage” Karima explained. The swap in terms may have something to do with the association of Naples, whose population were referred to as mangiamaccheroni – macaroni eaters – and being associated with the Neapolitans might have been rather undesirable. Which is bizzare to think of, given the popularity of pasta today, and the love for pizza, Naples most famous dish.
* I want to make these for the sole fact that they sound so bizarre to the modern palate.