Pasta has firmly entered the Indian kitchen along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, displacing those ubiquitous instant noodles in the larder. Our taste buds seem to respond well to Italian cuisine!
Up until a few years ago, commercially produced pasta in India was basically macaroni and nothing else. This is surprising when you consider that back in 1884 there were at least nine varieties made in Meerut, in a small plant which was imported from Italy. The spaghetti, vermicelli and macaroni, along with six other pasta varieties, were consumed mainly by European residents in north India, Calcutta and Bombay.
Italy may not claim pasta as quite its own invention; the Arabs seem to have used a dried noodle called ‘itriyah’ years before it appeared in Sicily. This they reconstituted into a satisfying meal by boiling. Fresh pasta was known in Aramaic as ‘laksha’.
Yet no one has taken pasta as seriously as the Italians. They now have hundreds of types of pasta, some of which names are known only locally. Generally named after the shape, like Bumbola (bumble bee) or Dente di Cavallo (horse’s teeth), these can be long noodle-like pastas such as Capellini, Fusilli Bucati and Pici, short-cut extruded hollow pastas like Cannelloni, Rigatoni and Penne, flat ribbon like pastas for example Fettucine, Linguine and Papardelle, and fancy shapes like Farfalle (fan-shaped), Orichiete (ear-shaped) and Conchiglie (shell-shaped). While commercially made pasta of Durum wheat is standard fare, fresh pasta is made at least once a week in Italian homes.
Once you have tasted fresh pasta, there is no going back to the commercial stuff. If you eat it regularly you might consider investing in a pasta machine which can help you churn it out faster and make the cutting as simple as pie. To those of us used to kneading atta for chapati is on a daily basis, hand cut pasta is a cake walk.
Make your own pasta
For four people
* 200 gm flour or whole wheat flour or half flour and half semolina flour
* 2 eggs
*½ tsp salt
* A few tablespoons of water
* Mix the flour and salt. Put the flour in a mound on your kneading surface. Make a well in the centre and break the eggs in the centre. Slowly incorporate the eggs into the flour with your fingertips. Keep mixing till a ball is formed. Add water if necessary.
* The ball of dough will be mottled and gritty at first. Now knead it the way you do chapati dough, with the heel of your palms, till smooth and springy to the touch (about 10 minutes). Cover with cling film and let the dough stand for 30 minutes.
* Divide into 8 equal parts and keep covered to prevent it from drying out.
* Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Take one ball of dough and roll it out in a long rectangle till fine (about 2mm thick). Sprinkle with flour as required so it does not stick to the rolling pin.
* Now take a sharp knife and cut the rectangle into strips about ¼ inch or ½ cm wide. Let it dry a bit by dredging the cut pasta in corn flour and laying the Fettucine out on brown paper. You can also make little nests of the noodles to pack into plastic bags and freeze for use later.
* Boil 4 litres of salted water. Add the pasta, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and serve immediately with pesto or roasted vegetables or a homemade Italian tomato sauce.