Friday, October 25, 2013

Youth Without Pasta

I never ate pasta as a youngster. "Pasta" did not exist as a food name. I ate noodles in chicken soup and in kugel; I ate macaroni with cheese; I ate spaghetti and meatballs; and that was about the extent of it. I never tried lasagna until I dated a man who loved the lasagna served at a restaurant near Amherst College. I never tasted homemade pasta until I joined a dinner group as an adult. And I avoided ravioli until recently, because I thought it was an invention of Chef Boyardee.

So many wasted years!

Although I still don't order pasta at restaurants (because I prefer to order complicated dishes that I don't usually eat), I have it often at home. This week, my daughter gave me some penne, chicken, and broccoli she had made.  A few days later, I made myself some chicken florentine ravioli with roasted tomato sauce. And last week I had fettuccine with shrimp, artichoke hearts, and peas.

These dishes have several features in common: they are relatively quick to make; they are inexpensive; they are very tasty and satisfying; they don't require a trip to the store for special ingredients. I always have something in my freezer or cupboard that I can pair with pasta. Also, pasta—like pizza—is a good way to use up odds and ends. Two mushrooms alone aren't good for much, but they make a great addition to most pasta sauces. So does a teaspoon of capers, or a few stalks of asparagus.

About once a month, I try some new pasta. Last month, it was Buitoni's Wild Mushroom Agnolotti. How bad could it be, I thought. Well, it was so good that I wrote them an unsolicited letter, extolling the virtues of this previously-unknown food. I had served it with a very simple tomato sauce plus some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It tasted as if I had slaved over the stove for hours. I wished I had bought more than one package.

No one knows for sure how many different types of pasta exist. Some sources say 10; some say 150; one said 600. If the last number is true, I'm going to have years of experimenting. I can hardly wait.

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