Submitted by Susanne Bacon.
One of the western world’s favorite doughs consists of no more than some unleavened wheat flour, egg(s) and/or water, and a pinch of salt. In Roman literature it has been documented as of the first century A.D. And today, there are around 310 specific shapes it comes in, dried or fresh. I’m talking pasta.
The very first time I made pasta dough myself, I was just ten years old. I had begged my mother to let me create a dish for the family, and I had gone to our local library to borrow a Chinese cookbook. I guess, Chinese food was just up and coming back in Germany. Chinese restaurants were popping up in pretty much every town over the nation. So, I came up with something that sounded easy: Wonton soup. I cannot remember how long I labored over slicing and cooking mushrooms, bamboo sprouts, and chicken for the filling. I can’t even remember how long I must have rolled the dough so it became really thin enough to be filled and cooked in the broth. It took hours. That’s all I remember. It was a total success.
My next attempt at making pasta was at one of my best friends’ home. She had found a recipe for pasta with a smoked salmon and spinach lemon-dill-sauce. To this day we laugh tears reminiscing rolling the dough way too thickly and cutting dinosaur shapes out of it. The sauce was delicious, and it has been a keeper ever since. The pasta had cooked up to almost half an inch’s thickness – literally the dinosaurs of all pasta.
Pasta and gravy or pasta and tomato sauce are dishes you will find on almost every family restaurant’s menu in Germany, by the way. It is such a favorite dish. And, of course, it can be made cheaply and quickly. We had spaghetti and tomato sauce quite often in my childhood days. I hated it back then. Only an Italy vacation years later taught me the versatility of pasta shapes, flavors, and dishes. I was blown.
A few years ago, I received a pasta maker as a Christmas gift from my husband – it’s one of the very few gadgets that I have added to my very traditional, very basic collection of kitchen tools. And it gets well used. Not that it has too many options. I can only create sheets, linguine, and tagliatelle with it. But, oh, how very thinly! Also, it’s fun to make pasta with the family. If you have kids or grandkids, it’s a time filled with laughter, anticipation, and pride. You share an activity in making something together that you later will eat together. You can even make more dough than you need at the moment and simply freeze the rest.
Pasta meals are meals shared in leisure and comfort. For whatever reason I can’t remember a single dish I haven’t liked so far. I think I even remember a sweet pasta dessert back in the day. Yes, there is such a thing, believe it or not!
Whether in a soup or a stew, in lasagne or other al forno (i.e. oven-baked) dishes, in salads, gravies, sauces, as sides or main dishes, as desserts, filled or topped, pasta is that versatile that you could easily have a dish of it every day without feeling bored. If you don’t want to make the dough yourself, you simply buy one of those boxes or bags, either fresh or dried, and then simply run with your imagination. Or take another package and create a sauce from instant powder. Or add a marinade. And some veggies. The pasta will stay the one component that makes your creation a meal. And a delicious one at that for any budget.