Weekly Meal Planning Week 13 is all about the pasta-bilities. That is recipes that have pasta or you can serve with pasta.
Weekly Meal Planning Week 13 I decided to highlight all things pasta worthy. That means dinners that have pasta in them. A few appetizers and snacks that would pair well with pasta recipes. Finally, a couple of desserts that would round out the whole meal.
Contrary to some people, pasta is not the enemy. Actually, no food is the enemy. It’s just the amount you eat that is the enemy. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the pasta is whole wheat based. But this is something talked about in the last meal planning post about healthy foods.
Who invented noodles?
The debate about which country invented noodles has ended, I think. In 2002 someone found a rather old bowl of noodles in China. A 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles to be exact. Even though they were not made with wheat like they are today, they’re still noodles. And also answers the question as to why archeologists have not been able to find seeds for these types of grains. The theory is they ground these seeds into meals to make noodles!
Now, there’s a debate that noodles and pasta are not the same thing. Yeah okay. For me they’re one and the same. However, the durum wheat seems to be the differentiation between the two. You can make noodles out of different types of grains and meals. Most make pasta with duram wheat only because some say that is the only way to make pasta.
Yes, I know the Chinese probably didn’t have durum wheat. Maybe they did. Either way, they made the noodles that, in theory, Arabs brought from Asia to Europe. Of course, once these noodles hit the Mediterranean the durum wheat and perfecting process began. They not only perfected the pasta but had a wealth of fresh ingredients to make the best sauces for this pasta.
What is durum wheat?
Since we’re talking about pasta for Meal Planning Week 13 we have to talk about the wheat. Durham what is a hearty variety of spring wheat. The name durum derives from durum which is Latin for hard. This kind of wheat has a higher-than-average protein content. This means that any dough made with durum wheat can stretch fairly easily without snapping back like other wheat doughs.
Durum wheat is harder that bread wheat. It needs to be ground more than bread wheat which causes it to lose some of it’s starch which hinders the fermentation process of yeasted bread. Meaning, durum wheat is not ideal for bread baking. But is ideal or pasta making!
Why is pasta so popular?
Pasta is cheap. Think about it. It’s flour, maybe some eggs, water, salt, and oil. All ingredients that are fairly cheap to acquire. And probably something you have in the pantry right now. Of course, we don’t all have durum flour, but you can still make pasta with regular flour. Ssshhh you Italians!
Because it’s cheap, pasta is easily mass produced. And sent out across the globe. Which is why pasta is so popular in countries you wouldn’t even think of. Or maybe you did. Pasta tops the food lists of the Philippines, Guatemala, Brazil, and South Africa. Wait, what? Brazil? And did you know that Venezuela is 5th largest consumer of pasta? Yeah, blew my mind, too.
Pasta is very versatile. Not in the wide range of shapes and sizes, but also in the sauces or dressings you can coat them in. From a traditional Bolognese to carbonara or even just butter, salt and pepper you can top pasta with just about anything. Or coat it with just about anything like balsamic vinegar or mayonnaise for a pasta or macaroni salad.
Pasta is my go-to on nights when I need a quick dinner. A pound of pasta, a pound of ground beef, and a jar of sauce and dinner is on the table in under 30. If you don’t have sauce, then I’m sure you have cheese and eggs. You have the basis for carbonara. Just remember to leverage the pasta water in all your sauces.
Why is pasta water important to sauces?
I can’t stress enough how important the pasta water is to a great sauce. Some of you are looking at me like I have two heads right now but hear me out. Well, me and a ton of other professionals who have chimed in on this discussion. You see that pot of starch filled water is just the thing to bring your sauces from home cook to home chef.
That murky pasta water has tons of flavor, salt, and starch in it. This combination, well more the starch than anything, helps to emulsify any fats in the sauce. And this emulsification helps the sauce stick to the noodles. In fact, sauces like carbonara and caccio e pepe rely heavily on pasta water to achieve and creamy and luscious sauce. Not to mention TRADITIONAL alfredo doesn’t have cream in it at all. It is simply Parmesan, olive oil, and some pasta water. I will have to try that some time to see how it turns out.
Pasta water has other uses, too. You can use it to replace the water in your bread recipes. It helps the dough raise. Besides the obviously watering your flowers, using it to steam vegetables and cook rice, try using it as a base for soup. The pasta water will make it silky smooth and delicious.
How many different pasta shapes are there?
Okay, enough about the water and the wheat. Let’s talk about the pasta for Meal Planning Week 13!! Depending on which website you go to you’ll get a range of answers from 600 to 350 to 50 different types of pasta. I’m sure there are shape categories and within each of those are a myriad of different styles. Like strand pasta. There’s spaghetti, fettucine, linguine, bucatini, capellini, etc. Tubular shapes would be like cavatappi (my personal favorite), gemelli, and penne. Smaller would be like orzo and ditalini.
Each shape has a purpose. Long and thin to short and round and those with ridges or without; the shape and texture of the pasta has a purpose. Ruffled pastas like radiator or gigli are best for holding sauces. Those ridges trap the sauce in the pasta for delicious bites. Some are hollow like bucatini. It holds sauce in the center making it perfect for marinara or pesto.
Then there’s baking pasta. Did you know there are four different sizes of shells? The jumbo and medium are good for stuffing and the small and mini are perfect for macaroni and cheese. Manicotti and cannelloni are best stuffed and baked.
Most of my favorites are the stuffed pasta. Tortellini and ravioli are the most popular, I’m sure. They’re easily purchased in the grocery in fresh, dried, and frozen forms. Other stuffed pastas are tortelloni, mezzaluna, cappelletti, and even giant ravioli. I think the giant ravioli sometimes have a raw egg yolk inside that is to barely cook with the pasta. I’ve only seen it on TV. It is not something I will be making any time soon because, well, raw egg yolk.
What about the sauce?
I don’t think there are nearly as many sauces as there are shapes of pasta, but I could be wrong. I would lump them into tomato based, cream base, and oil based. Tomato based being your marinara, Bolognese, and even a simple grated tomato sauce. A good ragu or vodka sauce would be in this one, too.
Cream based would be your alfredo, Asiago cream sauce, and even carbonara. I always put cream in mine. Macaroni and cheese could be a cream sauce. There’s garlic cream sauce and tomato cream sauce. Pesto cream sauce. Basically, if it has cream in it, I’d lump it in here. Of course, traditional alfredo doesn’t have cream in it, but I always use cream in mine.
Let’s talk about pesto!
Oil based sauces are your pesto, cacio e pepe, and aglio e olio. I mean the name alone says olio. Pesto isn’t just basil, but there’s sun-dried tomato, broccoli, sage; if it can be pureed into a paste and combined with oil for a sauce then make it a pesto! At least that’s what I say.
Some interesting combinations I’ve seen are watercress and sorrel with sour cream mixed in. How about pepita and cilantro? Not for me, of course. I’m not a cilantro fan. Red peppers and ricotta make for a deliciously creamy pesto. Or how about parsley with anchovies. Again, not for me. Just sharing some interesting combinations I’ve seen on the webs.
As you can see, pasta has so many possibilities. From shapes and sizes to sauces and pestos, you could eat pasta every day for a year and still not duplicate sauce and noodle combinations.