HASTA LA PASTA BABY
WORDS AND IMAGES: CHEF JEAN PIERRE LE ROUX
Chef Jean Pierre is making a meal of it. His wish for 2023 is peace, prosperity and pasta
In my words, but also quoting the infamous movie hunk, Arnold Swatzeneger, pasta, like pizza has its roots in Italy. So, what is better than sitting in a Trattoria, and having a homemade pasta or pizza?
Rome brings back memories of home grown Italy. I often remember how I, as a 10-year-old, enjoyed a slice of Italian cuisine outside the Trevi fountain with my familia.
But, if you can’t make your way to Italy, then second best is an old school Italian deli in South Africa or even New York city.
My first modern day pasta experience was at a restaurant in Umhlanga (which has since moved to Cape Town) – the famous La Buca di Bacco – where I worked as a waitron in the early nineties. I went on to carve a place for myself front of house and then run the kitchen on occasions dealing with the very best Italian recipes and pastas.
To the left is a picture of the menu in 1995 – which explains the prices – providing a little true inspiration when it comes to true Italian flavour.
Today, we are taking about homemade pasta – and four seasons in one day. These are four pastas that you can serve up for family or friends, made using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
THE MAGIC OF PASTA
As health gurus analyse carbohydrates – and highly refined ones especially – pasta has had some bad press. But, as with all things in life, the magic is in maintaining a balance and enjoying the very things that make a good meal worthwhile in moderation.
What has happened as nutritionists have analysed the good and bad of pasta has been that people have come up with some healthy and creative alternatives – now you can source gluten free pasta, egg free pasta, rice noodles, plant based pastas, even squid, butternut, spinach and other alternatives which are easy to find at local supermarkets and delis.
In short, it is about knowing how your body reacts to things like gluten and egg – and cooking accordingly. You can even make your own – although I confess that I often resort to dried pasta especially after a busy day.
Interestingly enough, there are only two ingredients when it comes to making pasta – flour and liquid. But, if you are making your own, try not to under estimate the quantities and the quality of your flour as this will dictate the texture, colour, richness and flavour.
There are two basic wheat flours – one made from grain containing high proteins (hard wheat) and one made using flour with a far lower protein content (soft wheat). When mixed with water, the gluten that makes up the proteins in the flour transforms to provide the elasticity and different degrees of gooeyness that is evident in the different textures of various types of pasta.
In Italy, pasta is often made using semolina flour – a high-gluten flour made from hard durum wheat. Its coarse texture and yellow colour (I admit to adding a dash of turmeric too if the dish requires) not only makes it perfect for pasta but also for some breads and baked goods. A healthier option is to use polenta flour, (which is dried corn and has minimal gluten).
For the most part, egg is not really necessary when making pasta – although it is often included and I would encourage those with food intolerances or friends and family who have them to read labels. My general feeling is that if egg is not necessary, why add it?
When creating the four pastas that are featured below, I have tried to use as wide a variety of pastas as possible – a superior durum semolina pasta, a Vermicelli with no egg or any animal
tissue, a high protein wheat pasta and even a spinach infused wheat semolina. All are available at your local supermarket. You just need to know where to shop.
Also, please check your prices. For example, during my latest shopping expedition, I found that the local Fatti’s and Moni’s range was twice as expensive as many other brands on the shelves. I have used the ZAR macaron brand from Iran and Campagna from Southern Italy.
OH SO VEG BABY
Making vegetarian paste sauces is one of my favourites. You can play around so much. It’s like designing toppings that go well on a pizza, so when in Rome …
When making this dish, my choice of pasta was true Italian – Rigatoni- 23. This is a durum wheat semolina. The cut is similar to penne, but with square edges.
Unlike the conventional way of preparing your pasta first before adding the sauce and ingredients, this dish requires cooking the pasta in the sauce at a low temperature.
FROM YOUR PANTRY:
120 grams pasta
4 medium peeled tomatoes
4 artichoke hearts
8 grams capers
80 ml coconut cream
I soak my Rigatoni in hot water with a dash of salt and extra virgin olive oil for 5 minutes, then strain in a colander.
In a medium frying pan, add some oil and brown sugar which will take away the tartiness of the fresh peeled tomatoes that we are using for our sauce. Add some fresh artichokes, the coconut cream, the capers and the pasta. Let it slowly simmer for 8 minutes, occasionally giving it a gentle stir until it becomes a velvety, smooth paste. You can plate it up with some additional capers, season with black peppercorns, some coarse salt, fresh basil leaves and some parsley.
As infamous as Colonel Saunders was in his hay day, so was the game Cluedo with Colonel Mustard always being caught in the kitchen with the knife.
Which brings me to one of the things that we will share with you in the weeks ahead – the importance of consuming good quality food and insisting on cooking with the best ingredients. My experience in big brand supermarkets and franchised restaurants has created my own personal quest for 2023 – a search for quality food, more hydroponic vegetables and farmer to door options. In my experience, the masses are controlled by the provision of variety and convenience without knowing or having the time to find out just what is in the food that they eat. There is no excuse for consuming poor quality just because of the price tag and the end certainly never justifies the means in this case.
FROM YOUR QUALITY FILLED PANTRY:
Knife in hand, select the following wholesome ingredients for your pasta:
80 grams dry Durum wheat tagliatteli
1 x ripe butter avo
150 grams grain fed chicken skin of breasts
25 ml tomato paste
8 ml olive oil
1 large pear
100 grams fresh cream
20 g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (as per the Colonel’s direct orders)
pinch of salt
some black pepper corns
dash of lemon juice
lemon grass sprigs
Bring your water to a boil, add your pasta and let it cook al dente for 1/12 minutes.
Whist your pasta is simmering in the pot, begin your prep.
Steam your pear for 5 minutes, extract and leave to rest. Dice your chicken in bite Size pieces and flash fry for 2 minutes per side in the oil, fennel seeds and butter.
Sweat your onions, add your pear slices, and start adding the rest of the ingredients. Stir in the tomato paste and mustard, plus the cream, and let it simmer for 8 minutes. Strain your pasta and add it in with the mix. Then, let it soak up the sauce. Get ready to slice your avo to plate. Garnish with some black pepper corns, a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper, fresh parsley and lemon grass.
You will make the colonel proud!
FROM YOUR PANTRY:
about 80 grams vermicelli
120 grams fresh hake, or kingklip, skin on
30 grams almond flakes
25 grams Lupra butter
a cinnamon stick, crunched up
half a hand full of mixed fresh bay leaves
10 ml of canola oil
fresh Himalayan coarse sea salt
The cooking time of the vermicelli is only about 6 to 8 minutes due to the thin strings.
In a small frying pan, heat up your oil and butter. Skin up, place you fillet of fish in the pan and gently sear it. On the non-flesh side, turn and crisp the skin. Add some bay leaves and the almond flakes and sear them as well. After 5 minutes, your fish is ready to serve on your strained pasta. Serve skin side up, add a crack of pepper and salt, and garnish with some cinnamon sticks and fresh dill.
TURN IT UP
This pasta dish adds a dash of heat and has a colourful array of colours and flavours.
The turnip is part of the radish and cabbage family – aka brassicaceae. That’s a mouthful, but so is this dish.
I’m serving this dish with gluten free Semolina infused with red cabbage and spinach, as it has been visually articulated in the picture.
To balance the heat of the red onion and the mustardy taste of the turnip, I used some fresh coconut milk and creamy avocado.
Turnips, like most of its family members, take a little longer to cook due to the density of the vegetable. So, in this case, you need to me a bit more patient.
I suggest that you clean your root vegetables with great care and cook then in water with some salt for at least 30 minutes until you can give them a texture test by slicing the tops off.
When they are soft, you can let them rest while you start preparing the remainder of your dish.
Mix your stained pasta with some coconut milk and some red onion in a medium saucepan and let it simmer for a few minutes on a low temperature. Add a dash of brown sugar and some baby spinach and let all the flavours cook in. You can cut your turnip into centimetre disks.
After 3 minutes, you can plate up with some crushed nuts and some freshly sliced butter avo which is very much in season now.
Season to taste and enjoy my “turn it up” pasta dish.
In closing, I hope that you agree with me that, because there are now so many different variants and healthy pasta options, there is no reason to remove pasta from your diet. Instead, pasta should become a regular with its many options and delightful colours for you to enjoy.
I hope you have enjoyed this pasta insert and have a little more knowledge about the varieties of dry pastas that are now available. Soon, I will show you how to make your own fresh pasta at home.
So hasta la pasta – don’t get any on ya – until next time,