Four years ago, archaeologists found the world’s oldest noodles in China. The noodles were 4000 years old and made from a kind of millet unlike modern noodles, which are made of rice and wheat. The ancient noodles resembled the La-Mian, a traditional Chinese noodle that is made by stretching and pulling the dough repeatedly by hand. The earliest written record of noodles is also in a medieval Chinese book so this find only confirmed what most people had believed all along – that noodles are a Chinese invention! Chinese noodles are made from moong beans, rice, wheat and eggs and come in a variety of textures, lengths and shapes. Those made from moong bean starch are called cellophane noodles. They are thread-like and slippery and are cooked by just soaking in hot water. You can put them in soups and stir-fries, just steam them, or even fry them to a crisp! Egg noodles are made by mixing wheat flour, water and eggs and are recognisably yellow. They can be stringy or flat and need to be boiled.
Noodles made exclusively from rice and wheat flour are available both fresh and dried. If noodles evoke all things Chinese, then the same can be said of pasta and Italian! Though it is believed that Marco Polo introduced Italy and the rest of Europe to pasta after he returned from his travels in China, some say that the Italians were already making their own pasta. The word is Italian for ‘paste’ or ‘dough’, so there must be some truth in that, too! Pasta is made from durum wheat flour and durum wheat semolina. It comes in different shapes – around 350 of them! These include tube-shaped hollow spaghetti and penne, fine stick-like vermicelli, squat shell-shaped macaroni and corkscrew-shaped fusilli. Then there are lasagne and cannelloni, which are made in sheets. Ravioli and tortellini are types of pasta that can be stuffed. Like noodles, pasta is available fresh or dried and can be used in soups, in bakes, with sauces and with endless delicious fillings.
- Different types of noodles need different cooking times, so check the packet for instructions.
- Fresh wheat and egg noodles require less time to cook, generally around three minutes, but dried noodles have to be cooked for longer.
- Cellophane and rice noodles are merely soaked in hot water. Once heated right through, they areready to be cooked in whatever way you want!
- Both fresh and dried pasta need to be cooked in a large pan of boiling water – around one-and-a-half litres of water for two hundred fifty grams of pasta, which will be enough for four portions. You can add some salt to taste. Stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Pasta should be cooked till it is ‘al dente’, Italian for ‘to the bite’. When you feel it is done, taste the pasta. When you bite down, there should be a slightly hard centre.
- Drain the pasta in a colander and refresh in cold water. You can add a little oil to prevent the pasta from sticking. Mix with the sauce.
- Fresh pasta cooks faster, sometimes in 30 seconds, since there is so much moisture in it. Three minutes is the standard time, but it is better to keep checking for doneness.
- Dried eggless pasta and noodles can be kept for two years if they • are stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Egg pasta keeps only for a few months.
- Fresh pasta is best eaten immediately. It can be frozen but does not taste as good. Cooked dried pasta can be frozen and eaten after two months. The sauce should be frozen separately, except in the case of lasagne which can be frozen whole.
- Most varieties of fresh noodles can be frozen to be heated and eaten later. Cooked fresh or dried noodles can be frozen, too, and keep well for a couple of months.
In this book, I have included some innovative as well as popular vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Try the healthy California Pista Pasta Salad and the Thai Chicken and Noodle Soup. There is delicious Sizzling Noodles with Vegetables and the attractive Vegetables in a Noodle Basket. American Chopsuey will set your taste buds tingling while the Spaghetti with Chicken and Pine Nut Pesto will have your family asking for more! Surprise your friends with the Penne Arrabiata and the Sicilian Pasta Don Camillo. Each recipe is meant for four portions when it is a part of a menu with other complementary dishes.