Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Pasta for Supper: What to Eat When No One is Watching
Pasta has been around since about the time early man learned to plant wheat. It is highly probable that man′s first pasta dish was simply wheat grains boiled in water until they got soft enough to chew. As things progressed, people learned to grind the wheat into flour, which gave them a variety of options.
Today′s standard pasta is made from semolina. This is a product of durum wheat, which is known as a "hard" wheat. The grain is processed until all that is left is the starch, which is high in protein and gluten. It has a yellowish color.
In my early years, I never heard the word "pasta". We had egg noodles, macaroni and spaghetti. The egg noodles were served with butter. The macaroni was served with some cheese stirred in, and the spaghetti came in a can because we had no idea how to make the sauce. That situation lasted until Chef Boyardee came upon the scene.
I come from a German line. Aside from the egg noodles, the Germans had a dish called spaetzle. Spaetzle is pasta dough formed into small balls by hand and boiled. I don′t remember any homemade spaetzle, but I know that today around Central Texas no German family feed is complete without a big bowl of these buttered noodles.
Today′s pasta comes in more shapes, sizes and colors than you can imagine. In Italy, pasta must be made with semolina; it′s the law. Semolina is a very finely milled flour made from portions of milled durum wheat.
In the United States and elsewhere, just about anything the manufacturers want to put in a package can be called pasta. The only thing I could experiment with outside the standard pasta would be the whole-wheat pasta. It might have some benefits.
Other than the standard spaghetti, macaroni and noodles, the most popular pasta shapes are farfalle, which look like bowties, rotini, which is the screw-shaped things that are so popular in the "What do I take to the supper?" pasta salad.
Ravioli is not really pasta, but filling enclosed in pasta. It pretty well fits the standard pasta description.
I′ve been a life long pasta consumer. I was raised on Franco-American spaghetti. The only canned pasta I use now is the ravioli. It makes a good, quick meal.
When times were hard, I ate a lot of the macaroni and cheese that comes in the blue box. All that was needed to prepare it was a pot, some water and a heat source. It was thirty-five cents a box and made a good meal.
As of today, my favorite pasta is composed of macaroni with tomato sauce and cheese.
Raven′s PastaI put the pasta cooking water on to boil with about a tablespoon of salt per quart of water. I measure out about a cup and three-quarters of the small macaroni. While the water comes to a boil, I start the sauce.
In a suitable size non-stick pan, sauté the vegetables in olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato sauce and garlic powder. Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring often. Let it simmer and stir while the macaroni is cooking.
When the macaroni is done, drain it and place in a suitable bowl. Put the two slices of American cheese on top. Put the sauce on top of that and distribute evenly. Top with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. This makes enough for two regular people.
(Al dente, an Italian phrase you hear all the TV chefs use, translates as "to the tooth". They say it means that the pasta should have a little resistance to the chewing and not be too soft. Test your pasta by removing a small piece from the boiling water, blow on it to cool it and try it. It is your pasta. You can cook it anyway you want to.)
Cook 2 cups of dry medium size macaroni according to directions on package. While the pasta cooks, heat up a small can of Wolf Brand lean beef chili. Put the cooked and drained pasta in a large bowl and top with 2 slices of American cheese. Distribute the chili on top of the cheese. Top the chili with shredded cheddar cheese and some fine dice onion. Serve with saltines.
For the sauce, use one packet of McCormick′s chicken gravy mix, 1/2 to 1 cup diced, cooked chicken or a small can of the cooked chicken (if you use canned, don′t forget to drain it), and assorted spices.
In a suitable utensil, prepare the gravy mix using only 3/4 cup of water. To the gravy mix add a bit of black pepper, a sprinkle of onion powder and about a half teaspoon of dried celery flakes. When the gravy starts to thicken add the chicken and stir constantly until the gravy is the thickness you desire. Watch it, it will scorch.
Pour this mix over the drained pasta, no cheese required. This makes a good cool evening meal.
Now you have an idea of what Raven eats when no one is watching. See ya next month.
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