Although popular legend claims Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his exploration of the Far East in the late 13th century, pasta can be traced back as far as the 4th century B.C., where an Etruscan tomb showed a group of locals making what appears to be a type of pasta. The Chinese too were known to be making a noodle-like food as early as 3000 BC.
There are writings from the 1st century AD that talk of fine sheets of fried dough being an everyday foodstuff, and 100 years later the first recipe appeared for a dish which was “sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavoured with spices and deep-fried in oil.” An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called lagana that consists of layers of dough with meat stuffing. A precursor to the modern-day lasagne perhaps? The first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the 13th century with references to pasta dishes such as macaroni, ravioli, gnocchi and vermicelli cropping up with increasing frequency across the Italian peninsula. In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta became popular for its easy storage and allowed people to store pasta on ships when exploring the New World. A century later, pasta was present around the globe during the voyages of discovery and the world has not looked back!
Today, there are over 600 known pasta shapes, and their names are usually Italian words that are descriptive of their shapes. Spaghetti means ‘cord’, vermicelli are ‘little worms’, rotini are ‘spirals’, fusilli, ‘spindles’, tortellini ‘little cakes’, linguini ‘little tongues’, conchiglie ‘shells’, fettuccine ‘small ribbons’, penne ‘quills’ and capellini ‘fine hairs’ are just a small sample and the most popular.
Life is a Combination of Magic and Pasta!
Despite the history of pasta, it was only in 1995, when 40 pasta producers from around the world gathered to hold the first World Pasta Congress, that it was decided to pay tribute to one of the most delicious and versatile foods and celebrate it with a day all its own – World Pasta Day – which is marked every year on October 25!
In honour of this occasion, we asked two chefs at Capsicum Culinary Studio to share the recipes for their favourite pasta dishes and here’s what they sent us.
Pretoria campus chef lecturer Charne Wylie’s Squid Ink Tortellini with Prawn Mousse
“This is not as much work as it seems and will really impress your dinner guests.”
Ingredients for Pasta
3 egg yolks
2 tsp squid ink
1 pinch of salt
Ingredients for Prawn Mousse
125ml cold water
125ml boiling water
450g cooked prawn tails
30ml lemon juice
30ml chopped onion
60ml chopped celery
10ml chopped dill
125ml cream, whipped
100g green peas
20g micro herbs
Additional cooked prawn tails
Method for the pasta
Pile the flour and salt onto a large, clean work surface. Mix the eggs, egg yolks and squid ink. Gradually incorporate the egg mixture into the flour to create a dough, using your hands to bring it together. Knead for 5–10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic then form into a ball. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. Once the dough has rested, remove from the fridge, and let it come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Unwrap the dough and use a rolling pin to flatten it to the same thickness of the widest setting on your pasta machine, then feed into the slot. Fold the dough in half and pass it through the machine a few more times until it becomes smooth. Once you have a smooth dough, gradually decrease the setting on the pasta machine, passing the dough through twice on each setting (without folding) until you achieve the desired thickness. Cut the dough into your preferred shape.
Instruction for Mousse
Sprinkle gelatine over the cold water and set aside for 5 minutes. Pour over the boiling water and stir until dissolved. Put the prawns in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the lemon juice, onion, celery, dill and mayonnaise and process until smooth. With the machine running, pour in the dissolved gelatine then add in the cream and pulse to combine. Spoon the mixture into 3 small or 1 large loaf pan that has been oiled and lined with cling wrap and place in the fridge to set. Once firm, unmould and serve garnished with prawns.
Instruction on filling pasta
Set the rolled-out pasta on a flat surface and use a pizza cutter to cut 2×2 inch squares. Once the pasta squares are cut, begin dabbing a teaspoon-sized amount of the mousse into the middle of the square. Brush a small amount of water along the outside of the square and fold over across the diagonal to form a triangle. Next pick up the triangle and form it around your pinkie, then press the two edges together tightly. Grab the triangular tip and fold it over the dough to form the final shape. Set all the formed tortellini into a pile and dust them with flour to prevent them from sticking together. Cook the tortellini. Bring a large amount of water to a rolling boil and add one tablespoon of salt per quart of water, the water should be as salty as the sea. Add the tortellini to the boiling water and cook for two to three minutes until the tortellini begins to float. Remove the pot from the heat and strain the pasta.
Chef Donovan’s Tagliatelle and Salmon with sauce au beurre de vin blanc à la crème
“A fabulous dish to make for that special occasion.”
For the Sauce
280g fresh pasta (recipe below)
100g salmon cut into 5mm slices
1 fennel bulb
olive oil as needed
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves whole
¼ yellow pepper, thinly sliced
¼ red pepper, thinly sliced
125ml dry white wine
30ml cream cheese
fresh dill for garnish
fresh chives for garnish
2 lemon wedges for juice and to serve.
For the Dill Oil
10g parsley leaves
250ml olive oil
For the Pasta Dough
5ml dill oil
Dill Oil: Blanch the dill and parsley in salted boiling water for 15-20 seconds and refresh in ice water bath. Drain and dry well, to a blender add half the oil and blanched herbs and blend until smooth then add the remaining oil with the blender still running. Let settle for 15-20 minutes. Strain and reserve for use.
Pasta Dough: Create a well in the flour and add the eggs, 5ml dill oil and 5ml water and mix into the flour by using a swirling motion with your finger until the flour is incorporated, add extra water if needed. Knead on a work surface until a firm dough is formed. Rest the dough in plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes or until needed. When ready roll out in a pasta machine – setting 7 – then pass it through the tagliatelle cutter.
For the Sauce: Pre-heat oven to 200°c on bake setting, get salted water boiling to cook the pasta. Cut fennel into quarters, drizzle with olive oil season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile heat a griddle pan until smoking hot, sear the fennel until brown and keep rotating until you have colour on all sides. Transfer to a sheet pan, add the whole garlic cloves, cover with foil and place in oven to roast for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep aside. (Squeeze out the garlic for use later)
Heat up a sauté pan and add olive oil. Sauté the peppers, roasted garlic and capers. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pepper mixture from the pan, clear access fat (from pan) and return to the heat. Add the wine and thyme then reduce by half. Slowly add the butter a little at a time while whisking and emulsified until all the butter has been incorporated. Stir in the cream and cream cheese until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Return the pepper mixture to the cream sauce and cook on low heat for the flavours to develop. This won’t take long. Meanwhile boil the pasta until al dente (4 minutes). Remove pasta from the water and add to the cream mixture and toss to coat. Lightly drizzle the salmon with oil and season with salt and pepper. In a hot skillet, sear the fish for a minute on each side, squeeze over some lemon juice and serve on top of the pasta dish. Garnish with fresh dill or fennel, chives and drizzle with a few drops of dill oil