Today, World Pasta Day, we celebrate spaghetti. And spaetzle. And lapsha. And lo mein. Composed of flour, water and pressure via hand or machine, pasta is a genius, border-transcending culinary creation greater than the sum of its parts. We are globally united in our passion for pasta. Each region has embraced it, making their own.
A little myth busting, if I may -- China did not invent pasta, though they're gifted as hell at making it, and Marco Polo did not introduce it to Italy. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the Etruscans are credited with making the first known pasta, a sort of beta version lasagne, dating back as far as 4 B.C. It went viral.
China has a dozen kind of noodles from wheat-based lo mein to rice flour mai sin. Spain and Mexico have fideo, angel hairesque noodles enjoyed in soup or as a main course. India loves its falooda, vermicelli noodles in sweet custard, sort of a drink, sort of a dessert. Japan's pasta includes buckwheat soba, ropy udon and slurpy ramen. Russia and Central Europe like an eggy noodle called lapsha (plus the Russians have that great expression, Are you hanging noodles on my ear? This means, are you kidding me or what?). Germany, Switzerland and Austria prefer little spaeztle, translated as little sparrows, Hungary and Slovakia have their own version of it. Iranians eat reshteh in soup and mixed with rice. Moroccans make couscous the base and basis of almost every meal. Italy is, of course, the king of pasta consumption (America comes in third, trailing Venezuela). Even those late to the pasta party have fallen for it hard. Pasta's had an uptick in Albania and in Africa, particularly Liberia. Spaghetti shacks are all the rage there because noodles are cheaper than rice. I could go on.
I did not put this ragtag list together for my own enjoyment (though I confess it was fun), but to make a point about the beauty and power of diversity. Pasta is a delicious lesson in thinking globally and eating locally. One world, one noodle? How boring is that? Each country interprets pasta differently, enhancing it with the local ingredients they have and with the flavors they love. Try it all.
For World Pasta Day, eat your way around the world. The way we spice and season, the shapes we take and the shapes we make are unique but at core, we are all the same. And so it is with pasta. In all its 600 guises and beneath a virtually infinite number of sauces, pasta is still flour, water and pressure. Yet it is not one size fits all any more than we are. Being open to -- and hungry for -- the cuisine of other cultures is an edible exercise in humanity -- you're literally taking in the ways of another people. And now, a little Shakespeare:
How many goodly creatures are there here
How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
Tagliolini is terrific. So is tolerance. Sitting down at the table together is a great way to start. Let's eat.
Brave New World Pasta (Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Red Pepper Sauce)
The no-cook sauce, a breezy blitz of red pepper, garlic, broth, tahini and spices, has both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences. Earthy, easy, sexy, healthy and a festival of fusion, it's multiculturalism in a bowl, with not a meatball in sight. You can make this with any kind of noodle that pleases you, but according to the National Pasta Board, America's favorite is still spaghetti.
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste, available at natural food stores)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon honey or agave
1 pinch red pepper flakes
sea salt to taste
Whizz together in a blender or food processor. Makes 1-1/4 cups. May be made ahead and refrigerated.
For roasted vegetables:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of mushrooms
2 peppers (red, yellow or green, your choice)
1 fennel bulb
pinch of sea salt
Preheat oven to 425.
Chop vegetables into bite sized pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add olive oil and stir gently to blend.
Spread vegetables out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Roast for 10 minutes, give vegetables a stir, then continue roasting for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
1 bunch parsley
sea salt to taste
Bring large pot of water to boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions, until just al dente.
Drain pasta well, then and return to pot. Place pot back on burner set on medium-high, and mix in vegetables and sauce. Stir gently for about 5 minutes, until heated through. Add sea salt to taste.
Garnish pasta with chopped parsley.
Serves 4 to 6.