Thursday, 22 July 2010

Pasta and me – a long term love affair

About eight years ago I decided to jump on the Atkins bandwagon. It was not during a particularly affluent period of my life, but I somehow persuaded my mother to take me shopping and stocked up on meat, eggs and cheese. And more cheese. And a little bit more.

I think I lasted two days before I admitted defeat and made toast (probably grating up the leftover cheese and piling it on top – I’m nothing if not predictable).

Low carb is just not for me. The Atkins of the early 2000s was, as I understand it, quite a different beast to the current version, and there are plenty of other low-carb plans out there which look doable when I read through the menu plans. But I just don’t think I have it in me to give up my beloved bread and my even more beloved pasta.

Pasta and me, we go way back. It was the first "proper" meal I ever cooked, if you can call combining some extremely undercooked penne (aiming for al dente I hit crunchy) with a jar of Ragu sauce, as cooking. I proudly served my offering up to my mother and my brother and they ate it, bless them. And the thing about cooking is that sometimes the best way to learn is to make a mistake – I don’t think I’ve undercooked pasta since.

Tuna pasta bake is a dish forever associated in my mind with my Dad. He loves it, the stodgier the better, preferably with a thick layer of melted cheese on top. It was in order to make his beloved tuna pasta that I learned at a tender age how to put together a proper white sauce from a roux, carefully adding the milk bit by bit, before flavouring it with Parmesan and herbs.

At university, the kitchen facilities were very limited. To encourage students to eat in hall the residential kitchens were equipped with a two pan hob and, if you were lucky, a microwave. This obviously meant that one was limited as to what one could cook and my go-to meal for that entire three year period was pasta pesto. Not homemade pesto (I’ve never made that, and I really should get around to it one day) but a jar of Sacla’s finest. I avoided it for a while after I graduated, but it has gradually returned to occupy a special place in my heart, although now, being the proud owner of an oven, I like to enjoy it with vegetables roasted with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. In fact, now I come to think of it, one of the first dinners that D cooked for me after we had moved in together in December 2004 was pasta pesto topped with a pan fried salmon fillet – a meal we still enjoy regularly. There are no doubt purists who would be shocked by the combination – I believe it is an edict of Italian Mamas that fish and cheese should never be eaten together – but we like it, and aesthetically the combination of grass green pesto and pale coral fish is gorgeous.

The main issue surrounding pasta and WW to my mind is portion size - or at least it was when I started. WW have deemed that a large portion of pasta is 60g (3 points worth) - believe me, when you first see that weighed out it does not look like a large portion and it is probably at least half the size of the amount I would eat in my student days. It is surprising, though, how quickly one gets used to that sort of amount - I very seldom cook more than 60g per portion of any carb nowadays. A small thing perhaps, but at least one of my bad habits seems to have changed for the better. It’s one of the reasons that I love WW – my affair with pasta is as passionate as ever, but now we’re (mostly) about quality over quantity.

As I write I'm already planning tonight's tea (of course) which is to be linguine with broad beans, peas and goats; cheese - sounds like a lovely summery dish for what is turning out be quite a miserable morning.  I'll post the recipe if it turns out well - and spread a bit of pasta love.


  1. Mmmm, that DOES sound nice - is it pointy? I've avoided pasta for SO long but have bought some wholemeal penne and am trying to summon up my nerve!


  2. I adore pasta - I could never give it up. I know what you mean about 60g of pasta - when I first weighed it out, it was pitiful in comparison to what I used to consume, but now I just add more veggies etc. to fool myself into thinking I am eating a lot.

    Loving the pasta love x