Homemade Pasta Recipes:
• Antipasto Skewers
• Dried Tomato Pesto
• Fresh Tomato Sauce
• Basic Egg Noodles
• Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter
• Dill Spaetzle
• Chocolate Dessert Ravioli
Don’t let blustery winds and spring showers keep you from shaking off cabin fever: Cozy up with friends, family and delicious herbs for a pasta party at home. If you are used to going out to dinner with friends or dashing out to a movie for family night, conserve by entertaining at home. Going to an Italian restaurant costs $15 to $50 per person, depending on what you eat and drink. A trip to the movies can cost between $10 and $15 per person, depending on what snacks you buy. What better way to save money than to host a cooking party at home where you get great food and entertainment rolled into one?
You may have an established routine that could easily shift to a cooking party. If you eat out regularly with friends, you could just switch to cooking parties. Maybe everyone takes turns hosting, or maybe it’s always at a set location. Discuss how to share costs, and no one has to bear the financial burden of entertaining all at once. You can choose to do all of the shopping and split the cost, or give each person a grocery list that evenly disperses the food items you will need for this great evening of fun.
For a family pasta night, it’s just dinner, of course, but a teeny bit of extra effort can transform dinner into a family party. If the children are old enough, give them their list, a budget, some money and let them shop for the items needed. They will learn at least three important lessons: meals take planning, food costs money, and cooperation boosts success.
After all, few things are as comforting as spaghetti on the stove amid the pre-dinner bustle. Pasta made a big impression on me as a child. I think back on my childhood and I think of the little rings (anellini) that my mom used in cold tuna salad, and spaghetti from a two-foot-long blue box, the contents of which needed to be broken into fourths before adding to the boiling water. These days, I make fresh herbal pasta, like my recipes in this article.
You might want to start with the recipes included, and then branch out for variety to enliven the tradition. The types of pasta seem never-ending: linguine, macaroni, long ziti, shells (jumbo, large or small), rigatoni, bow ties (large or small), angel hair, lasagna, orzo, wagon wheels, or special shapes like Christmas trees and states. You also can find pasta that is flavored or colored with carrots, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, wine, spinach, herbs, or other natural flavors and colors. You may find that you prefer the nutty flavor (and whole grains) of pasta made from whole-wheat flour. You can use convenient, packaged pasta, but it is a lot of fun to make your own noodles from scratch. As an herb lover, it’s especially wonderful to be able to add whatever herbs you like.
I try to keep pasta-making simple by following a few rules of thumb. Dried pasta is good with heavy sauces, and fresh pasta is best with light sauces. Cook your pasta al dente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian because it is cooked to a firm (but not hard) texture. Fresh pasta usually reaches al dente in 1 to 2 minutes; toss it with olive oil or a little of the sauce to prevent sticking and serve immediately. Only rinse pasta if it is to be served cold. Rinsing in cold water stops the cooking process, which prevents gumminess. For your dinner party, pasta can be served as an appetizer, side dish, main dish and dessert. If you serve an all-pasta meal, it’s fun for everyone to eat tapas-style, sampling a little bit of everything. In the recipes that follow, I have also included the approximate cost per serving to help you plan your budget. Prices will vary depending on where you live.
Pasta provides energy-rich carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins and iron. Grains such as wheat, corn, oats and rice also contribute protein to the diet.
How Much to Make?
• 1 ounce of dried pasta per person for a side dish.
• 1½ to 2 ounces of dried pasta per person for a main dish.
• 3 ounces of fresh pasta per person for a main dish.
Donna Frawley, owner of Frawley’s Fine Herbary (www.frawleysfineherbary.com), has written two cookbooks: The Herbal Breads Cookbook (Frawley’s Fine Herbary, 1994) and The Edible Flowers Book (Frawley’s Fine Herbary, 2004).