The pasta connection

I admire the Chinese for inventing their unique way of recycling leftovers by turning them into fried rice. Just as I admire the Italians for inventing the pasta which, to me, is second to the Chinese style fried rice in the art of extending small amounts of ingredients to come up with such savory and filling dishes.

Too bad for people who think that carbohydrates are unhealthy. Perhaps, it will help if they put down the fashionable diet books for a while and remember the go, grow and glow foods all of which create the necessary balance in our diet.

In my family, as with most Filipino families, rice is a staple. Noodles, whether Italian style pasta or oriental noodles, are a close second. And we enjoy our pasta in so many ways — with seafood, with sausages, with bacon, with tomatoes, with cream or even with just plain olive oil and lots of garlic.

One of the easiest pasta dishes that one can whip up in under half an hour is pasta with bacon. Dice the bacon, brown in equal amounts of butter and olive oil, add vegetables and spices, pour in the meat stock and simmer for about 20 minutes while the pasta cooks in another pot. The pasta dish that you see in the photo above, taken a few weeks ago, has bacon, lots of diced tomatoes, sweet peas, onions and yellow bell peppers.

Another favorite pasta sauce has a combination of sausages — Hungarian sausage, Italian sausage, garlic sausage, bratwurst, chorizo de Bilbao… With a tomato-based sauce or with cream, they are just as good (below). Other family favorites include bacon and mushrooms, ham and sausages, tuna with diced eggplants, carrots and bell peppers, bottled sardines, and, a recent favorite — pasta with bottled tuyo.

One thing about Filipinos and pasta is that most require that the sauce be a bright red. This visual requirement has been perfected by fast food chains where pasta sauces with their microscopic bits of meat (if they are really meat) are artificially colored. Most people also equate good pasta sauce with a thick mixture. I know someone who thickens her pasta sauce with flour just to “conform” with expectations.

The truth is, pasta sauce thickens naturally when allowed to simmer and reduce for hours AND only if there are enough chopped vegetables thrown in. It is the chopped vegetables that make the sauce thick as they get mushy and turn into a semi liquid state. Adding flour is a travesty.

For best results when making pasta sauce, use good meat stock, especially if you’re using nothing but processed meat. In lieu of meat stock, throw in chunks of beef bones into the pot. That’s equivalent to creating the stock while the pasta sauce simmers. Just remember to remove the bones before serving the sauce with the cooked pasta.

Finally, never underestimate the value of herbs. Basil, rosemary, tarragon… use one or combine two or more and the flavor improves many times over.

Just like rice, pasta is so versatile. If you can create a hundred different sauces, you’ll have a hundred different pasta dishes. Even if you ate pasta everyday, you won’t eat the same dish twice until after more than three months. Imagine that. :)

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