Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kill your noodles

I like to think of myself as a competent amateur home economist, never wasting and always saving. I make it my business to know what to do with leftovers. But surplus pasta is nasty and nothing can save it. Unless it was really undercooked the first time around it's not likely to be al dente the second. You can refresh it with a quick dunk in simmering water and it comes back to life but it's nowhere near as good as fried rice or home fries, two starch dishes that improve with age, so to speak. I always save the leftovers hoping at least to feed them to the little man, who loves noodles. But he also prefers his food fresh and tasty. He doesn't care for crap any more than we do.

The real problem is my tendency to boil more pasta than necessary, which has its source in my vegetarian/student past when a plate of noodles was a whole meal. In those days I ate dinner after dinner of spaghetti with jarred tomato sauce, chile flakes, and Kraft Parmesan. My first year of graduate school I had no car and few friends and for my provisions I relied entirely on a corner convenience store that sold mediocre "homemade" brownies and turnovers, of which I ate a great many. I had spaghetti with tomato sauce four or five nights a week then. I never kept fresh fruits or vegetables at home, never made a salad or a pot of soup. I cooked on a narrow electric range with a flimsy aluminum pot that became increasingly warped and blackened with use. The cabinet contained no more than three dishes and exactly one bowl but we had a ton of silverware, stolen from the student union where my roommate was a manager. On a night when I wasn't going to have spaghetti, I ate out or--rarely, as the options were thin--ordered in. I never saved leftover pasta then because I never had to; I just kept eating until it was done. For breakfast I ate frozen bagels and sometimes fried eggs and for lunch I picked up a sandwich or a takeout container of pad Thai, misirwot, or lo mein from the food carts on Library Mall. If I had kept a blog then (blogs didn't exist then but let's just say) I have no idea what I would have written in it but it would scarcely have resembled this one.

Now I dress my noodles with more than just tomato sauce, I make a salad to accompany the pasta, I cook for three instead of one. Occasionally I take the scale down and weigh the noodles before cooking them, but even this doesn't help. If I budget 1/4 lb per person that can still be too much or too little depending on the kid's appetite and a dozen other factors. More often I just grab a thick fistful and figure, hey, pasta is cheap.


Blogger Pyewacket said...

Pasta fritatta is the godsend of pasta leftovers. Most sauces work well. You can add some sauteed vegetables if you like. If so, cook them first in a cast-iron skillet, then add the pasta, then pour a basic egg + milk mixture over the pasta, let cook until set on the bottom, top with cheese and stick under the broiler. It tastes much better than it sounds, especially if the original pasta dish was amde with pesto.

3:34 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

I like the grad student tales.

But I'm confused - can't any and all pasta can be reheated with sauce, butter, oil, pesto, whatever in a frying pan (not necessarily with egg and milk, but that sounds like a good dish to me too). In Italy, pasta is often twice cooked the first time it hits the table, once boiled, and then sauteed. True, you have to get it properly al dente when you boil, but it's worth learning how to time your favorite brands and shapes correctly.

My mom used to call it "fried spaghetti" but it's not and when I got to Italy and was all embarassed about this reheating method they laughed and explained that, no, that's how it is done.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mzn-I think pyewacket is talking about your baked omelet- type frittata thing, where the pasta has the same kind of role as the potatoes in a spanish style tortilla- which is to say, there's not a lot of pasta, as compared to the amount of eggs, and the eggs are, you know, solid. So it's not really fried spagetti.

Am I making myself sufficiently unclear?
If you are still with me, I have made this sort of frittata, and it is good, but, sadly, in the end, it doesn't really use up much of the leftover pasta. Still, you can eat leftovers of the frittata, even, cut in wedges, and it's actually quite good.

But, all in all, not a total solution to the problem of excess pasta.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Little sister here. I'm posting as anonymous because I forgot my Blogger password.

I had to comment because I'm eating spaghetti with tomato sauce purchased at the corner store RIGHT NOW! The (paper) plate is sitting next to me on the couch as I type this. In the past 100 nights, I've probably had this for dinner 75 times. It must run in the family.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

FOr some reason, I don't eat pasta. I'm not even a big noodle fan, although I like noodles more than pasta because they tend to feel "lighter" to me. Not that I eat...um, lightly or anything. :P

Today I made fried rice and I cooked 1/2 cup dry rice, which is probably two servings. I ATE IT ALL. OH GOD. TASTY. RICE. UHGUHGHUSG I LOVE THEE.

Uh...anyway! I don't know what to do with pasta. I never have leftovers though. :|

7:08 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

ah. whoops. i think was i that was sufficiently unclear. i meant to say that my mother called pasta sauteed with oil and sauce in the pan "fried spaghetti." NOT that a pasta frittata (which my mother and i have never eaten) was called "fried spaghetti" . . .

in a related story, the grandma of the family i lived with in italy made an old fashioned dish that was a sweet baked use of cooked pasta. the girls, her granddaughters, told me not to eat it because it was awful, but i wanted to be both adventuresome and polite and i did and they were right.

7:10 PM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

mzn, I *lurve* fried leftover spaghetti. Sometimes, the original spaghetti is just an excuse.

zp, the pasta dessert may have been awful, but it sounds like it might be an idea worth pursuing.

8:39 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Mom still prefers commenting in e-mail:

MOM: I guess you can't make spaghetti brei like we do noodle brei (like matzoh brei* but with soup noodles).

ME: Well I suppose you can try. I'll give it a shot. I think leftover egg noodles are more pliable than leftover hard wheat noodles like spaghetti.

MOM: I think the spaghetti brei wouldn't be as good as noodle brei. Truth be told I think I've tried it.

ME: Now that you mention it, I think I have too.

*Matzoh brei is made of matzo soaked in water, mixed with egg, and fried in a pan. I like mine with salt.

Pyewacket: I've never tried melting cheese on top of a frittata and for that alone, thanks for the comment. But the pasta frittata also sounds like something worth trying.

Lindy: I love leftover frittate (and tortillas). I think they're actually better room temperature and I'm told that in Spain the tortilla is a snack served in bars, typically not served not.

zp: I learned the "Italian" way of cooking pasta from Molto Mario on the Food Network and Mario always tosses the pasta and the sauce, which he pretentiously insists on calling "the condiment," in a hot saute pan. But reheating cold pasta in sauce on purpose? When I do that it tastes yucky. "It's worth learning how to time your favorite brands and shapes correctly" Yes, exactly. I find that the times on the Barilla packages are very reliable and I like their flavor and texture but some snobs insist that there are superior dried pasta brands. It is my intention to remain ignorant of the details.

Robyn: Interestingly, leftover Asian noodles (egg noodles, rice noodles, chap chae noodles, bean threads) aren't gross like leftover spaghetti. I sometimes cook these ahead of time and leave them in a colander until it's time to finish preparing them and I think that's what you're supposed to do. My mom does the same with the soup noodles she mentions (which are thin dried egg noodles).

chocolate lady: if it's a matter of *lurve* than I must give it a try. Any additional details are welcome, e.g., how much butter or oil you use and if there are other additions to the dish.

9:15 PM  
Blogger femme feral said...

the sad billionaire eats more pasta than anyone I've ever known. Somedays, I wonder if I am going to wake up next to a big noodle.

My granma makes fried spaghetti, but I think the only reason I like it when she does it is because of the way the sauce gets sort of sticky and extra tasty.

what about using leftover noodles to make pasta salad?

3:22 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Pasta salad? Not my thing, really, though a good macaroni salad can be nice for a barbecue or picnic. Is there pata salad that calls for spaghetti?

I'm not surprised in the least about my siblings' eating habits. We have always been gluttons for noodles.

9:02 AM  
Blogger femme feral said...

well, I'm a rebel so I'll eat pasta salad out of any old noodle. I like it when the sad billionaire adds these items to cold noodles: red onion, chopped spinach, olives, garlic, pepperocini, red wine vinaigrette, and feta cheese. The non-veggie can add genoa salami.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Little sister again.

I love my brothers SO much.

Remember when Mom used to make pasta salad out of week-old noodles and green olives and canned tuna and Newman's Own salad dressing? It tasted better than it sounds.

6:32 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Could this pasta salad have happened after I went away to school? I have no recollection of it and it sounds...how shall I put it... memorable.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg said...

Back in the Montreal days of my early adulthood (which were your days as well, MZN), we used to make an asian pasta salad with spaghetti (except I think we called it Chinese Spaghetti Salad, because those were the days before ethnospecificity.) It went: Mix in a large bowl 1/4 cup broth, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp parsley (which I omit because I can't stand it, and now looking at the recipe figure you'd probably do better to use cilantro anyway), 1 tsp dry mustard, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, chili oil to taste. Prepare the salad ingredients: 2 cups diced cooked chicken, 1/2 lb. blanched snow peas, 2 red peppers in strips, 2 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds, 2 cucumbers, 3/4 cups chopped scallions - dump all this in the dressing as you go. While cooking 1 lb spaghetti, mix together 1 Tbsp sesame oil, 4 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp vegetable oil. When the pasta's cooked, toss it in this last mixture, then mix in the dressed salad.

11:08 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

OMG it's my dear old (young, actually) friend Lesleigh! I'm honored by your presence in the comments. Now that you're here, maybe my mother will join in the fun.

This sounds like a very worthwhile spaghetti-chicken-Asian-delicious salad. I would eat large amounts of it and I'm quite sure my siblings would too.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MZN, do you know me at all?? My long list of food allergies prevents me from eating anything from east of Greece! Maybe I'll tell your readers about the time you made Pad Nasty.

11:53 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

"My long list of food allergies prevents me from eating anything from east of Greece!" It is true. I am bad.

You may blog on any topic of your choosing. Perhaps the Blogger folks can help you remember your password?

1:43 PM  

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