Perfect pasta

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Odds are it was one of the first foods you made as a kid and likely one of the first things you cooked on your own when you finally were allowed to use the stove.

Pasta. Celebrated worldwide — in all its glorious shapes and appetizing names, including vermicelli (“little worms”), capellini (“little hairs”) and orecchiette (“small ears”) — Oct. 25 is Worldwide Pasta Day. It was created in 1995 by the World Pasta Congress (apparently there is such a thing) and the occasion will be celebrated Oct. 25-27 in Milan this year.

“The congress consists of a scientific conference attended by experts from around the world made up of several thematic sessions on subjects of pasta interest,” according to the organization’s website.

Sounds like fun, right?

Still, in this day and age of gluten-free and carbohydrate watching, pasta remains a favorite and a household staple. It can be fancy or it can be cheap, versatile and quick, depending on a person’s preference.

“Pasta is such a good food and it is something that really doesn’t deserve the type of publicity it has been getting latgely,” said Diane Welland, a registered dietician for the National Pasta Association. “We need carbohydrates for energy and sustenance.”

Plus, she added pasta serves as a gateway for introducing people to new dishes. Someone may not want to try broccoli and peas, but chances are if you throw some tortellini and Parmigiano-Reggiano in the mix, the odds of someone pushing it away decrease dramatically.

“It’s a great vehicle for introducing new foods to children, or adults, for that matter,” Welland said. “People are more willing to try different foods if pasta is a base or the foundation of a meal. We use it as a vehicle to deliver other nutrients. We pair it with a lot of lean meats or fish and a lot of different vegetables.”

For those with wheat, or gluten — a component of wheat — allergies, choices are improving even in restaurants.

“The best thing for us is they’re finally starting to come up with some high-quality gluten-free products,” said Jim Oppat, Andiamo corporate chef. “As times evolve and change we’re starting to see some options.”

Thirty years ago, Oppat said, he saw around one person a year with a food allergy.

“Now it’s a dozen a day,” he said. “It’s definitely front-and-center and something you have to be aware of.”

Still the demand for traditional fares made with semolina and all-purpose flours is still there. The group still makes all of its own pasta from scratch to the tune of about 700 pounds a day.

“Everything we do is predicated on flavor, first and foremost,” Oppat said. “A good quality pasta has its own natural flavor coming through — light and delicate, but flavorful.”

In Eastern Market in Detroit, the Roma Cafe has been serving up pasta dishes for the last 115 years. It’s the oldest restaurant in the city and continues to earn accolades.

What’s the secret to their success? Owner Janet Sossi Belacoure said it’s all about cooking with love, of course. Love and keeping with many of the 100-year-old recipes.

“When people come into our door, it’s like inviting them into our home,” she said. “We just work real hard at knowing our customers and knowing what they like.”

Green Beans, Carrots, and Gemelli Pasta with Sherry Vinaigrette


This gemelli pasta side dish is an easy and delicious way to make sure everyone eats their vegetables.

3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil

4 cups (1 pound) thinly sliced onions

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus more to taste

4 ounces gemelli, fusilli or other corkscrew-shaped pasta

4 ounces green beans, sliced into 2 inch lengths

1 cup (4 ounces) carrots, julienned

4 teaspoons shredded mint leaves

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and onions. Sprinkle with salt. Once the onions start heating up, turn the heat down to low and cook slowly, turning occasionally, until caramelized (about 20 minutes). Allow pan to cool slightly before adding the sherry vinegar.

While the onions are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gemelli according to package directions, but 4 minutes before it’s done, add the green beans to the pot. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place in a bowl.

Add the onion mixture, carrots and mint leaves. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and additional vinegar, if desired. Makes 4 side-dish servings.

Per serving (per 1 cup): 265 calories; 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 37 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 30 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Lasagna Verde


There is not a more delicious way to get your veggies — and a healthy dose of protein — than with this easy Lasagna Verde recipe.

4 ounces lasagna noodles (about 8 sheets or enough for 2 layers)

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 pounds spinach, well-washed

32 ounces part-skim ricotta

2 eggs

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) garlic, grated or finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 cups (10 ounces) frozen peas

2 cups (8 ounces) asparagus, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano

8 ounces mozzarella, grated, divided

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain, toss with olive oil, and reserve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the spinach in a large pan over medium heat. If spinach is still wet, simply cover pan and wilt. If it’s dry, add 1/4 cup water to the pan, cover, and wilt. Drain spinach. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop it and squeeze out excess liquid.

Place spinach in a large bowl with the ricotta, eggs, garlic, zest, nutmeg, peas, asparagus, Parmigiano and half of the mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place half the noodles along the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan. Top with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat with remaining noodles and ricotta mixture.

Strew remaining mozzarella over the top. Place in the oven and cook until heated through (about 30 minutes). Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 391 calories; 18 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 41 percent calories from fat); 28 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 104 mg cholesterol; 597 mg sodium; 30 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Chicken Penne


Few pairings are more popular than chicken and pasta. Our chicken penne dish combines lots of fresh veggies with chicken and tops it off with an irresistible cream sauce that won’t pack on pounds. What’s not to love?

4 ounces penne rigate

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 cup (4 ounces) roughly chopped, mixed wild mushrooms

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

2 cups (8 ounces) asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces

1/4 (2 ounces) white wine

6 ounces shredded cooked chicken

1/2 cup (4 ounces) lowfat sour cream

1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) shredded basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the penne according to package directions. Drain and reserve.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and sauté the mushrooms until softened and starting to brown (about 5 minutes).

Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the asparagus and white wine.

Cover and cook until the asparagus is crisp-tender (about 2 minutes).

Stir in the chicken, sour cream, and penne. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 258 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 28 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 48 mg cholesterol; 97 mg sodium; 19 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Andiamo Restaurant Pasta Formula

1 pound flour (70 percent semolina flour, 30 percent all-purpose flour)

1 cup eggs

2 tablespoons olive oil

Place flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the eggs and other ingredients into the well and mix smooth.

Knead the dough for five minutes until it takes on a satiny texture.

Run through a pasta machine to achieve desired thickness.

Place through the cutter to produce the correct noodle.

Allow fresh pasta to air dry for 30 minutes or overnight.

Boil in large pot with salted water until al dente.

Note: You may flavor the pasta with vegetable purees and herbs if desired.

Remember, you may have to adjust the flour ratio to absorb excess liquid.

Veal Emincé over Pasta

From Andiamo

16 ounces veal top round, cut into thin threads

Seasoning salt, as needed

Flour, as needed

Vegetable oil, as needed

1/3 ounce shallots

1/2 ounce assorted mushrooms, sliced

1 ounce white wine

1 ounce demi glaze

1/2 ounce heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy

Lemon juice, as needed

Seasoning salt, as needed


12 ounces fresh cut pasta noodles

1/3 teaspoon white truffle oil

8 ounces fresh asparagus

Heat oil in large skillet until a light haze appears.

Season the veal with salt and pepper and lightly dust with flour.

Add the veal to the skillet and sear until golden brown.

Add the shallots and mushrooms to caramelize.

Deglaze with the white wine and brandy, reduce out the alcohol.

Add the demi-glaze and heavy crème, allow to thicken and reduce.

Season with salt and lemon, be careful not to overcook the veal.

Pour over the fresh cooked pasta tossed with truffle oil and cooked asparagus. Yield: 4 portions.

Per serving: 545 calories; 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 30 percent calories from fat); 55 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 156 mg cholesterol; 278 mg sodium; 38 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Pasta Tips from Andiamo

■Use proper size pot to cook pasta, larger is better

■Cook pasta in large quantity of boiling water

■Salt the water liberally

■Never put oil in the cooking water

■Stir the pasta while cooking

■Never rinse pasta

■Sauce pasta immediately