Life Style

It’s not just pasta

Chef Ebru Omurcali, who has been researching Turkish and world cuisine for 20 years now, has written a book titled “Makarnanın Kitabı,” or “The Book of Pasta.”

Omurcalı, who reinterprets traditional recipes, is bringing some incredible new tastes to pasta fans. When we visited this expert cook’s kitchen, she showed us her skim milk walnut noodles, a dish definitely worth trying.

Omurcalı has worked for years now on cookbooks with various themes, while running the Shorba restaurant. To prepare for her book “Makarnanın Kitabı,” she traveled the country from Edirne to Van and many places in between, doing research on the different ways women in all these places cook pasta and taking notes on sauces and various ways pasta is presented.

Recognizing that Turkey’s younger generation is particularly enamored with pasta, Omurcali decided to record some traditional recipes that might otherwise have been forgotten, and to present new and different sauces to help chefs in kitchens everywhere prepare more — and more interesting — pasta plates. Though Turks tend to like pasta, their taste for sauces doesn’t go much further than cheese, ground beef and tomato sauce. In contrast, some of the recipes in this new cookbook are enough to make you ask: “Can that really go on pasta?”

You’ll find stuffed pasta, anchovy pilaf, rice pudding with noodles, aşure and so much more.

Though there are certainly many new interpretations of pasta preparation and presentation in this book, you won’t get the sense that it’s trying to throw everything at pasta to see what sticks. In fact, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into perfecting these recipes. In fact, of the thousands of recipes the writer compiled, only a small part made it into the cookbook.

For example, there is the regional dish soğan aşı, made with onions and baked in an oven alongside pasta. Omurcalı writes of how the aroma of baked onions gives the pasta dish a whole new taste. Another example is acuka, a traditional hot pepper paste found in certain regions of Turkey. While acuka is generally eaten at breakfast, it is used in this cookbook as a sauce for pasta, along with walnuts.

Perhaps most surprising are the recipes for mantı made with rice. Don’t even bother wondering how one dish can have both pasta and rice. Omurcalı points out that in fact, in Anatolian cuisine, you can find recipes that use more than one grain at a time. One of the most interesting recipes in the book, no doubt, is for couscous; another is for pilaf with anchovies and noodles. Using couscous rather than rice as a stuffing is a very original idea. And if you think about how couscous cooks much faster than rice, it’s not a bad one.

There are also lots of interesting soup recipes in this book for those who are wondering what to prepare for Ramadan. These soups are made with noodles, so they are both filling and nutritious.

“If you are someone who asks ‘Why isn’t my pasta delicious?’”

Make sure your pasta pot is wide and deep.

After the water has boiled for a while, add salt, but make sure the salt completely dissolves into the water.

Do not add oil to the pasta water; it coats the surface of the pasta, making it harder for sauces to stick. The amount of time you need to cook the pasta depends entirely on what kind of pasta you’re cooking. If you are aiming for al dente (slightly harder pasta), somewhere between seven to eight minutes should be enough.

You should strain pasta immediately after it’s finished cooking; otherwise, it will continue to cook in the pot, thus losing its texture.

Don’t rinse cooked pasta with cold water as this will make it lose its taste and again make it harder for sauce to stick.

Make sure your sauce is ready at the same time your pasta is; sometimes, you can mix for a few minutes in the saucepan.

You can use the pasta water for soup or sauces as well.

When you find the right sauce for your pasta, you can achieve very delicious results. For example, flat noodles go very well with heavier yogurt, egg and cream sauces. Long, round pastas go well with tomato and tomato-paste based sauces. Spiral pastas are great with runnier vegetable sauces.

Celery cheese noodles (serves 6)

1 package noodles

3 celery roots

2 onions

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons thyme

1 cup grated cheese

1 tablespoon dried mint

1 cup walnut

3 tablespoons mint

Boil the noodles in 5 liters of water for 10 minutes. Sauté the onion in butter for 10 minutes. Add chopped celery and garlic to the mixture and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of chicken bullion to the pan and cook over a low flame until the celery has softened. Add the spices. Mix the sauce over boiled, strained pasta. Serve with walnuts and cheese sprinkled on top.

Pasta with acuka (serves 6)

1 package spaghetti

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons pepper paste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup crushed walnuts

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons cumin

1 teaspoon red pepper

1 tablespoon basil

5 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt

Mix the tomato paste and olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and spices and then sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the walnut and lemon juice. Take one glass of water from the boiled pasta water and add it to the acuka. Pour over boiled pasta and serve.

Pudding with noodles (serves 6)

4 cups milk

6 tablespoons flour

6 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons butter

1 package vanilla powder

For the noodles:

2 cups thin vermicelli noodles

4 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons oil

1 cup crushed walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix the vermicelli in the butter and oil mixture until it browns. Add the walnut and cinnamon to the mixture. In a separate pan, mix milk, sugar, flour and vanilla until it thickens. Add the butter to this, and stir with a hand mixer for 10 minutes. Spread out half of the vermicelli noodles in a glass pan, and pour the flour-pudding mixture over them. Sprinkle the other half of the vermicelli over this. Chill in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours, then serve. Note: You can make the vermicelli noodles softer by first boiling and then roasting them. 

Chef and author Ebru Omurcalı 

Nurdan ARSLAN
Email: 
nurdan@thelondonpost.co.uk

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