If you've ever doubted that the Chinese invented pasta, consider rotini and its strange-and-twisty pasta cousins: fusilli, cellentani, cavatelli, gemelli, spiralini, trofiette, campanelle, cavatappi.
Yes, they all have Italian names. But why go to all the trouble of twisting pasta if not to make it easier for chopsticks to grab?
I can't prove it, but I'm sure that's how twisted pasta got its start. Trust me on this. I'm not Chinese, but I eat a lot of non-Asian things, like salad and jambalaya and pasta, with chopsticks.
Rotini is a tightly twisted spiral shape, ideal for trapping sauces in its curves. The shape is not particular to any one type of flour; you'll find it in every major brand (Barilla, DeCecco, Prince), in your supermarket. I'm hooked on Dreamfields rotini and its low effective carbs. For some of the other strange and twisty shapes, you'll need to look in a specialty grocer or Italian market.
Store pasta in a cool, dry, well-ventilated part of the pantry. I keep a large glass jar for leftovers. Whenever I have bits left from a box, I toss them into the jar, and I use the mixed pasta for soup.
Sauces for the strange-and-twisty pastas definitely do not have to be Italian; Ted and I love rotini with Asian spicy meat sauce, but we'd also be happy with salmon rotini with roasted garlic and lemon, rotini all'arrabbiata, pesto pasta salad, rotini with shrimp, and mushroom and gorgonzola rotini.
All eaten with chopsticks, of course.
Slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese
If you made slow-roasted tomatoes last summer, use them here. If not, good quality oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes work very well. In summer, substitute fresh basil for half of the parsley. This is a superb vegetarian main dish. Serves 6-8.
13.25 oz rotini (I use Dreamfields low-carb), or other strange-and-twisty pasta
2/3 lb feta, crumbled, divided
3/4 cup panko (or plain dry bread crumbs)
5 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided (or a mix of parsley and fresh basil leaves)
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
4 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 lb Danish fontina, grated (or chopped in a food processor)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
8-10 slow roasted tomato halves, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp fresh black pepper
Bring a large stockpot of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Cook for 8 minutes; the pasta should be a bit underdone. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the feta, all of the panko and 2 Tbsp parsley. Mix well and set aside.
Make the sauce: In a small sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and stir until the flour is absorbed by the butter to form a paste. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the milk, and, with a wire whisk, stir vigorously to remove any lumps. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with the whisk, for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove pot from heat, and whisk into the sauce the fontina, the remaining feta and red pepper flakes. Whisk until the sauce is smooth; the fontina will melt completely, and the feta will be well incorporated. Stir in the diced tomatoes, slow roasted tomatoes, and remaining parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce on top of the pasta, and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture into a casserole dish (approximately 9x13 inches). Sprinkle the panko mixture on top. Place in the middle of the oven and bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling a bit along the edges. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, and serve hot.
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