Food by Lance Seeto: Pasta and noodle heaven

In China, the art of noodle making is thousands of years old. Picture: LANCE SEETO

The nationwide COVID lockdown has forced many to learn how to cook at home to save food bills and to discover new ways to stretch the household budget with nutritious and filling foods.

One of the most fascinating things to have happened since our country has been locked down, is the evolution of the family meal. Throughout March, April and May, when most of us were stuck at home fearing to venture outside, many families were scouring YouTube videos to learn how to make breads, cakes, desserts and foods that were cheap to feed the entire household. Forced to look for new tasty recipes to keep the family from getting bored, I have heard many stories of children driving their parents crazy to cook something different. When we were stuck at home, was your household filled with moans of “Not again” or “Can we have something else for dinner tonight?”.

A lack of time was no longer an excuse not learn new recipes or become a proficient home gardener during the nationwide curfew – COVID-19 had suddenly given everyone a reason to learn how to cook something different. It was common to see Facebook users proclaim they had baked their first loaf of bread, or learnt to make Chinese dumplings, donuts and chutney. But one of the unexpected discoveries, or re-discoveries, for the Fijian family was pasta and noodles – cheap carbohydrates that require just an accompanying sauce or soup to transform into a meal.

Pasta, noodles and dumplings are also one of my greatest food weaknesses. Whether it’s a bowl of hot Asian soup noodles with wontons, chow mein noodles, a pan-tossed Italian ravioli, gnocchi or spaghetti dish with virgin olive oil, butter and garlic – they are all hard for me to resist. My heritage has obviously had an enormous influence, as noodles and dumplings are considered symbolic foods that represent long life (because noodles are long in shape) and prosperity (dumplings look like the ancient gold ingots) in Chinese culture. They are as much a part of a Chinese birthday celebration as a birthday cake with lit candles. But my love of Italian pasta dishes is a much more of a romantic one that has stuck with me into adulthood. As a young boy I vividly remember an Italian family – and their beautiful daughter – who lived down the street. The smells that used to waft from their home have been forever imprinted into my brain and the slightest smell of a pot of passata – ripened garden tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and onions – always takes me back to that time and my first Italian romance!

 

Who invented pasta first

– the Chinese or Italians?

Pasta is one of the world’s most affordable foods and can come in the form of long (spaghetti, fettucine, angel hair), short (penne, macaroni, rigatoni) and dumplings (ravioli, gnocchi, tortellini). Nearly every country has its own unique version of this popular, inexpensive staple. In Germany and Hungary they have spaetzle. In Greeze, orzo. In Poland, they enjoy pocket-like pierogi.

Every Asian country has a different pasta dish including the Chinese la mian, lo mien, jiaozi dumplings; and Japanese ramen and gyoza dumplings. And in America, pasta is prepared and served similarly to the way it is found in Italy– with the exception of the all-American spaghetti and meatballs, and macaroni and cheese. While pasta is traditionally an Italian food, the 2005 archeological discovery of a 4000 year-old bowl of noodles in China has finally put an age-old argument to rest; it was the Chinese!

 

Fijian pasta dishes

Since we opened KANU in Martintar, two new pasta dishes have evolved using local flavours that have become instant hits. One is the breadfruit gnocchi, the other is a palusami linguini. Gnocchi is a starchy dumpling traditionally made with potato but has been adapted in Fiji to use with kumala, dalo, cassava, vudi and breadfruit.

Gnocchi is best tossed either butter or virgin coconut oil with garlic, herbs, tomatoes along with your favorite meat, seafood or vegetables. The palusami linguini was a surprise dish that when paired with grilled fish or pork, combines the best of Pacific Island flavours. The next time you have lovo-cooked palusami leftover, save some to pan toss with your favourite pasta or noodles, leafy green vegetables, nuts and more fresh coconut milk. It is a wonderful way to enjoy a filling meal of noodles with the familiar flavours of rourou and coconut.

For the same reasons that the ancient Chinese and Italians introduced noodles and pasta dishes to their people, they should also be a part of Fijian cuisine. Pasta dishes are cheap, easy to store, very filling and fast to make. Our abundant fresh produce including tomatoes, local mushrooms and coconut milk, and combined with the sauce recipes of curries, lolo and chop suey make for an interesting combination of European cuisine with local ingredients and flavours.

 

n Lance Seeto is the owner and chef of KANU Restaurant, and host of FBC-TV’s Exotic Delights.

 

 

Tuna & lemon pasta

Fijians love of tinned tuna, sweet chilli sauce, lemon and evaporated milk gives this pasta dish all the hallmarks of flavours that appeal to the Fijian palate.

Serves: 4

 

Difficulty: Easy

1 packet of dried pasta of choice

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 onion, chopped fine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon Rewa butter

3 medium fresh tomato or cherry tomatoes

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 cup Carnation evaporated milk

2 can tuna in springwater (avoid tuna in vege oil), drained

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce

2-3 fresh chillies, chopped fine

salt and pepper for seasoning

 

  1. 1.     Cook pasta as per packet directions in salted water, drain and set aside (add a little olive to the drained pasta to prevent it sticking)
  2. In a frypan, heat the olive oil and butter, fry the garlic and onion for 2-3 minutes
  3. Add the drained tuna and tomatoes, fry for a further 1-2 minutes
  4. Add the Carnation milk, lemon juice and sweet chilli sauce, combine well
  5. Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper, check for seasoning.
  6. Garnish with fresh chilli, lemon juice, zest and coriander leaves
  7. Serve with a garden salad

 

Asian garlic sesame noodles

This recipe will appeal with its aromatic Asian flavours accentuated with butter which is equally delicious on its own or served on the side with any style of fresh seafood like crabs, prawns or lobster

Serves: 4

 

1 packet angel hair or fine spaghetti

4 cloves minced garlic

1/2 bunch green spring onions

4 tablespoons Rewa butter

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon Chinese sesame oil

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

toasted sesame seeds for garnish

 

  1.     Cook pasta as per packet directions in salted water, drain and set aside (add a little olive to the drained pasta to prevent it sticking)
  2.     While the pasta cooks, mince the garlic and chop the green onions. Melt the butter in a large frypan or wok over medium heat. Once the butter is melted and bubbly, add the garlic and onions and saute until they are soft but not browned.
  3.     While the pasta, garlic and onions are cooking, mix the oyster sauce, brown sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil together in a bowl.
  4.     Once the pasta is done cooking, drain it in a strainer. Remove the frypan with the sauteed garlic and green onions from the heat. Add the drained pasta and oyster sauce mixture to the pan and stir well to coat the pasta. If your pasta is stiff or sticky making it hard to stir, mix in a small amount (1/4 cup or less) of hot water to loosen them up.
  5.     Garnish with sesame seeds

 

Masala chicken & fresh coconut pasta

This recipe combines our love of curry chicken and fresh coconut into a dish that’s filling and less messy to eat

Serves: 4

 

1 packet short pasta (macaroni or penne)

500 grams chicken thigh fillets, skin removed and diced

2-3 fresh chillies, chopped fine

1 teaspoon masala powder

1 green ‘bu’ coconut, flesh removed and sliced

1/3 cup coconut ‘bu’ water

1/3 cup coconut milk

1/2 bunch coriander leaves

Salt – to taste

 

To toast and grind

2 teaspoon virgin olive or coconut oil

1 tablespoon coriander seeds (dhaniya)

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 whole red chillies

4 cloves fresh garlic

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 tablespoons fresh grated coconut

Tempered spices

½ tablespoon virgin olive or coconut oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (sarso)

3-4 sprigs of fresh curry leaves

 

  1.     Cook pasta as per packet directions. Drain and set aside
  2.     In a frypan with oil, toast the coriander, peppercorns, chilli and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan and grind in a blender or mortar and pestle.
  3.     Return to the fry pan, add fresh coconut and tomato and fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  4.     In same frypan, temper the mustard seeds and curry leaves in oil until the seeds begin to splutter.
  5.     Then add chicken pieces and saute until browned, then add the coconut tomato paste along with chilli and masala and fry for a further 3-4 minutes
  6.     Then add 1/3 cup of coconut water and coconut milk and simmer covered till the chicken pieces becomes soft. Then let it boil till the sauce becomes slightly thick.
  7.     Now add cooked pasta and toss well over heat for a final 1 min
  8.             Garnish with coriander leaves and shredded green coconut

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