Pasta seems to find its way into almost every cookbook. And why not? It is a very versatile food. There is not much that can’t be done with pasta.
My understanding of pasta was reshaped after spending two years cooking in Italy, and my Italian friends would probably cringe at the recipes I am about to discuss. However this is an excellent example of how an ingredient transforms when it is put into another context.
My grandmother, who immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s from Estonia used to make “makaronid” for us. This food took a different shape every time she made it: baked, boiled and tossed with butter, or in a soup. In every form it took, the pasta was always overcooked. But I suppose that this was better than nothing because according to my mother, she never ate pasta. My grandmother had refused to cook it.
J. Lindpere’s Makaronitoidud (Macaroni Foods) was published in 1970. This book follows the same principle, anything can be done with macaroni, even dessert. The introduction to the cookbook discusses the history of pasta and its growing popularity as part of a meal. Lindpere warns however, that pasta should always be eaten alongside something, or tossed with a sauce that ensures proper consumption of a well-balanced meal.
Now the cooking instructions: Pasta can be boiled in large or small quantities of liquid, in either water, stock or milk for 12-15 minutes. If you are cooking pasta in a small amount of liquid, it is then possible to let the pasta absorb all of the liquid and this can take up to 40 minutes. But let’s go back to cooking pasta in milk. I quickly looked this up on a number of recipe websites and forums. There were suggestions for cooking pasta in condensed milk, or cooking pasta in milk and then adding cheese for a simple macaroni and cheese. Why not?
The recipes consist of pasta salads, different mayonnaise-based cold sauces, hot sauces, soups, recommended lunch dishes, baked dishes and desserts. The following are recipes that I believe are rather interesting:
Milaano Salat (Milan Salad):
100g macaroni, cooked in salted water
100g sour apples (apples soaked in vinegar, salt and sugar)
1 tbs tomato paste
50g sour cream
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs chopped parsley
This recipe raises a few questions, like why is this considered Milanese? I quickly looked up Milan salad, insalata milanese, etc. to see if this was in fact a Milanese specialty. As near as I can tell, it’s not. Then, why did the author choose this title? Why not call it Roman salad, or English salad?
The next recipe is from the desserts section of the book:
Makaroni-porgandivorm (Carrot and Macaroni Bake)
150g macaroni, cooked in salted water
400g carrots, parboiled and puréed
2-3 tbs sugar
A pinch of grated nutmeg or orange peel
With this recipe the instructions ask that you mix all of the ingredients with the carrots and then toss with the pasta. The pan is then greased and floured. The dish is baked for 30 minutes (temperature not specified). It is suggested that you serve this dish with a red juice sauce. The recipe for this sauce was not included in the book.
Pasta in an Estonian context certainly takes on a different form but as with any new food, you have to find a way to make it yours.