Let’s explore the benefits of alternative pastas, as well as the history of semolina. This dynamite recipe for Ukrainian Spinach and Noodles often graced my buffet tables in the 1980’s and 90’s, when I was catering historical meals. Being so health conscious now, I have altered it to included important ghee and gluten-free pasta, both of which are optional.
Benefits of Red Lentil Sedanini
Here I employ organic red lentil sedanini from Trader Joe’s, in place of wheat semolina pasta. Based on a serving of 3/4-cup-dry, this alternative pasta is high in both protein-13grams-and fiber-12% of the RDI. These two factors allow the sedanini’s carbohydrates-11% of the RDI -to be absorbed more slowly than that of semolina pasta; thus, it has a different impact on blood sugar. In addition, it is believed that fiber and protein may aid in weight loss, and high fiber also improves digestion. 1
Sedanini is a superb source of iron, with its 15% of the daily requirement. This helps with anemia, especially when eaten with foods rich in vitamin C, to increase the absorption of the non-heme iron found here-this is a plant iron, rather than iron derived from meats. 3
My Ukrainian noodles provide all these health benefits found in red lentil sendanini, plus those of powerful ghee (for information on ghee see balsamic eggs).
Origins of Pasta
There is always the big question: did pasta originate in China or Italy? The popular story is that Marco Polo found it in China, but Reay Tannahill points out in Food in History that what Polo ‘discovered’ has been taken to be something new, when actually he discovered that the Chinese had pasta ‘which are like ours’. 4
Macaroni was its common name in Italy. It is claimed that its use goes back to Etruscan times-the time of this pre-Roman country Estruria in west-central Italy. Therefore, it would pre-date the Chinese noodle by about 500 years. This, however, is speculative, as it is not known if the knitting-needle-shaped objects found in tombs were indeed meant for rolling dough around. It is verified, however, that Apicius (the first century Roman gourmet, who provided the exceptional treatise on cookery of antiquity), had recipes using lasagna in it, which allows us to see that boiled flatbread, as opposed to baked flatbread, was being used at this time. 5
From at least around 1200 A.D. , Indians and Arabs were consuming pasta. Both had names for it meaning ‘thread’: Indians called it sevika, while Arabs used Persian rishta. Italians made a larger noodle and named it spaghetti, derived from spago, or string. It is attested that Italians had stuffed shapes such as ravioli and tortellini by the middle of this century, with parallels elsewhere. Russia had pel’meni, China-won ton, Tibet-momo, and the Jewish kitchen-kreplachs. These stuffed pasta shapes may well have originated in the Near East and then been transmitted in an arc from there. 6
‘Macrows’-Macaroni and Cheese-in the 14th Century
Despite all these varieties, the most common Italian name for pasta seems to have been macaroni, which was flat, rather than the round shape found today. In the English Forme of Cury, circa 1390, there is a receipt for ‘macrows’ (an anglicized plural), with butter and cheese, which is believed to not have been accepted as a very high-class food. 7
As an aside, in its 1859 American receipt for macaroni, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend directs cooks to watch for ever-present insects in the pasta and to hold a shovel full of red-hot coals over the finished product for browning. 8
I tend to make old favorites into new recipes that meet my present needs for health, substituting high quality ingredients for those that were marginal, or even damaging, as found in the original.
It’s quite easy to stock our refrigerators with delicious, power-packed food, when we discover what our particular needs actually are. It takes some concentrated effort at first to discover our body’s unique requirements, then we need strength to put into practice these new steps. When we approach this endeavor with courage and perseverance, we rise above hindrances brought on by old detrimental habits, which is true in both eating and life at large.
In this way we can live more freely in every respect, promoting vibrant bodies, minds, and spirits-all of which we purpose to guard with diligence. Enjoy this delicious dish, which increases vitality and brings immense pleasure.
- https://www.today.com/food/best-healthy-pasta-alternative-might-be-made-lentils-t149072 and https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323529.php
- Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 234.
- Ibid., p. 234.
- Ibid.., pp. 235, 236.
- Ibid., p. 236, 237.
- Facsimile of Mrs. Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend (Boston: Brown, Taggard and Chase, 1859), p.. 176..
Ukranian Spinach with Noodles Yields: 8 entee servings. Total prep time: 30 min (42 min, if making homemade ghee).
2 c (8 oz) dried pasta (I used the alternative, organic, red lentil sedanini from Trader Joe’s)
8 tbsp ghee or butter (I prefer ghee-recipe below-made from grass-fed Kerry butter, which is available most reasonably at our local Winco; Costco also carries this inexpensively-often with great sales.)
1 lg onion, chopped small
24 oz fresh spinach leaves (Packages of organic are available at Trader Joe’s for $2.29/ 6oz.)
1 1/2 c (6 oz) Gruyere cheese, grated (Also available reasonably at Trader’s.)
Salt and pepper to taste (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)
If substituting butter for ghee, go directly to step 6. To prepare health-giving ghee, which takes about 12 minutes, first prep a coffee-filter-lined strainer, over a heat-proof dish, and set aside. Using only a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 8 oz unsalted butter-preferably Irish, grass-fed, Kerry butter from Costco-over medium heat, shaking pan to speed up melting. Note: there is less wastage using only half a pound of butter, compared to doubling recipe with a pound.
When melted, cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo above).
Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, temperature will be about 190 degrees (a thermometer isn’t required); see photo. At this stage you have clarified butter. Note: if foam is starting to brown deeply and quickly, your pan is not heavy enough to make ghee; thus, remove from heat and immediately strain this clarified butter in a coffee-filter-lined strainer.
To proceed with ghee, cook butterfat until second foam rises and it begins to build in pan; the bubbles will be very dense. This will take 2-3 more minutes, and temperature will reach 250 degrees. The foam will rise quite high in pan and there will be a hint of golden color forming at the edge of foam (see photo). Watch carefully as dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.
- Immediately, gently strain butterfat through a coffee filter, into a heat-proof dish. Cool and transfer into an airtight container to keep out moisture. This lasts for many weeks, at room temperature, and up to six months, when stored in the refrigerator.
- In a covered stock pot, over medium heat, bring to a boil: 4 qt water, 1 tbsp oil, and 2 tsp salt.
- Grate cheese and set aside.
- Melt 8 tbsp (4 oz) of ghee, or butter, in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add chopped onion and sweat-cook until translucent.
When onion is cooked, add part of the spinach to pan and cook, adding more spinach as the first becomes limp (see photo). Meanwhile, go to next step.
- When water is boiling, add pasta to pot and cook for 5-6 minutes, until desired tenderness; stir occasionally. Remove from heat and drain.
- Add cooked pasta to pan of onions/spinach; stir gently until heated through.
- Toss with grated cheese; season with salt and pepper to taste. See photo at top of recipe.
- This is an incredible taste treat!