Pasta as Snack Food

By Francine Segan

While I was researching my book Pasta Modern, I traveled all over Italy on the lookout for new things to do with pasta. In the last few years, there’s a trend in Italy to pasta as finger food or tapas-style dishes to be enjoyed alongside a glass of sparkling wine.

Rethink crunchy snacks!  

Pasta as Snack Food, the three tomatoesThere’s a new Italian twist on the pretzel . So simple to make, you don’t need a recipe. Boil spagettone, or other long thick pasta, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake.  In eight minutes, out come adorable instant “pretzels”.

Pasta “pretzels” can be served plain or jazzed up with dry spices like ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika. You can also use short pastas like penne or ziti, though the short pasta is best deep-fried rather than baked.

Pasta as Snack FoodAnother great finger food is “pasta crackers” (recipe below), crisp on the edges and soft in the center, they are Italy’s modern answer to puff pastry cups.  You can eat them plain as a one-bite nibble or filled.  Top with anything you’d use on a cracker: Grana Padano DOP cheese; San Daniele DOP prosciutto or dollop of pesto….limitless possibilities.

Pasta as Snack FoodSimilar are macaroni fritters, hand-held fried pasta balls popular as street food in southern Italy since the 18th century.  These little morsels of seasoned pasta, dipped in batter and fried, are a great way to turn leftover pasta into a cocktail hour nibble.  These fritters, crispy outside, creamy and cheesy inside, make a great snack, as they can be assembled in advance and fried as needed.

Pasta as snack food, pasta sushi, the three tomatoesItalian-Japanese fusion is found in “pasta sushi”.  By substituting boiled pasta shells for the white rice, you can create Italian flavored, one-bite appetizers.  Fill the shells with any sort of seafood, cooked or raw paired with Italian seasonings. Try canned tuna with capers; oysters with lemon and olive oil; poached lobster with sun-dried tomatoes; shrimp with spicy tomato sauce…anything goes.

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Pasta Cups                                                                           

From: Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)

Makes 24 pieces

Little nests of angel hair strands, baked to form perfect one-bite nibbles.  Though excellent plain, there are endless ways to fill these chewy, crunchy morsels: with prosciutto, cheese, pesto, tomatoes, caponata, garlicky broccoli rabe….—a great way to creatively use up leftovers.

Olive oil

2 eggs

3 tablespoons grated Grana Padano DOP or other aged cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta

Salt

Optional: San Daniele DOP prosciutto, pesto, tomatoes, cheese, etc

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil 24 mini muffin cups (or use disposable mini cups and set them on a baking pan).

Combine the egg, grated cheese and butter in a bowl. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and toss with the ingedients in the bowl until well combined and almost all absorbed.  Using a fork, twirl a few strands into a nest shape and put into a prepared muffin cup. Repeat. Drizzle any remaining egg mixture on top of the nests.

At this point you can either put an ingredient the center of the nest, or bake them plain and top them with something yummy afterwards. Bake for about 12 minutes or until set.

 

Macaroni Fritters

Courtesy: Lydia Capasso

Makes about one dozen 2-inch fritters

3 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk, warmed

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper

1 pound cauliflower florets

1/3 cup grated Grana Padano DOP cheese

3 ounces sharp provolone cheese, chopped

1/2 pound long thick pasta like Felicetti spaghettone

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

Make a béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and then off the heat, using a fork stir in 2 tablespoons of the flour until smooth.  Return to the heat and cook for a minute until golden, then slowly add the milk, stirring a few minutes until thick. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and white pepper.

Boil the cauliflower in a pot of salted water until very soft, about 10 minutes, and remove to a food processor with a slotted spoon. Puree the cauliflower with the béchamel and cheeses until it resembles cooked oatmeal. Place the mixture in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, break the pasta in half and cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes less than package directions. Drain and stir into the cauliflower mixture.

Lightly butter an 8-inch round high-sided pan and spread with the pasta mixture, packing it down firmly. The mixture should be about 2 1/2 inches high. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons flour with 4 tablespoons of water in a bowl to form a smooth slurry. Spread the breadcrumbs onto a plate. Using a 2-inch cookie-cutter, cut out rounds from the cold pasta. Gather up any odd bits of pasta and form into another round; you’ll get about 12 rounds.

Dip each round into the flour-water mixture, then into the breadcrumbs, coating all sides.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet over high heat. Add the rounds and fry until dark golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel lined plate. Serve at room temperature.

 

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