If there is one ingredient that is in all of our kitchen cupboards, it is a dried pasta or noodle of some description. Cheap and almost infinitely versatile, a supper of spaghetti Bolognese or a pasta salad for Sunday lunch is in most of our cooking repertoires.
We chatted to some of South Africa’s best chefs this week to ask about what pasta we might find in their cupboards at home, how they prepare their pasta dishes and if they have any tips for us home cooks. Read on for all the details:
David Higgs, Head Chef of Saint and Marble Restaurants, Johannesburg
“I cook with Barilla dried pasta at home”, admits well known Joburg chef, with a guilty smile. His cooking tips are simple, “Don’t add oil to the pasta, so the sauce sticks to the pasta as it should. However, the best way to eat pasta is plain with really top quality olive oil, salt and Parmesan cheese. Then you can appreciate the quality of the ingredients.”
Katlego Mlambo, Head Chef at The Marabi Club, Johannesburg
“I must say at the moment I have really been enjoying linguine, especially when I’m in the mood for making a dope pasta dish for friends and family. I love the feel and the way it looks.” Katlego confesses with a laugh, “On the other hand, being a bachelor and working crazy hours (15-18 hours a day), after a long day and needing a quick snack before bed, you can’t go wrong with a bowl of instant noodles!”
He tells us his pasta rules: “Just stick to the basics – just make sure that your water is boiling and is seasoned with good salt, and not overcooking or undercooking the pasta. If I’m feeling adventurous I normally cook the pasta in half water and half chicken stock – it gives the whole dish lots of extra flavour!”
Cheyne Morrisby, Chef and Owner of Cheyne’s, SHIO, Lucky Bao and Ding-Dong Bar
Cheyne chatted to us on the phone: “I don’t really eat pasta much, the noodle of my choice is an instant noodle. I buy a bunch from Korea Mart, in Observatory. They stock an incredible range of instant noodles. Cover the noodles with boiling water, let them sit for 2-3 minutes until soft. In my fridge I always have kimchi and wakame (dried seaweed) and I stir some of that through.”
His secret tip: “I also use a bit of Dashinamoto for extra flavouring, which is an instant Japanese soup powder with a salty, fishy flavour. To finish it all off I add a touch of chopped fresh green chilli, its absolutely super delicious and easy to make!”
Kerry Kilpin, Head Chef at Bistro Sixteen82, Cape Town
Kerry admits that life can get hectic for a successful chef, “There is nothing quite like homemade fresh pasta but when there isn’t time to make your own, I pop to Pick n Pay.” Her tips for tasty pasta? “My trick with cooking pasta is to make sure you have enough salt in your water, undercook your pasta, add to your pasta sauce and allow the pasta to finish cooking until al dente in the sauce. This way the pasta absorbs and takes on more of the flavour of the sauce.”
Andre Hill, Head Chef at Upper Bloem Restaurant, Cape Town
Andre’s ultimate comfort food is a bowl of pasta. “The two types of pasta I eat the most are Conchiglie, better known to me as a kid “little snails” and the Fusilli Tricolour both from Woolworths”, he says. “I ate these two a lot as a kid, so it brings back good memories, I guess I liked the idea of pretending I’m eating snails, and what kid doesn’t like things that are colourful?”, he says smiling.
He shares the ultimate 2-minute noodle hacks: “I have to admit though I never been one to shy away from a quick 2-minute noodle and chucking everything I have into it! Spices, Nuts, herbs, Leftovers, only it must take under 5 minutes.”
So when cooking I always add a bit of spice into the water, Masala, Jeera, Dried Dhania or Chilli. Depending on what I’m making I might add a little of the stock tubs (that as a chef, I would never normally admit to using at home!) and at the end, just taking some of the liquid reducing down, adding the same amount of butter and making a quick emulsion to coat the cooked pasta.”
Jess van Dyk, Head Chef at La Colombe Restaurant, Cape Town
Jess admits that pasta is one of her all-time favourite meals. “Growing up my whole family loved it, and my mom makes a damn good lasagna. So obviously its always the first option if I have to cook on my off days.” she tells us. Is there anything better than homemade lasagna?
Which pasta does Chef Jess reach for? “I love the Woolies linguine. I find it’s got the best bite and overall texture. I also like linguine as it goes well with both Italian style or Asian dishes (its a good substitute for a decent egg noodle). But then again, 2-minute noodles are probably the best substitute for a quick stir fry!”
Jess uses the pro method of reserving some of the pasta water: “Before straining the pasta, I save about 500ml of this pasta water which I add to my sauces or pasta dish, as it takes away any starchiness and gives a glossy but not watery finish to the dish.”
Glen Williams, Chef Proprietor of Foxcroft Restaurant
A longtime fan of instant Asian noodles, Glen told us about his go-to noodle, “My favourite brand is Nissin dae ramen, its a basic ramen noodle with killer flavours. I buy one kind with a panda on the wrapper and it is my favourite because they’re thicker noodles and the flavour is “sour veg beef hotpot”. It comes with a little foil packet of pickled/fermented veg – winner!”.
His tip to spicing up instant noodles: “Black vinegar also makes almost any Asian noodle dish better. From soba to ramen, it just packs such a flavour punch.”
RECIPES TO TRY AT HOME:5 Speedy and effortless pasta recipes you need in your life
Additional images by Getty/ Unsplash