Pâtes, feminine plural noun (les pâtes, des pâtes) = pasta (pronounced paaat, with a long a, like in “aha”, and you don’t pronounce the final s). Remember what I said about a circumflex, little hat, denoting a lost ‘s’? It is the case here.
In the singular, la pâte is pastry. Pasta is always in the plural. Pâtes fraîches = fresh pasta, pâtes italiennes = Italian pasta. Then there are pâtes farcies, such as ravioli. Another word is nouilles = noodles ‘pronounced nooo-y, no s). These are usually smaller, shell shaped (coquillettes), twisted (tortillons), bow tie shaped (papillons). Also Chinese noodles = nouilles chinoises.
If you called someone a nouille, or a nouillette, or a nounouille in French, it is like calling someone a noodle in English, meaning they are silly or simple-minded. It is almost a term of endearment when addressed to a child.
Another expression is une bonne pâte, meaning someone dependable, if rather slow.
Not to be confused with pâté, which is still a paste, but meat, and cooked.
Pasta is a good carbohydrate, one that sticks by you. It is not the pasta which is calorific, but what we put on it: butter, cheese, creamy sauces. My recipe today is vegetarian: des pâtes aux légumes du soleil.
For four people you will need:
- 380gr of dried pasta, or 550gr of fresh pasta, or again 700gr of stuffed pasta (ravioli, tortellini)
- A little olive oil
- 2 small courgettes (zucchini)
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 small onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- A glass of dry white wine
- A bunch of fresh basil (du basilic frais)
- A little butter
- Some freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Begin by making your pasta topping: boil up a kettle, put the tomatoes into a large bowl, pour boiling water over them, stick them in several places with a sharp knife, and after a minute, remove from the boiling water to a chopping board. Skin the tomatoes (monder les tomates). This step is important, don’t leave it out! Cut the tomatoes in half, remove the core and the seeds and cut into chunks about the size of your thumbnail.
- Peel and chop the onions; put into a frying pan to sweat gently in some olive oil.
- Peel and chop the garlic and add to the onion.
- Wash and halve the courgettes lengthwise. Cut off the ends and discard. Cut each half lengthwise again and chunk like the tomatoes. Add to the pan with the onions and the garlic.
- When the courgettes have cooked for 3 minutes (you should be stirring), add the tomatoes and all their juice (but not the seeds). Stir well and season with salt and black pepper.
- After 2 minutes, add the glass or so of white wine (or chicken stock if you do not wish to use wine). Simmer very very gently until the courgette/zucchini is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed. Keep this mixture warm. (You can freeze this in batches for use later.)
- Cook your pasta in the usual way, depending on whether you are using dried or fresh (don’t forget to salt the cooking water).
- Serve on warmed plates, with the vegetables divided between the servings, topped with a knob of butter, grated parmesan cheese, and lots of torn or chopped fresh basil.
A word about Parmesan: it is expensive, I know, but it is useful to keep a well wrapped chunk in your fridge and grate a little each time you do a pasta dish. You can also shave it on top of salads. There is just no comparison between freshly grated good quality parmesan and the stuff sold in little packets. Try it, you’ll see the difference.