Pasta, rice, pulses and grains

Pasta, rice, pulses and grains

Leiths School of Food and Wine
34 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

For centuries, different cultures have combined these staples with local ingredients and flavours to create indigenous dishes. Many of these are simple, everyday meals that nourish and sustain, but some have evolved into more refined recipes. A great many have made their mark on other national cuisines and, thanks to the ever wider availability of ingredients, have become popular across the world. Some of the recipes in this chapter, like most of the noodle dishes, are quick and easy accompaniments, while others, including the pasta recipes, are a meal in themselves.


There are endless different shapes and sizes of pasta, and all act as an excellent vehicle for sauces and stuffings, from a simple spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and chilli to a complex ravioli.

The recipes in this section specify a pasta shape for a particular sauce or filling. Generally, a shape with tubes, grooves or hollows, such as conchiglie or penne, works best with chunkier sauces, as the sauce gets into the spaces in the pasta, whereas long shapes, such as spaghetti or tagliatelle, work best with smoother sauces or flavoured oils that lightly coat the pasta. Keep this in mind but feel free to vary the pasta shape as you like.

Dried pasta has a firmer texture than fresh, which suits many dishes. It is also of course more convenient, and the ideal option for a quick pasta supper. Making your own pasta, however, is fun and very satisfying, and mastering the basic skills will give you the freedom to create your own flavours and fillings.

The recipes in this section can be made with either fresh or dried, unless a specific shape is required, in which case dried is indicated. As a general rule for substituting dried pasta for fresh, you need to reduce the weight by one-third.

Rolling and cutting pasta dough

Pasta can be rolled by hand, or with a pasta rolling machine for speed and ease. When rolling out the dough, roll only a small piece at a time as it dries out quickly and develops a ‘skin’. Keep the remaining dough well wrapped in cling film as you work on each piece to prevent it from drying out. Pasta should be rolled extremely thinly; it increases in volume considerably when it cooks, so if it is not rolled thinly enough it can become unpleasantly thick and tough to eat.

Rolling by machine

Attach your pasta machine securely to a work surface. Roll out the dough a little by hand first to make it easier to roll through the machine without putting too much strain on the rollers. Begin with the widest setting and pass the dough through the rollers 3 or 4 times, folding the dough after each pass, and passing the open ends through the rollers first. Try to ensure the pasta is shaped into lengths as wide as the machine. Now move the gauge to a narrower setting and pass the pasta through, narrowest end first. Repeat this process, narrowing the setting by one notch each time until the second thinnest or thinnest setting is reached.

Rolling by hand

Using a rolling pin, or a pasta rolling pin which is tapered at both ends, roll out the dough as thinly as possible. The work surface can help to anchor the dough, enabling you to stretch it out more, so avoid flouring it. The longer you have rested the dough the easier it will be to roll out, as the gluten will have relaxed and the elasticity will be reduced. Try to roll the dough until it is paper thin.

Cutting by machine

Pasta machines normally come with a set of cutters to cut either linguine or tagliatelle. After rolling pasta into long lasagne sheets, attach the cutters and feed the pasta through the cutters to cut to the required width: 2–3 mm for linguine, 5–6 mm for tagliatelle. Unravel each piece of pasta and place over a rack or frame to allow the pasta to dry a little and lose its tackiness, becoming leathery on the outside but staying supple and flexible. This will take about 10 minutes. Leaving the pasta to dry for too long will dry it out completely and it will become brittle and break.

Alternatively, the pasta can be shaped into nests after cutting and placed to dry on a tray lightly dusted with flour or semolina.

Cutting by hand

Very lightly flour the rolled out pasta to prevent it from sticking together, then fold each end towards the middle and keep folding until the pasta is a more manageable size. Trim the ends, then cut the pasta across the folds into the required width; 5–6 mm for tagliatelle or fettuccine, 1.5–2 cm for pappardelle. For a more rustic look, you can tear rather than cut the pasta. Dry the pasta in the same way as for cutting by machine.

Cooking pasta

Pasta should go into rapidly boiling water, or it will stick together. Add plenty of salt to the boiling water before you add the pasta; there is no need to add oil. Give the pasta a couple of quick stirs as it cooks, to prevent sticking, then leave it to cook, uncovered, at a fairly rapid boil. To test for doneness, taste a piece; it should be al dente, which means tender but still with a little resistance, or bite (literally ‘to the tooth’). Drain in a colander.

Assembling ravioli

This technique is the same whether you are using a raw or a cooked filling, but if using a filling that requires cooking, avoid being too generous with the filling or the pasta will be overcooked by the time the filling is cooked. Allow the shaped ravioli to dry a little on a lightly floured/semolina sprinkled tray before cooking.

1. Lay a rolled piece of pasta on the work surface. Spoon the filling at intervals along the length, leaving enough pasta around the filling to seal the top layer of pasta. Brush a little water around each spoonful of filling, then carefully lay a second rolled piece of pasta on top.

2. Starting from the middle of the pasta, use the side of your forefingers to seal and shape the ravioli, before moving on to the next little mound of filling. Try to ensure that no air bubbles are left around the filling, within each ravioli.

3. Once all the ravioli are sealed, cut them with a cutter for a clean finish. Using your fingertips, press out the pasta border around the filling to thin it out a little so the pasta cooks evenly; it may be necessary to re-cut the ravioli after this.

Assembling tortelloni

These classic ring-shaped filled pasta are easy to make. Allow the shaped tortelloni to dry a little on a lightly floured/semolina sprinkled tray before cooking.

1. Cut 5–7 cm diameter circles from the sheets of pasta. Spoon a little filling into the centre of each circle.

2. Lightly brush the edge of the pasta with water and fold the circle of pasta into a half-moon shape, enclosing the filling.

3. Fold the ‘open’ edges away from you, bring them together and seal the ends between your fingers.

Note: You can make tortelloni squares rather than circles, folding each square in half diagonally to create a triangle.


A staple food in the Far East, noodles are made from various grains, including wheat, buckwheat and rice. They are most often found in dried form, but some can be bought fresh from Asian supermarkets, or already cooked and vacuum packed.

Wheat-based noodles include pasta, Chinese egg noodles (yellow in colour due to the egg and cooked until slightly chewy in texture) and Japanese udon, a white noodle that contains no egg and is characterised by its thick appearance and soft, chewy texture.

The most common buckwheat noodles are soba noodles. These have a wholesome, nutty flavour, and are delicious eaten cold in salads, or hot in soups and stir-fries. Those made purely from buckwheat are a good option for anyone following a wheat- or gluten-free diet.

Wheat and buckwheat noodles are cooked in water or a broth, then drained and a little oil applied to prevent them from sticking together. Fresh noodles will take about 2–3 minutes to cook, depending on thickness. Dried noodles need longer, often up to 10 minutes.

Rice noodles are generally flat and come either very thin or thick. They are much more delicate than wheat-based noodles, as they lack gluten. Thick noodles for a salad can be boiled quickly for 2–3 minutes, but no longer or they will turn to mush; more often than not you just need to cover them with warm to hot water and leave them to soak and soften, for up to 30 minutes. Add a little oil after draining, to prevent them from sticking together. Rice vermicelli noodles are particularly delicate and only require a brief soaking in warm water to soften, or they can be added dry at the last minute to a dish such as a Vietnamese pho.

While noodles dressed simply with a flavoured oil or soy sauce work well as an accompaniment, the addition of a few fresh ingredients can transform them into interesting and complex dishes to serve alone or alongside others. Substitute seasonally available vegetables to make changes to the suggestions given in these recipes and add meat, poultry or fish to make them into more substantial dishes.


Rice is categorised into two types, long grain and short grain. It is highly nutritious and an excellent food to include in a healthy diet.

Long-grain rice includes basmati, which has an aromatic fragrance and is considered to be the prince of rices. The grains are slender and longer than other long-grain rices and retain a delicate, separate fluffiness when cooked. Long-grain Thai rices also have a fragrant aroma and are slightly sticky and glutinous. Long-grain rice is a good accompaniment to stews, curries, pilafs and salads.

Short-grain rice, as the name implies, has short and more rounded grains that absorb much more liquid than long-grain; risotto rice, for instance, can absorb up to five times its volume. Risotto (Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano) and paella (Calasparra) rices impart a creamy texture while retaining a little bite. Pudding rices lend a similar creaminess, but can break down completely, contributing little in the way of texture. Sticky rices from Asia are also included in this category.

Brown rice is so called because it still has the brown bran layer intact, making it more nutritious than white and giving it a wonderful nutty flavour and chewy texture. Other rices include wild rice (botanically a grass), red Camargue and glutinous black rice, all of which share varying degrees of the nuttiness of brown rice. These rices generally take much longer to cook but provide wonderful colour and texture in dishes.

‘Easy cook’ rice is widely available. This has been parboiled to ensure the grains remain separate on cooking, but it doesn’t necessarily cook more quickly and the flavour and texture are generally inferior.

Particular care must be taken when reheating rice as it can be a source of food poisoning. It must be thoroughly heated throughout, but it is preferable to avoid the need for reheating rice.

Rinsing and soaking

Long-grain rice should be rinsed in cold water to remove any dust or particles, as well as excess starch. Place it in a bowl and cover with water. Give it a few swirls with your hand. The rice will sink to the bottom of the bowl, and you can easily then pour away the water, which will have become a milky colour. Repeat this process 2 or 3 times until the water becomes clearer.

Soaking rice can help to reduce the cooking time. Rinse the rice as above and after the third rinse leave the rice soaking in the water for 10–15 minutes, before draining well and cooking.

Short-grain rice should only be rinsed if really necessary to clean it. The excess starch helps to create the desired creamy texture in risottos etc.


Dried beans, lentils and dried split peas are excellent storecupboard ingredients. They can be used in place of potatoes or rice, or as additions to stews and salads, and often as a dish in their own right. With a large variety of textures, colours and flavours to choose from, they offer endless potential for creativity.

Dried beans need to be soaked for up to 24 hours to allow them to soften sufficiently. Lentils can require soaking for up to 24 hours, but some, such as Puy lentils, benefit from only 20–30 minutes soaking and can even be cooked with no soaking at all.

Particular care must be taken when cooking certain dried soaked beans, notably kidney beans, which have a toxin in their skins that needs to be removed by correct soaking and cooking. After soaking, these beans must be brought to the boil, the water discarded and replaced with fresh water, then boiled steadily for 10 minutes before lowering the temperature to a simmer.

Tinned cooked beans can be softer than soaked and cooked beans and tend to break up easily, making them ideal for a purée. They should be rinsed under cold water before use.

Bulghar wheat, couscous and other grains

These nutritious storecupboard ingredients are excellent flavoured with herbs, spices and other strongly flavoured ingredients. They can be served warm as accompaniments, or cold as salads.

Bulghar wheat (also known as cracked wheat) is a manufactured wheat product from the Middle East. Usually made from durum wheat, it is par-boiled, dried and cracked into a coarse grain to shorten the cooking time. Various sizes of grain are available. Bulghar holds its bite well after cooking and has a nutty flavour and chewy texture.

Couscous is made from durum wheat semolina and was traditionally hand rolled and sieved to create the tiny individual grains. Nowadays the production is mechanised and much of the couscous sold is pre-steamed and requires only a short soak in boiling water, or stock or other flavoured liquid. Giant or jumbo couscous, also called mograbiah, is available in Middle Eastern shops and selected supermarkets.

Quinoa, native to South America, is cooked like a grain although it is technically a seed. It is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians. When cooking, check to see that the grains have turned translucent, with only a small white fleck in the centre.

Polenta is made from dried ground yellow or white maize, or corn. A staple of northern Italy and central and southern Africa, it is also found across the rest of Europe and in North and South America. It is cooked with water to a smoothish paste and takes a long time to yield a soft, tender consistency. A quick polenta is also now available, but is generally considered inferior. Polenta can be eaten soft or it can be cooled to firm it up, then cut and fried or griddled. It can also be flavoured with a variety of ingredients.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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