I am sure some of you are at least a bit confused by this post title. Why on earth am I writing about dry pasta shapes? What could possibly be French or English about pasta? After all, it’s been a long time since English people believed spaghetti grows on trees, and pasta dry and fresh is a staple dish in most British households.
This is not a post about bog standard every day pasta. Today, I am talking to you about a very special type of pasta that has its own category in France: ‘pâtes à potages’. These are basically teeny tiny pasta that you add to your soups and broths to give them more body.
For some reason, I cannot find these in England in dry form at all, and if I can, I know not where. But if I tell you broth pasta can come in the shape of letters and numbers, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s because they only exist in the one form in the UK, as part of one of these guilty food secrets no one talks about that you’re only buying ‘for the kids’: Heinz alphabetti and numberetti in tomato sauce.
Alphabet and numbers pasta is very popular everywhere because it’s fun, but in England the fun is restricted to the tin cans of questionable cooked tomato pasta. Whereas in France, you can have fun whenever you want. In fact, if you wanted you could just eat tiny pasta for the rest of your life without the nasty tomato sauce. You could eat them with just butter and cheese, or with vegetables, or whichever way you like to eat your pasta. Alphabet pasta need not be a guilty pleasure, it could even be part of a healthy dinner!
The French make Panzani has created a whole range of broth pasta in various shapes, all tiny and perfect for adding to soup. The most classic is vermicelli and the alphabet and numbers ones, but there are also ‘cheveux d’anges’ (angel hair – even more fine and delicate than vermicelli), stars, pearls, and finally Pescadines, which the blurb tells me are a bit bigger, a cross between vermicelli and macaroni.
Last time I was in France, I couldn’t resist buying them for Little Girl, and then we hit a problem. I don’t like soup. Badgerman doesn’t like soup. Little Girl is not wildly excited about soup either. I have had a lot of boring soup, and it’s fiddly and well, where’s the meat? But then I had this pasta, so I had to find a way to make soup fun aside from the pasta.
So I made a basic vegetable broth by simmering the remnants of a chicken stock with a litre of water and some chunky vegetables, added the pasta in the last ten minutes, and chucked in some cubes of cheddar and fresh chives I had kicking about the house just before serving. It was absolutely delicious and confirmed to me that I’m a broth kind of girl. I need to see what’s in my soup so the all mushed-in types are out, whereas I can get excited about this broth (also the cheese was inspired if I say so myself).
Am I alone in finding soup boring? If not, how do you make soup fun in your house?