top of page

Only thing I am testing positive for is pasta.

What a lovely day it was yesterday - warm and sunny and perfect for cutting willow stakes from a plot nearby (with the landowners permission). Back home and BBQ in the garden with gorgeous meat from the local farm shop butchers at Groveland. Appetite sated and that ache in the body you only get from physical work. Perfect set up for a good nights sleep.

We cook a lot of pasta - it's a compromise between Katayoun wanting rice and me potato - and I was thinking about the shortage of pasta recently and began to chuckle to myself about a conversation I once had with a school cook.

I won’t say where it was other than it was in the north east corner of the map. The discussion was about trying some different recipes for the children to enjoy. I proffered the thought that maybe an occasional pasta dish would go down well. There was a puzzled look so I elaborated: you know pasta of different shapes with a sauce mixed over it and cheese to sprinkle on the top. Maybe the sauce could be tomatoes or creamy – I had visions of my carbonara on an industrial scale. There was reluctant agreement and low-and-behold on the next Sunday we were served roast chicken with carrots and peas and roasties and a spoonful of plain boiled pasta shells!

Whilst there are possible pasta-like recipes from Roman times, food historians estimate that the dish probably took hold in Italy as a result of extensive Mediterranean trading in the Middle Ages. From the 13th century, references to pasta dishes—macaroni, ravioli, gnocchi, vermicelli—crop up with increasing frequency across the Italian Peninsula.

The 14th-century writer Boccaccio’s collection of earthy tales, The Decameron recounts a mouthwatering fantasy concerning a mountain of Parmesan cheese down which pasta chefs roll macaroni and ravioli to gluttons waiting below. The Decameron happens to also tell the story of the black death and its main storyline concerns a group fleeing the plague in Florence.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta became popular for its easy storage. This allowed people to store pasta on ships when exploring the New World and a century later, pasta was taken during the voyages of discovery.

Pasta was eaten dry with the fingers; and it wasn't until the 'invention' of a tomato sauce in the late 1700s that a fork was needed.

Early pasta experience in our house was macaroni pudding - the milk variety with nutmeg (mmmm) and milk skin (not mmmm) and this brought to mind something sent round Facebook recently that as a child born in the 50s and growing up in the 60s also made me smile.

  • Pasta had not been invented – it was macaroni or spaghetti.

  • Curry was a surname.

  • A take-away was something you did in a maths lesson.

  • All chips were plain.

  • Oil was for lubricating things, fat was for cooking.

  • Tea was made in a teapot with tea leaves and was never green.

  • Cubed sugar was posh.

  • Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.

  • No-one had heard of yogurt.

  • Healthy food consisted of anything edible.

  • Cooking outside was called camping.

  • Seaweed was not a recognisable food (unless you came from a part of Wales – it was even on a stamp).

  • Prunes were a medicine.

  • Muesli was available – it was called cattle-feed.

  • Pineapple came in chunks (rings if you were posh) and in a tin.

  • Water came out of a tap and if anyone had suggested you bottle it and sell it for more than petrol they would lock you up.

  • One thing that was never on the table were elbows, hats and cell phones!

( editors note: 50s & 60s was when some of us were young)


Vegetable garganelli

Serves 4

Garganelli is one of the slightly more sophisticated pastas. It is a similar shape to penne so you could substitute that as I know you are likely to have it in your cupboard.


250g/8oz egg garganelli dried pasta 125g/4oz garden peas - for those who don't like peas try French beans cut into 1cm pieces 175g/5½ oz broccoli, cut into small florets 100g/3oz pine nuts 200ml/6fl oz half fat crème fraîche Handful of fresh mint, chopped 2 handfuls of fresh basil, chopped 1 tbsp lemon juice 125g/4oz spinach, washed and drained 1 tbsp nonpareille capers, thoroughly rinsed and roughly chopped - I always keep a jar handy


1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the pasta, return to the boil, then cook for 4 minutes.

2. Add the peas and broccoli, and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the pasta and vegetables are just tender.

3. Meanwhile, heat a small, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and toast for 1-2 minutes, turning with a wooden spoon constantly, until they are an even, golden colour.

4. In a small bowl, mix together the crème fraîche, mint, half the basil and the lemon juice. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

5. Drain the pasta and cooked vegetables in a colander. Place the spinach in the empty pasta pan and tip the pasta and cooked vegetables on top. Stir in the creamy herb mixture to combine thoroughly.

6. Cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until the spinach has wilted and the sauce has heated through. Place in a serving dish and scatter with the toasted pine nuts, capers and the remaining basil. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Substitute the vegetables above for other seasonal vegetables, such as baby carrots, courgettes, asparagus and broad beans.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"furze -- common name for gorse; gilding heaths & headlands now with its yellow flowers; spiky home to redstart, rabbit, wheatear; hard to handle, rough to cross & full of needle; but also shelter-giver to those in need of harbour in its criss-cross places."

When I started to look at OS maps to prepare for my DofE Silver expedition in the New Forest back in 1974 I was intrigued by the label 'furze' as it was a new word for me. I soon realised that a route across an area marked thus was to be avoided at all costs - it is prickly stuff!

This is gorse gilding the clifftop on the North Norfolk Way

ps: the title is a part quote from the MMA fighter Joe Lauzon but my favourite pasta quote has to be from Sophia Loren- "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."


and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas.
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

90 views4 comments

Recent Posts

See All



Apr 16, 2020

I remember the pasta incident! Love this recipe - it would also be good with walnuts instead of pine nuts


Apr 16, 2020

Tapioca pudding!!!!! Horrible stuff, foul texture not helped by the little rhyme you and dad used to say to me - “ Hot snot and bogey pie all washed down with a dead dog’s eye, eat it slow or eat it quick and drink it down with a cold cup of sick.”

No wonder I couldn’t eat it!


Martin Castle
Apr 16, 2020

For me it is a texture thing - bananas & blancmange fall in the same category


Apr 16, 2020

I seem to remember that I thought the milk skin on the macaroni pudding was nice especially the brown bits at the edges of the dish ( or am I thinking of the rice pudding?)

bottom of page