Pasta, rice, other grains & pulses

Pasta, rice, other grains & pulses

Margaret Fulton
28 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Geoff Lung

Rice, pasta, couscous and pulses are staple foods, along with vegetables, for much of the world’s population. Learn to cook these essentials and you have the base for hundreds of dishes.

Combine them, spice them, learn some of the great traditional dishes, and you are on the way to a fascinating and healthy lifestyle.


Many varieties of pasta are available, such as fettuccine flavoured with tomato, saffron, and black squid ink, as well as egg. Each has its own inimitable flavour and colour. There are also many different pasta shapes — the catalogue of one large pasta company lists over 50 varieties. Take your pick from penne and the corkscrew-shaped fusilli to concheglie (shells) and the small cartwheels called rotelle. The choice is enormous and no pasta lover will ever want for variety.

The size or shape of pasta is as important as the sauce. It may be a simple sauce of melted butter, or butter with mashed anchovies and garlic. Pesto, the green sauce from Genoa is another classic, made by pounding basil, pine nuts, oil and parmesan cheese to a paste. the favourite is perhaps the rich meat ragu known to the world as bolognese. The quality of the pasta and the sauce is the key to most dishes, but learning to cook pasta correctly is just as important.

How to cook pasta

Use a large saucepan, with plenty of room for the pasta to cook separately, and allow the water to bubble briskly. Use lots of water for cooking, measure 5 litres water (many Italians recommend 6 litres) for 250 g pasta. Add about 1 teaspoon salt for each litre of water, and have the water boiling vigorously before adding the pasta.

Be careful not to overcook pasta, it must be tender, but still firm. As the Italians say, the pasta must be al dente, which means just firm enough to bite comfortably, but not so soft that it is mushy to the bite. When it reaches this stage, remove from the heat, pour a cup of iced water into the pan to stop boiling, and drain immediately.

Follow the cooking times for different varieties on the manufacturer’s instructions. As soon as the pasta is added to the boiling water, stir well to prevent sticking. When cooking spaghetti, curl it around in the pan as it softens, until the whole length is submerged. Do not cover. Approximately 500 g of pasta serves 4 people as a main course, and 6 people for a first course.

To sauce pasta

Place the drained pasta in a warm serving bowl, add most of the sauce, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if liked. With 2 forks, or spaghetti tongs, lift the spaghetti so that the sauce coats the strands, in the way one would toss a salad. Top the spaghetti with the remaining sauce, and offer more cheese separately.

To keep pasta hot

The drained pasta can be returned for a short while to the empty cooking saucepan with a good tablespoon of butter, then covered and kept warm. Another method to keep cooked pasta warm is to drain in a colander and set over a saucepan containing a small amount of simmering water. Coat the pasta with 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil to keep the strands from sticking together, and cover. However, pasta is always best served immediately.

Pasta is delicious served with extra virgin olive oil or butter, chopped fresh herbs and freshly ground black pepper.


From Hong Kong to Halifax, Madrid to Mandalay, Bali to Baltimore, people the world over love rice. From an exotic pilaf to a simple creamy pudding, rice cooking is as varied as the nations cooking it.

Pilafs or pilaus are dishes in which the rice absorbs the flavour of the meats and spices, while they are all cooking together. Rice for curries is usually aromatic basmati rice with saffron or turmeric often added so that the rice assumes a golden hue.

Risotto is made with either arborio, carnaroli or vialone rice which is first cooked in butter before hot stock is added, a ladleful at a time. The rice becomes plump, tender and deliciously creamy.

The Chinese cook rice in a minimum of water. For fried rice, thai fried rice and nasi goreng, it is best that the rice is cooked the day, or at least several hours before, and spread out on a large tray to dry.


A cracked wheat used in the Middle East, particularly Lebanon. Available from health food stores and most supermarkets, it is always soaked in cold water before use to soften and swell the grains. It is the essential base for tabbouleh.


A cereal dish originating in North Africa, couscous consists of fine semolina combined with flour, salt and water which is formed into tiny pellets. Instant couscous is available at most supermarkets, simply follow the instructions on the packet.

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