If you visit the Mediterranean coast of Spain, in addition to the colourful advertisements for bland mass-produced paella, you will sometimes see a dish in which the bright yellow rice replaced with pasta. It is quite unfortunate that these tourist targeted dishes are often less then impressive, as this pasta is known as “Fideos” and are delicious if cooked correctly. They also have a very interesting background indeed.
Fideos are part of a family pasta which are unusual in that they have a well documented histroy. In fact, when you consider the popularity of pasta dishes in the late medieval and early modern period it is quite amazing how very scarce early medieval documentation on pasta in Europe is. However, there is a particular pasta type called “Fidawsh/Fidaush” mentioned in an anonymous thirteenth century Hispano-Muslim cookbook (translated by Charles Perry). In this text there a discussion on the basic shapes of pasta, followed by a description on how to cook them. Curiously the medieval cooking method still closely resembles that specialized cooking technique that is used today. The interesting thing about this pasta dish is that it is actually cooked in it's sauce, rather then being dressed with a seperately prepared sauce.
Although the most well known modern and the historical recipe both come from the Iberian Peninsula, variations are found around the Mediterranean region. While these dishes differ from each other in many details, they still share many familiar characteristics. In the southern French alpine region they are know as “Fides”, they are called “Fidelanza/Fedelini” in the Ligurian dialect speaking regions of Italy and France. Finally there is a Sephardic Jewish dish know as “Fidellos Tostados”, where “Tostados” indicates another interesting feature of this pasta - in general they are gently fried (“toasted”) in oil to produce a golden brown colour. This technique is unique to these pasta and adds an additional level of flavour, characateristic of this type of pasta dish. This flavour can be characterized as adding an earthy or nutty element, which provides a lovely counter point in flavour to more acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes and peppers. Whatever, the origin of the dish or the region where it is prepared now, they are unique, delicious and well worth making..
Fideos with vegetables:
Olive oil for frying onions and pasta
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 large green capsicum, chopped, seeded and finely chopped.
1 (400g) can of chopped and peeled tomatoes (or equivalent of skinned, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes)
2 cups (500 ml) strong vegetable stock
2 large zucchini, chopped
3-4 piquillo peppers or roast, skinned red capsicum cut into strips.
150 gms green beans, cut into 5 cm lengths
400 gm of dry Fideos pasta or durum wheat vermicelli broken into 3 cm lengths (these must not contain egg)
6-8 saffron threads, lightly crushed
2 Tbs of finely chopped parsley
For allioli/aioli/garlic mayonnaise
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 egg yolk
250 ml good quality olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Fry onion gently in a shallow casserole that is designed for stove-top use (or if you have an earthenware cassola, now is the perfect time to use it) until translucent. Add green capsicum and tomato, gently fry until the mixture is soft and broken down to a paste. Add zucchini and green beans and fry briefly (1-2 minutes) to remove excess water.
2. In a separate pan, very gently fry pasta in a small amount of olive oil, until they turn opaque and a light tan colour. Stir constantly as they can burn if not carefully watched.
3. Add vegetable stock, pasta and saffron threads to the onion and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook at a simmer for 20-30 minutes. Taste at this point and correct seasoning. It will need salt and pepper and possibly a pinch of sugar, depending on the quality of the tomatoes.
4. During this time make an allioli/aioli/garlic mayonnaise from the garlic, salt and olive oil (consult your favorite recipe).
5. Add parsley and pepper strips to pasta. Remove from heat and allow to rest for five minutes covered by a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.
6. At this point the pasta should be soft and the dish should be a loose stew or a thick soup in consistency. Place a few tablespoons of the allioli in the centre of the dish and partially stir into sauce.
7. Serve from dish.