Fettuccine, penne, spaghetti, lasagna, and the list goes on. There are approximately 350 different varieties of pasta around the world. The basic ingredients of pasta are flour, water and egg but the variety of flour can change and other things can be added to an extent, normally to change the color. The real difference between most types of pasta is the shape and the sheer variety is staggering!
People around the world love pasta and there are very few pantries around the developed world that do not contain a bag of dried pasta. If you are not making pasta from scratch it is so easy to do; just add hot water, boil and in less than ten minutes it is ready for you to pour homemade or premade sauce on. The ultimate quick and easy meal.
If you were to hop over to Israel you would find that they also love their pasta and it is easy to buy in dried or fresh form in the supermarkets. Many restaurants also have a long list to offer but lurking in their kitchens in bags, ready to be whipped out and cooked in a moment are regular couscous and toasted pasta, known locally as “Ptitim” which loosely translates as flakes.
The tradition of couscous comes from those who came to Israel mainly from Morocco. Couscous is small, steamed flakes of durum wheat. It is traditionally served with either meat or soup. Whilst nowadays most people buy it in dried format, as giant couscous, pearl couscous or other varieties, there are still families that keep the tradition of making couscous by hand, often on a Thursday or Friday ready as an accompaniment for the Sabbath meals.
The history of Ptitim, sometimes referred to as toasted couscous but more accurately as toasted pasta is modern but fascinating. The modern State of Israel was declared in 1948. This was followed by an influx of immigrants from all around the world. Many were survivors of German occupied Europe who no longer had anywhere to call home, many were fleeing from persecution in Arab countries. This sudden huge influx of people in a newly formed and extremely poor country, led to the problem of finding food to feed all these people. On top of this, people wanted food that was familiar to them. One of the foods that was difficult to get hold of that had been a staple food for many of the immigrants was rice. In the early 1950’s the then Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, challenged the food manufacturers to produce a rice substitute. The competition was won by the Osem food company in 1953. They produced toasted pasta in the shape of rice.
Toasted pasta now comes in a great variety of shapes and there is even three color couscous! There are a number of manufacturers nowadays including Asif, who produce other goods as well including toasted crumbs and sauces. Israeli toasted pasta is easy to prepare; slightly fry with a little oil, add boiling water and optional seasonings, boil and serve as a carbohydrate meal accompaniment. Some people see it as a convenient child pasta coming in child’s pasta shapes but many adults also enjoy it in the conventional balls or rice shapes.
So next time you are looking for a meal accompaniment that is as quick and easy to prepare like pasta and also comes in many shapes, reach for Ptitim!