Pasta retains prima popularity for entre'es, accompaniments, salads and even desserts. Among the multitude of pasta lovers are cholesterol-watchers who worry, among other things, about the amount of egg yolks in their diets.
So writes Alexandria's Henry M. Brown, who has been searching for nutrient labeling that will reveal the amount of cholesterol in a serving of pasta. "Can you tell me quantitatively," he asks, "how much egg yolk or whole egg is actually in, or required by law to be in, egg noodles?"
Dr. James Lin, a food technologist with the Food and Drug Administration's Bureau of Foods, says that egg-noodle products are required by law to have at least 5.5 percent egg solids (by weight), which, according to one expert, is two eggs per pound of flour.
But according to Lin, the law does not specify what kind of egg solids should be used. Apparently, the egg solids could, in theory, consist only of whites (although one manufacturer understands the law to mean 5.5 percent egg yolk solids).
So the amount of egg-yolk solids can vary. James Winston, research director of the National Pasta Association, says that egg noodles usually contain between 75 and 85 milligrams (mg.) of cholesterol for 2 ounces of dried noodles (that's about 6 ounces cooked). The manufacturer can add more egg than this but, as Lin put it, "Common sense tells us that egg is more expensive than flour." Therefore, the manufacturers would tend to add the minimum required, and inquiries to a few pasta makers bear this out.
Mueller's "Golden Rich" products, according to a spokesman for the company, contain 6.5 percent egg-yolk solids by weight and 80 mg. of cholesterol per serving. This compares with 67 to 68 mg. per serving of their regular egg-noodle products (made with a blend of whole eggs and egg yolks).
(While this seems to contradict the figures released by the National Pasta Association, remember that all figures are averages. Cholesterol content can differ even from one egg to the next.)
In any case, keep in mind that egg-noodle products represent a small part of pasta in general. NPA's Winston says that other noodle products--spaghetti, vermicelli, linguini, elbow macaroni, shells and so on--contain no egg whatsoever.
Usually, he says, they are made from semolina flour (obtained from hard, durum wheat usually grown in North Dakota) which is "not touched by any bleaching agent, not touched by any additives." Sometimes manufacturers blend the hard semolina with another hard flour, farina. These products also contain no cholesterol (and virtually no sodium). Their pale yellow color comes from the natural hue of the grain, not egg yolks.
The following recipe is one for a basic manicotti, which calls for stuffing the tubular noodle with a cheese mixture. It takes well to several variations. Two chicken breast halves may be simmered (about 15 minutes), the meat chopped and added to the farmers' cheese mixture. Spinach, shredded and squeezed dry, makes a fine vegetarian version. Add two tablespoons fresh chopped parsley if it's available.
Cholesterol-watchers may shudder at the addition of parmesan cheese, but in this recipe the cheese contributes more flavor than anything else. This dish should serve five to six people, which means a little more than a tablespoon of cheese per portion. Some may even wish to add a little part-skim mozzarella cheese.
Serve this easily prepared manicotti with a steamed vegetable. Sliced zucchini steams well in its own moisture. Cut it in 1/4-inch slices, place it in a heavy saucepan with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and a sprinkling of chicken bouillon granules (optional), cover and place over low heat until the zucchini is lightly cooked.
We expect that every kitchen is equipped with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and butter or oil of some kind.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: Tomato sauce, garlic, basil, farmers' cheese, eggs, parmesan cheese, manicotti noodles, zucchini.
BASIC MANICOTTI (4 to 7 servings--about 14 stuffed noodles) 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon basil 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce 8 ounces manicotti noodles 1 pound farmers' cheese 2 egg whites 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Fill a large pot with about 4 quarts of water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and basil and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce and cook, uncovered, over low flame. Meanwhile, add manicotti to boiling water and cook according to package directions. Combine farmers' cheese, egg whites and freshly grated parmesan cheese (also add the meat from 2 cooked chicken breast halves, or shredded cooked spinach or a sprinkling of part-skim mozzarella at this time, if desired). Cover the bottom of a large rectangular casserole with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Drain manicotti noodles and, using the back of the spoon, stuff them with cheese mixture. As the noodles are filled, place them in the baking dish. Cover with remaining sauce. Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes. Serve with steamed zucchini or a tossed salad.