Category: Pasta with Lamb
Difficulty: Medium Difficulty
This preparation represents a kind of pasta dish made from durum wheat that probably predates Italian use of pasta made in the same way. One notable difference is that Tunisian style pasta is steamed as one would steam couscous. Nawasar is a Tunisian pasta shape identical to the Italian quadratini, quadrucci, or the Greek hilopittes, flat quarter-inch squares of pasta. The name of this antique form of pasta has an interesting heritage. Nawasar is the plural of nasra, square silver coins that were a unit of coinage during the Almohad period (c. 1145-1237) in Tunisia.(See Note below). In Algeria, the same pasta is called makarfta. This pasta is cooked mafawwra, but although the word mafawwra comes from the root word fawra, meaning "to boil," this method actually steams the pasta squares in a couscousière, unlike the Italians who boil quadratini for soups and minestrone. For authenticity you can steam it as the Tunisians would, but for convenience you can boil it too.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
Preparation Time: 4 hours
1. In the bottom part of a couscousière or pot that can fit a colander on top, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil over high heat, then cook the onion until soft, about 2 minutes, stirring. Salt and pepper the lamb, then brown it with the onion on all sides, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the red pepper, harīsa, tomato paste, chickpeas, potatoes, and 1 quart of the water. If boiling the pasta set another pot out to bring some water to a boil for the pasta.
2. Toss the dry or fresh pasta squares with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Place the pasta loosely in the top part of a couscousière or in the colander. Place the top part or colander over the bottom part or pot. Steam the pasta over medium-high heat, covered, until you begin to see steam rising through the pasta, about 30 minutes, tossing the pasta occasionally. From that point, cook dried pasta 3 hours, replenishing the broth with another quart of water, if necessary. If using fresh pasta, steam for 1 hour. Toss the pasta occasionally while it steams.
3. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and toss with the butter and sauce. Arrange the meat and potatoes around the pasta and garnish with the hard-boiled eggs if desired.
Variation: Cook the lamb and sauce in a casserole. After the lamb has cooked for 3 hours add 1 quart water, bring to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until soft.
Note: I believe these might have been the distinctive square silver coins that became known as milares by western Europeans that were minted in Tunis, see Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 171 and Harry W. Hazard, The Numismatic History of Late Medieval North Africa, Numismatic Studies VII, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1952.