Tagliatelle, fusilli, rotelle, tortellini, rigatoni, farfalle, orzo, penne, angel hair, vermicelli, lasagna, linguini, whole wheat, egg, spinach … You name it! When it comes to filling our stomachs on a cold winter’s night with a steaming bowl of pasta, the possibilities of form and flavor are endless. But did you know pasta isn’t strictly for eating?
When snowstorms and icy winds dictate a day spent indoors, it’s a great opportunity to get creative and turn those half-filled boxes of dried pasta in the pantry into colorful, inventive projects the whole family will love–and have fun making. With a little glue, some glitter, food coloring or bright paint, and maybe a coating of shellac, that old box of wagon wheel-shaped pasta applied to a simple wooden picture frame becomes a decorative memento of the family’s summer camping trip to Wyoming. Strands of angel hair pasta become tall grasses or cat whiskers on exciting invitations for an upcoming party, and a bouquet of fusilli (little cork screw-shaped pasta) and farfalle (tiny bowties), dyed, glued and glittered becomes a special jewelry box topper for someone equally special.
For the Carlyle family of Boston, a faded old family sweater-turned-toy chest that had seen better days became a large canvas for unlimited pasta-bilities, but with a decided theme!
“Because the chest was so large, it was going to be a focal point in the playroom, which was painted a kind of yellow,” said mom Trisha. Soaking five or six different dried pasta shapes in red, orange, yellow and green food coloring, when completely dry the family hot-glued the pasta in large letters to the chest, spelling out each of the three children’s names in a different color. The fourth (green) was used to fill in the background, almost like a layer of grass.
With a neighbor’s housewarming party coming up, the family decided upon festive, eye-catching placemats. Purchasing regular cloth mats from the dollar store, they glued mounds of tiny orzo around the borders, interspersed with shiny, colorful beads from the bead store. “It transformed something ‘every day ordinary’ into an unusual gift–something no one else would give them,” said Trisha.
For another inclement weather day project, a decorative headboard or wall hanging is a fun pasta project that can be undertaken by the whole family. Using a large piece of wood, decide on a scene: a garden or beach scene in summer, a frosty ski slope, or maybe just a modern collage or mosaic. Ask each family member to use a pencil and draw what they wish to claim as theirs, filling in the lines or design with paint, followed by the application of dried pasta in the shapes of flowers or snow–or randomly placed for an artful mosaic. With such a large canvas, ingenuity rules with unlimited possibilities for using all shapes and sizes (think: wide, flat lasagna noodles for the slopes and thin, black licorice-flavored angel hair–available in many specialty stores–for ski poles, or oodles of orzo and couscous for sand at the beach). Finish by adding beads or glitter, or even tiny tiles or ribbons, if appropriate, and applying a thin coat of shellac to seal the various components and prevent them from chipping off as much as possible. The finished product can then be wired by mom or dad and hung on a living room wall, making for some truly conversational wall art or a one-of-a-kind headboard for someone’s bed.
If you look around, and with a little imagination, ideas for pasta as art are just about everywhere and the results can extend to excited friends and family who get to receive the artful gifts or cards. Who ever said a snowy day produces nothing but a little snow?!
Instructions for dyeing pasta. You might want to do this ahead of time and store for that snowy day:
Choose your desired pasta and place one cup (or more, if desired) in zip top bag.
Add about 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and 10 drops of food coloring, eliminate air, seal bag tightly, shake, and lay flat.
Allow mixture to fully saturate pasta. The longer it sits, the more defined the color.
Carefully remove and place on paper towels atop foil or a cookie sheet (so excess dye does not stain countertops) until dry, preferably overnight. Store in jars or other protective means to prevent breakage.