Fideos pasta is an unassuming pasta with a long and interesting history. The pasta is eaten throughout the Mediterranean, especially in Spain and Italy, and can sometimes be found abroad as well. Several distinct recipes use fideos, including soups and a pasta-based paella served in Spain. Food historians believe that fideos pasta may be one of the earliest incarnations of pasta, and it certainly has a well documented history.
In Spain, spaghetti pasta is sometimes called fideos, which can lead to confusion, since fideos is a distinct pasta shape. In Italy, fideos pasta is often called fidelanza or fedelini. Modern fideos is typically made from durum wheat. The pasta is short, thin, and slightly curved. This classic shape appears to have been retained for several centuries, as have recipes which use the pasta.
The history of fideos begins in the 13th century, when Spain had a large Muslim population. It appears to be a fusion food, closely related to couscous, a dish made with durum wheat which is very popular throughout the Middle East. A compendium of Muslim-Spanish cooking from the 13th century lists a dish called fidaush, which uses fideos pasta. The dish is distinctive because the noodles are cooked in their sauce, a convention which has been retained in many modern fideos recipes. Some European Jewish recipes also use fideos or very similar ingredients.
In Spain, fideos are cooked instead of rice in paella, especially in Southern Spain. This version of paella is very close to the medieval fidaush, and may be made with an assortment of ingredients. Seafood fideos is very popular, with shellfish such as clams and mussels being common inclusions. The pasta is cooked in a rich sauce with the seafood, and served directly from the cooking pot. The fideos pasta is usually toasted in oil before the other ingredients are added, just as is the case with rice in paella.
Many soups also use fideos, since the long thin strips of pasta add interesting visual and textural touches to the soup. In the United States especially, when fideos is available, it is usually sold specifically as a soup pasta. In this case, it may be enriched with egg for a more hearty flavor. Chunks of spaghetti broken into short lengths will also work well for this purpose. The pasta may be cooked separately and be added to the soup, or it may be cooked along with the soup, releasing starch to thicken it.