Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pasta Pasta Pasta

Am I a picky eater? Not anymore. I've eaten everything from pancreas to yak, foie gras to ostrich, celery root to fish eggs. Of course, my food allergy is an obstacle (that will be another long, mournful entry) to experiencing the world in the style of Anthony Bourdain, but I suppose I just ignore it and enjoy the wealth of other options open to me now.

But as a wee one, despite my obsession with tasty things, I fell into the conformity of pickiness. Probably not because I sincerely disliked things - but more likely because my brother was (is) picky. However, in the style of the rebellious little girl that I was, my pickiness manifested itself in my only eating "girl" foods - that is, the foods that Lucas didn't eat. I wouldn't drink orange juice, eat peanut butter sandwiches or steak because those were "boy" foods, obviously, because of my brother's preference for them. Instead I drank grape juice, ate jelly sandwiches and pasta.

Which is the kernel of this post:


I have too many memories to recount. But lets just say, as a 7 year old during our 4 month sojourn in Europe, I became quite the connoisseur of spaghetti. Everywhere, no matter what luscious ducks and hens and lentils and cheeses and truffles and confits were on the menu, I ordered spaghetti. Everywhere. I became quite curious about the composition of the dish - was it chunky and meaty, or smooth? Was the noodle thin or angel haired? Were there vegetables in the sauce? Too spicy or nutty and sweet?

Sadly, all of my spaghetti memories are a swift blur, though a delicious one. But my love of pasta is fervent and strong today, though it comes with new meaning. When the Whitman dining hall options are mush and mush with meat, I head to the pasta line and get a good ol' dollop of sauce on some spaghetti, some times many nights in a row. And, as a busy college student, health conscious and wary of meats, a lover of fresh and interesting combinations, easy pasta dishes are the ultimate when there is time and motivation to cook.

Before you read my recipe, I will remind you that this is not a definite "one dish" to try, although the particular combination is indeed delightful. Working at an Italian restaurant, I learned a thing or two. The steps to an excellent and fast pasta dish are fool-proof:

Make sure you have:
-An herb
-A cheese
-A vegetable
-An aromatic (onion, garlic, shallot, etc)
- For more substantial but still simple pastas, a liquid, fat, or "binder" (this is your sauce-base ingredient, though it doesnt necessarily have to constitute a sauce. This will, in almost any case, be cream, tomatoes, yogurt, sour cream, butter, olive oil, etc etc).

You want to saute your vegetable in the aromatic and a little oil or butter (more if this is the main component of the dish's flavor). Then to this you add the binder and the herb. You want to cook the pasta separately, and just when its al dente, add it to the pan with the "sauce" and stir until its all combined. Generally, with chunkier ingredients, you'll want to use a small pasta like penne or farfalle; with smoother ingredients, a long pasta like fettucine is preferable.

OK. Now to the good stuff.

fettucine with mint, almonds, and feta

1 cup heavy cream
4 cloves garlic
small handful black peppercorns
1/3 cup sour cream

½ cup unsalted raw almonds

whole-wheat fettucine

stock (or any relevant liquid, such as poaching liquid from an accompanying dish)
8 oz. grated asiago cheese
8 oz. feta, crumbled
large handful mint
large handful Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Thinly slice the garlic. Add garlic, peppercorns, and nutmeg to cream, and heat until bubbling around the edges. Season with salt and pepper. The cream should be well infused with the flavors of garlic, pepper, and nutmeg.

Let cool; stir in the sour cream, and set aside.

Toast the almonds in a dry skillet until fragrant.

Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and return to cooking pot. Add enough stock or liquid to moisten the pasta and thin the sauce. Stir in the cream infusion, asiago cheese, feta, mint, parsley, and almonds. Toss together and serve.

Campanelle ai tartuffi

½ box campanelle pasta

1 tbsp walnut oil
2 tbsp butter
4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (not minced!)
¼ cup white wine
Salt, white pepper

1-2 small black truffles, depending on intensity

4 oz. unsalted walnuts

Parmesan cheese

Cook campenelle pasta until very al dente. Drain, reserving a small amount of cooking liquid for later use.

Add butter, walnut oil, and garlic to heavy sauté pan. Heat until butter melts and slightly browns, softening and toasting the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and let alcohol evaporate. Add cooked pasta, walnuts, and truffles, stirring until well incorporated and pasta tenderizes a bit more. Add parmesan cheese to taste; check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with a hearty green salad with a robust vinaigrette.

All of these recipes are of my own invention. Enjoy!


Janet said...

Oh yes, the campanelle is what she made on my birthday. It was so good.

brother terry said...

Is there an adequate subsitute for goat cheese? It's not available here.


SpicyTruffle said...

BT -

It depends on what you're making, but the distinctive thing about goat cheese is that it is soft, tangy and earthy. So any cheese that follows that profile is probably good. A good cream cheese usually works; feta is also reliable, just make sure it isn't too dry.

If you don't use either of these things, I might use an earthy cheese like a swiss or Gruyere and then add some sour cream for the tang.