Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

As something I eat every day in Italy (and one of my favorite foods to cook and eat for as long as I can remember), I think pasta deserves a post all to itself. It is practically the core of the Italian diet, as the giant pasta aisle at the supermarket can attest to. Every night my host mother cooks a small serving of pasta for me and my roommate, and every night we wonder what new she dish has concocted. Although all her cooking is excellent, my host mother's pasta dishes are almost certainly the best part of the meal. Presented in a simple white bowl, the pasta appears understated, almost minimalistic. It is always judiciously sauced, sometimes with jewel-like bits of vegetables nestled throughout, or at others with a silky coating of sage-butter, a flurry of grated cheese, and a sprinkle of black pepper. There is never a dull moment with pasta, and certainly the endless array of possible pasta and sauce combinations are part of what make Italian cuisine so interesting and satisfying.

The primo piatto is something I eagerly anticipate, but it is a pleasure that seldom lasts long enough. Although I make an effort to savor my pasta slowly, deciphering its nuances, usually very little time usually elapses between the first bite and the last. Before I know it, my bowl is spotlessly clean and white yet again. Eating the perfect plate of pasta is only a fleeting pleasure, but in its simplicity it is a truly sublime experience.

And now, onto the photos and recipe...

Penne con ragĂș

Farfalle with zucchini and saffron (Farfalle con zucchine e zafferano)

Penne with tomatoes and basil (Penne con pomodori e basilico)

Rotini with tomatoes and tuna (Rotini con pomodori e tonno)

Casarecci with zucchini, cream, and cheese (Casarecci con zucchine, panna, e formaggio)

Spaghetti with Spicy Tomato-Olive Sauce (Spaghetti con salsa piccante al pomodoro e olive)

This pasta, I think, comes closest to providing the most pleasure with the least amount of effort as any I have tasted. It is also excellent when tossed with some tuna (the olive oil-packed Italian variety, not the bland American stuff in water). Use the highest quality ingredients you can find and afford.

Serves two as a main course or three as a first course

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Hot red pepper pieces, powder, or flakes, to taste
1 t. dried basil
5 to 10 (or more or less, depending on your taste) very good green or black olives, pitted and halved lengthwise
1/2 to 3/4 cup skinned pureed canned tomatoes (if you can find bottled Italian tomato puree, use it)
Salt, to taste
1/3-1/2 pound paghetti (or penne or other short pasta)
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil over medium-low heat, then add the garlic, hot red pepper, and dried basil. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, then add the olives and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, and stir to combine. Let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, making sure that the garlic does not brown. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta.

Simmering sauce

When the garlic is soft and beginning to turn golden, remove it and the hot red pepper pieces, if using. Season the sauce with salt to taste and remove from heat until the pasta is almost done.

When the pasta is still somewhat undercooked, drain it and add to the saute pan with the sauce. Turn the heat up to medium and toss the pasta to coat it with sauce, then add the fresh basil and toss for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the pasta is just cooked but still somewhat firm to the bite.

Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls and serve with good bread to soak up any excess oil.


Ann said...

Dropped by after seeing your post at serious eats and I will be checking your blog often. I love Italy and Italian food!

One constructive observation: your commenting settings are such that they assume the commenter has a blogger account or asks them to login using a gmail account. Blogger does allow for "other account" commenting, which will let people (like me) who maintain non-blogger blogs use any link they like as part of their signature. You will get more comments if people are not feeling forced to use a gmail or blogger ID.

Emma said...

Hey Ann,

Thanks for the feedback - I didn't realize I was preventing everyone from commenting, but I've changed the settings now.

Hope to see you 'round soon!