Recently, deep in the recess of my pantry, I found a file folder jammed full with recipes that I vaguely remember collecting over the years, mostly cut out of cooking magazines and random newspapers. Both folders and cuttings were swiftly thrown into the trash, after a quick appraisal which led me to conclude I will never make them. For somebody who abhors clutter above all else, I tend to hoard recipes. I mostly read them, I buy cookbooks for inspiration and if I decide to try something, chances are I will change a few things here and there to appease my palate and if the recipe is positively weird I will stick to its contents in the hope of being pleasantly surprised.
Since becoming a chef, the way I read recipes has changed – I can instantly tell if something will work or where tweaking will be needed. Friends and family have, more or less willingly, been my guinea pigs for years now. Nearly everything that ended up on a menu was first tried at home and then improved upon or added to in the professional kitchen. But my loved ones sometimes require “regular food”, as they tend to call it, and that is where recipes come in to free me from the boredom of the tried and true.
A couple of weeks ago the front page article of the New York Times Food Section was dedicated to whole wheat pasta. If you have been reading me for a while, you all know I am a pasta purist – I hardly ever bother to eat pasta anywhere unless it’s made in my kitchen or by an Italian friend. My biggest pet peeves are overcooking and oversaucing, the two major no no’s of any pasta dish. I am also picky when it comes to pasta brands and let’s forget rice pasta and all manners of gluten-free which I did try once I realized I had a mild intolerance to gluten – some suck less than others but the bottom line is that they still suck. Even whole wheat pasta I always looked at with suspicion but, after reading the article, I decided to give it a go. I bought spaghetti made by Bionaturae, a line of organic foods heading from Italy – I love their yoghurt and their jams so I was prepared to trust them with my dinner.
In an effort to branch out, I even went as far as trying one of the recipes that came with the article, which called for roasted eggplant and peppers, roasted garlic, olive oil, ricotta cheese and pepper flakes. I read the recipe a few times and, as appealing as all the ingredients were, 9 cloves of garlic seemed excessive (I ended up using three) and, besides the olive oil, there was no creaminess to the sauce at all. This pasta was going to be dry. Sure enough, it was. A problem that can be obviated by adding a bit of cooking water to the ricotta (for a healthy take) or cream (for a cholesterol unfriendly one).
The bottom line was surprising or, at least, unexpected. I loved the slightly nutty flavor of the pasta which cooked beautifully al dente. It gave more depth to the roasted vegetables and married splendidly with the olive oil. The taste was more in the foreground than with regular pasta and I don’t see it working as well with fish sauces but , all in all, I was eager to have it again. Which I did, a few days later, with different vegetables and goat cheese. Another marriage made in heaven.