Tag Archives: pasta

PAPPARDELLE WITH PROSCIUTTO AND PEAS

Pappardelle with prosciutto and peas

My world-famous mother has travelled back to Los Angeles with me. To me, personally, this means coming home to an extremely clean house, laundry sorted, ironed and organized, dogs brushed and über happy to have company most of the day and food. Lots of food. For others passing through my house, it also means being fed whether they like it or not. Somehow, my idea of cereal for dinner is such anathema to my mother, that she has to convince me every single night that whatever alternative she has cooked up, has to be better. Well, it is but that is not the point – by the end of her two month stay, at this rate, I will have ballooned into oversized proportions.

But you try to fight with an Italian mother intent on feeding her child! Last night, it was pappardelle with prosciutto and peas, a dish I hadn’t had in probably 20 years and forgotten how delicious it is. If you happen to have an Italian mother lying around, insist of freshly made pasta, otherwise, store-bought pappardelle will have to do.

RECIPE – yields 4 portions

1/4 #  prosciutto cut into small cubes

3/4 #  pappardelle

3/4 C  tomato sauce (possibly home-made)

1/4  onion, finely chopped

1C  peas, fresh or frozen

1 T olive oil, mildly flavoured

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T Butter

  1. Remove about 1 T of fat from the prosciutto and set aside. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion and the prosciutto fat and cook on medium until the onion is translucent and the fat has melted.
  2. Add peas and cook for about three minutes, then add the tomato sauce and mix until everything is combined. Add salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. In the meantime, cook the pappardelle in salted, boiling water. Drain.
  4. Re-heat the sauce, add the prosciutto and the pappardelle and mix together on the stove (you want to add the prosciutto at the end to keep it tender but, should you prefer it crispy, add it with the peas).
  5. Remove from heat and add the butter. Mix until melted and serve immediately.

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – FRITTO MISTO

I went fully prepared to hate it. A few times over the last 16 years, friends or acquaintances managed to drag me to Fritto Misto, the popular Italian hang-out on an odd stretch of Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica and, each time, armed with my snobbery for Italian food many times removed from the real thing, I never enjoyed it. Too much sauce, too much garlic, out of proportion portions, you name it.

Authenticity is not what you would go to Fritto Misto for.  Quantity, affordable prices and pasta would be the primary reasons. The concept is simple: some appetizers (fritto misto being one of them), some salads and meat entrees and a dizzying variety of pastas that can be matched with any of the myriad sauces on offer.

On my last visit a few days ago, very much against my will but in the minority who learns to shut up and go with the flow, I ordered a mixed salad with goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. That’s it for you? queried the waitress. The place was invariably packed – the same colorful ceramic plates on the walls haven’t changed and neither have the plain wooden tables or the menu.  Why change? People flock to it and have for nearly 20 years.

When my fellow diners’ pasta arrived, the portions were indeed gargantuan. No kidding, they could feed a family of four and certainly two hungry people. Piqued, I sampled what was on the table. The fettuccine with pancetta and the spaghetti with sausage, although being a far cry from my carbonara or sausage pasta, were pleasant enough. The pasta was neither overcooked nor over-sauced.The seasonal sweet potato ravioli in a mushroom cream sauce were actually better than they sound but for a bit too much cinnamon in the sweet potatoes which didn’t marry incredibly well with the mushrooms. Still, it made me wonder if something, or someone, in the kitchen had changed in the recent past.

So, there. I am writing about Italian food that is neither authentic nor gourmet. Either I learnt to let go of my snobbery or I have been here too long. I hope it’s the former.

Fritto Misto

601 Colorado Avenue

Santa Monica 310 458 2829

 

 

 

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A SIMPLE DINNER

Not the zucchini I used

Marie presented me with the last of her back-yard zucchini, a rather giant specimen that landed in my fridge with a loud thud. A few days later, looking for a quick dinner that would also satisfy a pasta craving, I retrieved the zucchini and started slicing it really thin. I love sautéed zucchini, cooked in olive oil at medium heat for a long time, until they are nearly charred and breaking apart. Just by themselves, added to pasta with more olive oil and red pepper, would be enough.

But there was the last fruit of my tomato plant, which I added at the last moment, and cooked until they started to release their juices. Salt and pepper and strips of basil completed the dish, while pappardelle where boiling nearby on the stove.

And then I became ambitious. Spotting some ricotta I had bought to eat with the last of the peaches, I added some to the pasta. What could have been a great dish became just ok. I should know better than using store-bought ricotta which, heated, just becomes a thick paste – my pasta now required profuse gulps of olive oil so it wouldn’t stick together. Lesson learned. Keep it simple when what you start with is good to begin with.

Now, had I used home-made ricotta, it would have been a different story altogether. The granules of the cheese would have separated, adding a pleasant, milky taste to the final dish. In its absence, I should have sticked with a sprinkle of the Parmesan my mother gave me and called it a day.

 

 

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THE PASTA SNOB

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roasted Vegetables

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.

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