An ode to Pasta – Silver Spoon: Pasta

Reviewing a cookbook can be quick and easy. You usually start talking about your impression when you open the book for the first time, the way recipes are featured and how easy it is to follow them. Then comes the ultimate test of the recipe itself that you have carefully chosen according to your cooking skills. Although a disaster could be funny to report, there is a slight chance that guests will never ring at your door again if the recipe turns into a nightmare!

When looking at the new Silver Spoon: Pasta cookbook featuring more than 350 recipes that the successful Silver Spoon team released a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking that pasta is more than a simple and basic dish that most people cook when there is nothing left in the fridge. There is something more to pasta. There is a spirit. A way of life.

However, only a true Italian could describe the particular relationship people have with pasta and why this dish has become one of the most popular meals around the world.  Have a seat and relax, the time has come to give the honour back to pasta.

From Ghigo Berni – San Lorenzo Fuoriporta

Pasta is a snowballing juggernaut of meaning and memory. It is both simplicity and the mother of invention. It is alchemy of Water, Durum Wheatflour and later on Egg. Combined, massaged and then rolled, cut, extruded, plaighted, combed, shaped and twisted into myriad forms, each one specific to a culinary purpose. Only the successful marriages which ensue withstand the test of time. They are untouchable, sacred, and often made in heaven.

“The water, flour combination goes back way back beyond the Qin dynasty. It is perhaps the oldest story in gastronomy, after bread the millennial combination of flour, water and, only later, yeast.

“Pasta has a specific dimension provided by the high gluten and protein properties of Durum wheat, but when you add the magic of an egg, the pasta assumes a very different personality. It gains color, depth, flavour, plasticity and higher nutritional value. It makes the dough more malleable, sculptable and easy to cook, using only hot, salted water. There are many different combinations of flour types to further add character and the pasta can be cooked immediately or air-dried for later consumption, lending yet subtler dimensions.

“In a way, the addition of the egg to the oldest form of simple food (ground starchy seeds and water) signals the beginning of settled populations. Where poultry farming appears, nomadic existence ends and human time, space and energy become available to further the cause of culinary evolution.

“Paradoxically, it was often during times of hardship that the most classic pasta dishes were conceived. Borne of scarcity, extracting the maximum potential from hard-earned ingredients, Italian pasta creations are often the paragon of simplicity, rustic elegance, and refinement.

“There should be no elogism to any one chef, rather there should be an understanding that Italian pasta today is the culmination of generation upon generation of maternal tradition. It is also a historical human endeavour, a conversation with our ancestors, a connection with unwritten texts and traditions, a testament to shared cultural influences with Arabia and the Far East. There is a Zen quality to a well-conceived pasta dish which reflects the rules of natural harmony, of Ying and Yang.

“Ricotta and spinach are generally domesticated within the protective wraps of pasta (ravioli, tortelloni, etc.). Mingled with strega liqueur, ground coffee and nutmeg, the parcels are anointed delicately with butter, tomato and parmesan.

“Other partnerships tend to remain as equals. Tuna, shellfish, pigeon, hare, and boar must remain wild among the spaghetti strands, free to roam the pappardelle, or able to randomly populate the cavities of more complex pasta shapes. All the animals should be wedded to their respective pastas using the vegetables and herbs familiar to their habitats.

“Pasta is so universal that it can accompany just about any edible life form, and the combinations which make up its vast, growing repertory have been tried and tested for generations. All the time, new forms appear, novel combinations are created and many fall into the waste bin of failed experiments. Yet the creative attempts to form fresh relationships continue unabated, yielding occasional gems which become tomorrow’s classics.

“Pasta, like noodle, is a wonderful culinary form. Its universality is unquestionable, its popularity unbeatable. Yet the basic format is as simple as bricks and mortar. A gifted architect creates shapes which complement a building’s natural surroundings, and a good cook will look for similar methods to recombine nature’s local produce in a wholesome, poetic way in order to create an enduring recipe.

“Ground seeds and water. Whether these be corn, rice, wheat, flax or buckwheat, the basic principle is to form structure and bulk; it’s the blank, nutritional canvas onto which we can add the more expressive ingredients available to us. Pasta, as the Italians have conceived it, exists when shape, tonality, flavour and texture lend character to the canvas itself, allowing it to interact more intimately with its culinary marriages. It’s an inescapably romantic union, as when a man makes the effort to dress with understated elegance, he complements the more interesting sartorial virtues of a woman.

Tagliatelle with Leek Bechamel – Tagliatelle con Besciamella  ai Porri Serves 4
For the béchamel sauce

40g butter
40 plain flour
500 ml lukewarm milk
200g semi soft cheese, diced

Melt the butter in a saucepan.
Stir in the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
Gradually stir in the milk, a little at a time. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes until thickened and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the fontena.

For the leek bechamel
25 g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks
50g speck or smoked bacon, diced
100 ml béchamel sauce (see above)
1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
275g fresh tagliatelle (I used Spaghetti instead)

Melt the butter with the oil in a saucepan.
Add the leeks and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
Add the bacon or speck and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes then stir the mixture in the béchamel  sauce. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the parsley and keep warm.
Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes until al dente.
Drain, transfer to a warmed serving dish, pour the béchamel mixture over and serve.

The Silver Spoon: Pasta
Published by Phaidon Press

Pass it on

Recipes should have a long and active life, passed from hand to hand, to be shared with the people we like, people we want to please or people we want to impress when they come for dinner for the first time.

Whether it is a recipe from your grandmother, your colleague or a website you saw the day before recipes are made to travel around the world. You don’t know where it starts and you will never go how far it can go. France, England, Malaysia, South America… Recipes can become incredible globe-trotters and teach us a lot about the taste of the world.
And thanks, Mr. Oliver for what you’re doing to get people back in their kitchen!

Last evening, we had our first couch-surfer at home from Ohio. As a French person living in the UK, I  made the following recipe, given to me by a colleague of mine, leaving in England. Pass it on and make it live. That is what sharing a recipe is all about, just as couch-surfing is all about sharing experiences.

Mozzarella Pasta Penne – 4 persons
250g pennePasta
1 can of plum tomatoes
1 can of chopped tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons of sundried tomato paste
150g of mozzarella
A good hand of chopped fresh basil
125g of grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven at 200°c.
Cook the pasta in boiling water until just tender.
Meanwhile heat the plum tomatoes and oil in a pan, breaking down the tomatoes gently with a wooden spoon.
While mixing, add the fresh tomatoes, the sundried tomato pasta, the diced mozzarella, half the parmesan, basil and seasoning to taste.
Bring to the boil and remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta and place in an ovenproof dish, pour the mixture over it and put it in the oven with remaining parmesan until the cheese is golden.
Serve with some chopped fresh tomatoes and lettuce.


The best of leftovers

Sometimes, the hidden magic of cooking is not in the dish you enjoy the day you’ve cooked it but how good it tastes the next day.
I don’t know if you have ever opened the fridge one day, only to tell yourself: ‘no need to cook tonight, it’s left over evening!’ You may also have experienced that subtle feeling that suddenly, your whole evening has a very different feeling to it… like it has to be Sunday.

You could have cooked for hours the day before, giving it all your best and yet, not only will the leftovers taste a hundred times better, it also has the chance to be given a second life, with all the spices blended perfectly to create a new, unique flavor… and the only thing you’ve done is reheat it.

Leftover is a whole new field for creativity and imagination, where you wonder ‘how am I going to transform this into a completely different dish.’

Peppers & bacon pasta – 2 persons (recipe created by my dear love!)
250g of penne
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
3 slices of bacon
A can of tomato sauce
The secret (and optional) ingredient: two tablespoons of cream cheese
Fresh basil leaves
5cl of white wine
Salt, pepper and Olive oil

Boil penne to taste.

Chop the peppers and bacon. Fry in a pan with some olive oil until soft. Add the tomato sauce, the white wine, the cream cheese and let it cook for another 5mn. Add some salt and black pepper.
Once the pasta is cooked, stir it with the sauce and serve!

24 hours later… the left over recipe
The pepper & bacon pasta leftover
A can of tuna
Some grated parmesan
Some basil leaves

Put your left-over in a microwave-friendly bowl, cover with the tuna, the chopped basil and the grated parmesan. Warm it up 5 minutes in the micro-wave … enjoy!