Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pasta, undressed

One of the most popular searches leading people to my home blog is, no-quotes, 'what to put on pasta.' Every time I see this, I think, how boring are people? Unlike those searching for 'hipster porn', 'sheygetz jewish woman', and 'is watermelon fattening', the pasta folks have perhaps not the most fertile imaginations.

Or so I thought, until I found myself with what looked like as many bags of pasta as days left in my apartment. This was months ago - once discovering the 99-cent bags at Whole Foods, and weaning myself off the marginally superior but once-$2-then-suddenly-much-more DeCecco boxes, I started hording the bags. And kept doing so. (My boyfriend warned me I might be going overboard, but did I listen?) And now, I have officially run out of things to put on pasta. I have tried everything. Every pasta dish I've ever seen on a menu and thought, 'that looks interesting,' I've made. (Turns out broccoli rabe, at least as I made it, is of no use.) Every interesting-looking Greenmarket vegetable has found itself on a bowl of pasta, as have non-vegetarian toppings of all kinds. Every possible variant of tomato sauce has made its way from cans of tomatoes to the pan. Every food I eat otherwise, with the notable exceptions of oatmeal, pizza, and Twix, has made its way onto a mound of pasta, such that there are no longer dishes that don't 'take' pasta, cheeses that don't 'go' with pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta....

So, I'm stuck. To preempt a reasonable suggestion - giving the remaining bags to charity upon moving out, as we'll probably have to do with some other stuff in the cabinets - I should note that the way our kitchen's laid out, with no ventilation (no window or vent), and with storage above the cabinets, all the bags are covered in a thick layer of kitchen grease. The contents of the bags are, I think but don't know, still viable, and I've been treating them as such, but to someone who didn't know the back story, the bags to not look or feel as though they contain edible food. The pasta is ours or it's garbage.

This is where I ask, after all, for suggestions for what to put on pasta. Linguine, to be precise. An Alice Waters pasta cookbook I consulted was of little use - some suggestions were excellent but obvious in their minimalism (although the fact that putting a few basic, fresh ingredients on pasta seems obvious owes a lot to Waters's influence); others were tailored to a climate with a bit more produce variety; and still more violated the Cheapness Studies credo - I'm all for what goes on the pasta being a higher price-per-pound than the heap of starch below, but a pasta recipe that begins with shucking oysters or requires the addition of caviar or truffles, however delicious the results, misses the point.


Matt said...

I've not tried any of this on Linguine. They might not be good on it. The first two I've mostly had on bow-tie pasta (though it works w/ other kinds, too) and the last on angel hair. If they sound good I can get the full recipes for you. (My wife usually makes them so I don't recall them off the top of my head.) They are not that expensive, or must not be because we ate them when I was still mostly living on a grad student stipend. The first is a sauce made from cream, blue cheese, and walnuts. It mostly involves melting blue cheese in cream and putting in walnut pieces. Very yummy and the ingredients are all available from trader joe's at fairly low prices. The second involves cream cheese, "salmon ends" (bits cut off of smoked salmon that you can get for $2 or so at fairway) and maybe something else to make a nice sauce. The last, for angel hair, is white wine (not much- a cup, I think) basil, and tomatoes, cut up. Maybe something else. It's refreshing and nice. I'm happy to get the full recipe if any sound good. I like them all a lot.

Miss Self-Important said...

eggs and bacon?

Phoebe said...


Thanks! I've made a version of the gorgonzola pasta, but had forgotten all about that, and will try it again. As for smoked-salmon bits... I'm sure that's fine, but I do tend to just go for the actual smoked salmon (in the smallest amount you can buy) when getting that, but either way, I'm not such a fan of the way it changes once cooked...


Do you mean both at once?

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes. Carbonara style:

Sarah said...

Pasta amatriciana, which is in the carbonara family but which I prefer. Brown some guanciale (pancetta if you can't get that, bacon if you can't get that). Remove the meat, drain off some fat. Sweat some onions in the remaining fat, then add in diced tomatoes and cook through. Add back in the meat and warm. Top the pasta.

Onions are cheap, obviously, as are cans of diced tomatoes. The meat is the expense here, but you can get by with a small amount, no more than an ounce per person. Even guanciale won't cost much more than a dollar an ounce, and bacon is far cheaper.

Red pepper flakes can be added during the tomato-cooking, and you can also sprinkle parmesan on top.

Marigold said...

Hello! This is my favourite linguine recipe *of all time* - the ingredients look somewhat pricey, but they're relatively cheap, at least where I live.

500g linguine
5tbsp olive oil
50g pine nuts
pinch dried chilli flakes
2 lemons
handful parsley
100g pitted green olives
5tbsp grated parmesan

Put some water on to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, put the oil and nuts in a small pan and warm over a low heat. Crush the garlic into the pan and sprinkle on chilli. Continue until nuts are lightly toasted.

Finely grate the zest from both lemons; cut one in half and squeeze out the juice. Roughly chop the parsley. Cook the pasta.

When the pasta is done, drain it and tip into a serving bowl. Pour over the garlicky oil and toss well with the lemon zest and juice, parsley, olives, parmesan and plenty of salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice to taste.

Hope that helps! It's so simple and delicious :)


WhatKathyDid said...

Linguine or other spaghetti-like pasta with sardines, lemon and vegetables. Yum. Takes 10 minutes to cook and costs about £1($1.5) for 2-3 people.

Here is is:
-Boil pasta
-2 mins before the pasta is ready add chopped veg (e.g. carrots, spinach, courgette/zucchini)to the pan and continue boiling until pasta is cooked
-drain the lot
-mash in a can of sardine fillets in olive oil
-add juice of half a lemon
-add a herb like thyme or oregano
-season to taste

Psyche said...

Have you tried baking pasta?

Take any of your favorite pasta recipes (one of my favorites is chard with whatever type of cured pork product is laying around, in a tomato or cream (or creamy tomato) sauce.).

Make the sauce a bit soupier than you usually would, cook the pasta a bit more al dente, then dump the mixture into a greased baking pan, top it with something that will brown (bread crumbs, cheese) and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is browned and the casserole is bubbling.

Also, bread crumbs sauteed in butter with a bit of garlic can replace parmesan cheese as a topping on lots of pasta dishes. They add flavor and crunch. I make them by saving the ends of bread loaves in the freezer, chopping them in the food processor when I get half a dozen together, and then tossing the crumbs back in the freezer to be parceled out as pasta topping, or in meatloaves, meat balls, stuffed zucchini, vegetable pancakes.... If you don't have a food processor, just toast the bread til it's fairly dry, and then mash it with a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy mug or pint glass.

Phoebe said...

Wow, thanks everyone!

Miss Self-Important said...

Yeah, um, looks like all that that pasta is going to find its way into a pot after all.