Pasta: Perpetual Possibilities
I recently entered a pasta recipe in a contest to win a $500 gift card to Sur La Table. It consisted of orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta, crispy garbanzos and artichoke hearts, feta, sundried tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and lots of garlic, all tossed with extra-virgin olive oil. It’s not really a recipe I’ve ever written down — just a variation of one of my favorite flavor combinations.
Not that I really have any chance of winning. There were hundreds of recipes posted, and each one was unique. As I looked through the pages and pages of entries, I saw that each recipe had its own little flare, its own distinct touch. That’s the thing about pasta: there’s really no limit. Usually when I’m at home, making dinner for my family, I open the cabinet, take out a box of pasta and then route around a little to see what I can find. There’s always the opportunity for a delicious pasta experience, no matter what ingredients I have on hand.
Of course, pasta comes from Italy, and different regions lay claim to different types of pasta. In fact, Italians eat about 60 pounds of pasta per person, per year (I’m not sure if I’ve reached that level of dedication yet). The classic pasta with tomato sauce became extremely popular in Southern Italy after Italians discovered that tomatoes were edible. From the plain tomato sauce came pasta alla Bolognese, or pasta with meat gravy, mastered originally in the city of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
And then there’s pasta al forno, baked pasta, which hails from Northern Italy. Pasta with burnt butter sauce comes from Piedmont. Pasta Alfredo, pasta with a creamy cheese sauce, comes from the Rome-Lazio region, as does pasta alla carbonara, pasta with a sauce of eggs, cheese, butter, and often bacon or pancetta. Penne alla vodka, penne pasta with a tomato-vodka-cream sauce, originates from the Rome-Lazio region. Pasta al pesto, pasta with a sauce — usually consisting of basil, parmigiano-reggiano, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil — comes from the Liguria and Genoa regions. Here, the climate and soil is perfect for growing basil.
But, pasta made with semolina flour really only gives a partial view of Italian-carbohydrate favorites. Lombardy is home to risotto and gnocchi, other popular Italian dishes with unlimited possibilities. Buckwheat pasta, or Pizzoccheri, also comes from Lombardy, one of the only regions that still grows buckwheat.
All of the versions started with an original recipe, but today, no one restricts themselves to just the classics. Just the other day I was watching Rachel Ray (I put the Food Network on at all hours of the day) and she made a pesto with tarragon, chives, hazelnuts, garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano. And that’s why pasta is so fabulous. Not only is it a cheap, fast, satisfying meal, but it can also be exciting. I know my mom always makes a little squeal when I put together an original feast (well, maybe my mom just gets excited easily). But, you could easily make a different kind of pasta every day of the week and not get bored.
I challenge you to make a fun new pasta dish. You don’t have to use a recipe. Just look at what you’ve got and go for it. I guarantee it will be delicious.
Posted in AU Gourmet