On Pasta. (Noodles)
By Lydia on November 15, 2008 6:32 PM| | Comments (9)
My grandmother used to say "pasta" "pahsta" like "patrimony." My mother once told me that this was because she wanted everyone to know that she wasn't quite comfortable with that word; she was not that kind of lady. I grew up saying "noodles," and "spaghetti" was also a blanket term for any kind of noodle.  I have grudgingly accepted the use of more specific terms, but I still think its dumb when someone says something like, " Oh, I had a great fusili last night."

When I was growing up my mother made dinner every night from scratch, and probably 3 out of 7 nights we ate some kind of noodle. It was our staple carbohydrate. The sauce took some usual forms: Stop And Go, Normal, Pesto, Cream, Meatball, and Cheese were probably the most frequent. Stop And Go was a very simple red sauce with fresh basil, this was pretty much my favorite, and I hated it when my mother would sauce the pasta in the bowl rather than on individual plates, as I thought I was getting less sauce. Normal  and pesto are pretty clear descriptions, but Normal must have some chopped celery and carrot in it. Not a lot, but a little. I have since learned that chopped celery, onion and carrot is called a mirepoix, and is the basis for lots of French dishes. Here they should be chopped finely and cooked til tender, so they are barely detectable in the final product.

Cream sauce was really more of a spur of the moment lunch dish, mixing milk or half n' half with butter and garlic and parmesean. My sister who must have a hot meal 3 times a day makes this All The Time. Meat, and hence, Meatball, was a fairly rare occurance. Maybe we ate meat once or twice a week, counting breakfasts and lunches as well. To this day, I dislike almost every meatball except my mama's. Cheese really means Macaroni And. My mom makes the kind where you make a roux with butter and flour and milk and cheese (technically called mornay sauce) and then put even more cheese on top and when it bakes up the top gets golden and brown and crusty. Yum. 

Yes, there were others. We had forays into clam sauce and spicy sauce and whatevs, but last week I was reading Bitten, and Mr. Bittman was talking about how one should always have in the fridge a quantity of cooked greens, to be mixed into various dishes including pasta. What? Has everyone been eating greens with pasta and I never knew about it? That sounds kind of good, and really good for me. Well, I made some tonight and it kind of blew me away. It was way better than "kinda good, but good for me." It was delicious. On the off chance that I was not the only one who missed the memo, here is an apoximation of my recipe:

Who Knew Noodles with Green

1 quantity mustard greens (or any like kale, collards, turnip, beet, whatev)
couple cloves garlic
red pepper flakes
some kind of onion ( I used leeks cause I had them handy, but normal yellow onions are cheaper)
liquid (water, white wine, whatever beer you're drinking, stock/broth dry vermouth)

        ---- A note on dry vermouth. I do not make myself martinis, but I think this is indispensible. It keeps forever and can do what white wine does in almost every instance. Don't drink white wine? Don't want to open a whole bottle that you know is going to oxidize in your fridge before you get desperate enough to drink the damn thing? Buy a bottle of white/dry/French vermouth. My bottle of Gallo cost me $3.99(!!)  and it'll last you forever. Vermouth is just a fortified wine, the fortifications keep it good longer, good for us!----

some pasta
cheese if desired

Start the pasta water first, as the greens cook in less than half the time it'll take the water to boil. Make pasta. Cook garlic/onion/pepper flakes in oil. I used a couple anchovy filets too, cause the can was open and I love that shit. When browned and smelly throw greens and liquid in. Scrape bottom of pan so nothing burns and you get the good stuff up. Cook til wilty and tasty-looking. Throw pasta in with greens and toss. Serve in bowls, and top with cheese. I used crumbly, mild farmer's cheese, Friendship brand I think, and available at Russo's, but you can use romano, parmasean, or nothing. It does lend a creaminess that I likes a lot. Maybe if we all petition Martha's they will start carrying it.

I love that with noodles only a 10 minute output of energy effectively guarantees a good dinner, probably with leftovers. I am thinking now of the woman I saw at Meijer's today with her cart stacked solely with Lean Cuisine frozen entrees. Does that woman know those aren't really good for you? Does she know that it takes more time to boil water than make dinner? Watching people's carts makes me a little sad and a little ill. I know there is something of a trend toward local food and the like, and that's great, but is the message really getting to the people who need it? First we have the hard task of convincing them that the preparation and consumtion of a meal is a worthwile and unintimidating venture. I think this needs to happen before the kids grow up thinking that toaster pasteries, mac and cheese in a microwavable pouch, and processed lunch meats are not only good food, but the only food.

Well, that was depressing. Do any of you have favorite pasta stories/recipes?

I can offer up a nice pizza sauce recipe I created (not pasta but it's semi-italian). It makes for a nice light sauce which I enjoy and creates an alternative to Ragu and canned pizza sauce.

-About 1-1/2 tomatoes chopped (cross your fingers in the hope you chose the juiciest)
-Enough olive oil to make it look sort of spreadable... or at least easier to spread than just the tomato would be. (I'm guessing 2 to 2-1/2 Tablespoons)
-Onion powder
-Italian Seasoning - or a harmony of oregano, basil, and such
-A touch of cinnamon
-A clove Garlic (more if you love it)
-Some pesto - Enough to evenly coat the chopped tomatoes with a hint of green, you don't want it to be over powering.

Mix in a bowl (with all tomato juices) and spread on a crust ... this should be enough for a 12". And just as easy as your cream sauce!

Wow, this is interesting. I don't see so many uncooked sauces like this. The tomatoes you use are fresh, not canned? Do you have to alter this at all in the dead of winter when supermarket tomatoes taste like cardboard? Also, how fine do you chop the tomatoes? Should they be kind of chunky still? Sounds really fresh tasting. Thanks for a recipe that is almost as fast as opening a can of store-bought!

Oh, you are making me so hungry!

I like to leave my tomatoes fairly chunky. It creates a fresher taste and doubles as a topping. I'd say 1/4" square roughly.

As far as winter pizzas go, ordering out might be the best bet. Although with toppings and cheese it may be just fine... i'll let you known come January.

By the way, thanks for the blog, it's my fave!

Whooo!!! Thank you!

I think using canned tomatoes is 100% acceptable in most applications, but I suppose here the question of it being uncooked might factor. Still, I think that canned is preferable to bland (ha ha.) I would def. drain them if using canned, though, and maybe chop them smaller to minimize the texture difference. We shall see...

Hi lydia , here's one of my favorites, though it does call for good fresh tomatoes , so it's really a summer dish. Saute up 4 or 5 scallions and a small can of sliced black olives. Chop up some tomatoes (4 ? maybe) and let it all cook down a bit. Put over noodles with plenty of feta cheese . I like french feta because it isn't so bite-y. I really dig your blog. Cheers, Rosemary

How about this:
Cut up lots of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, like a half cup. This is why, along with butter, one belongs to Costco. Saute in 1/4 cup olive oil. Mince 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and add to the tomatoes. Saute until fragrant, but do not burn the garlic. Add 1/4 cup pine nuts. Serve over your favorite pasta. I would choose penne, but some would always want linguini. Add a quantity of grated parmesan or romano, or I usually get the already grated mixture of the two from Russo's. That's why we call it sprinkle cheese while self-graters might call it wind-up cheese.

Thanks Mama and Rosemary! These are great. Mama, you should pick me up some of those tomatoes next time you hit up the store.

I was totally going to note our "sprinkle cheese" v. "wind-up cheese" thing and forgot. Thanks for the add.

I, too, love the anchovy. And while I agree re: the ridiculousness of the statement "Oh, I had a great fusili last night," I must endorse bucatini-- the thick, hollow pasta-- as best for slurping up anchovy-spiked sauces. This one, for example: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pasta-with-Spicy-Anchovy-Sauce-and-Dill-Bread-Crumbs-241984