Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cold Pasta

"It's fascinating to travel around Italy and realize 
just how many different ways they make spaghetti."
~ Mario Batali

"The food was great," I overheard Mike telling a friend today, "but really, after awhile, you get tired of eating pasta all the time."  Speak for yourself, Skippy. 

In fairness, Mike is not of Italian descent, and his mother didn't cook spaghetti of any kind.  I think the only pasta he ate while he was growing up was that canned crap by Chef Boyardee.  Marrying me changed him, of course, and he's now more discriminating when it comes to Italian food.  Of course, he's also the one who ordered cannelloni in France (below) and got something akin to Gravy Train (My apologies to Purina for the insult.).

 When I was growing up, we had pasta of some sort at least twice a week, and I'd eat cold pasta for breakfast a lot of mornings.  Seriously. I am not a fan of breakfast, but pasta is another story.  Jason, our son, is just like me, and he preferred pasta or soup in the morning  (That revelation sent his second grade teacher into fits similar to the ones his first-grade teacher had over the dog sibling.).

What I'm getting at is that I love almost any kind of pasta, although my favorite is with tomato sauce, mushrooms optional.

"You can eat tomato sauce on anything," Mike says to me a lot.  Darn right. (Although I might not try it on donuts or oatmeal.)  Yet, I'm willing to try other types of pasta sauces. Some I like, and others are, well, not to my taste, shall we say.

 "What the heck did you order?" Mike asked when the waiter delivered my tortellini with truffles (above).  I have to admit that I stared at it for a bit, too, as the sauce was not quite pleasing to the eye.  The tortellini, filled with  mild Umbrian cheese, were good if I scraped the sauce off of them.  The taste of the truffles was a bit too strong, and, quite frankly, I didn't like it at all.  Just looking at the photo makes me sick

"What the heck did you order?" Mike asked when the waiter put my plate in front of me (above).  (Do you get the feeling that we ask each other the same question all the time?  We do.)

In Bologna last week I ordered tortolloni with a "soft" butter and basil sauce.  The pasta filling was ricotta and spinach, and the sauce was just as advertised, butter and basil and nothing else. It enhanced the delicate flavor of the tortolloni.  

The following evening, we went to a different Bologna restaurant, and Mike ordered lasagna (above) while I ordered gnocchi (below).

"Are you sure you want pasta again?" Mike asked when I was ordering.

"Yes."  I had not had gnocchi in all our time in Italy, and I wanted it before we left.

"You just had pasta last night." He wasn't going to give up.

"And your point is what?  I want gnocchi."  Good grief.

I was glad I ordered it as the gnocchi were perfect.  While gnocchi are easy to make, they are not easy to make correctly.  My mom and grandmother made them, and Grams always said that if you overwork the dough, you end up with bullets.  These were not bullets.

I didn't always order filled or unusual pastas.  Actually, I think I had them only three times in our time overseas.  Usually I ordered spaghetti a la chittara (photo at top of post) or pappardelle (above).  Chittara are strings that are cut with a guitar-like device. Instead of being round, the strands are square or rectangular.  Pappardelle are wide, flat noodles that hold the sauce nicely.

Note that the Italians do not overload the plate with sauce.  The sauce enhances the pasta, but it doesn't overpower it.

 One of my favorite pastas is ravioli (above).  I didn't order it, but it looked great.  Have you noticed, by the way, that in addition to using less sauce,  the Europeans serve smaller portions?

In case you don't know, there are over 600 types of pasta in the world.  While Italy is known for its pastas,  they are also popular in many other cuisines, particularly Asian.  All Italian pasta names are plural, and the ending can give you an indication of the size of the pasta. There are others, but -ini will indicated smaller, and -oni will indicate larger. For example, we're all familiar with spaghetti which is a long, string-like pasta.  Spaghettini is a thinner version, and Spaghettoni is the thicker version.  Also, you might have noticed that I had tortellini in Spoleto and tortolloni in Bologna.  Same basic pasta shape, but the ones in Bologna were larger.

"What are we having for dinner tonight?" Mike asked me a bit ago.

"I'm not sure yet.  It's too early for me to think about it." I wasn't going to tell him, but we're having pasta. I may even make the noodles myself.  I'll let you know if I do.

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