Slow Food Columbus Blog

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This is a superb simple food recipe that I owe to an episode of Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats. Alton pointed out something that I hadn’t known before — that the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta might not be as important (or interesting) as the difference between the dies used to extrude the pasta.


So the story runs something like this. Pasta used to be made with bronze pasta dies. Sometime after World War II, however, pasta makers discovered that if they used teflon-coated pasta dies, they could extrude their pastas much more quickly, and therefore produce quite a bit more pasta.

All good — except that this new, teflon-extruded pasta isn’t as porous as the old-fashioned kind. (In fact, scientists with nothing better to do estimate that it’s about half as porous.) As a result, sauces can’t quite get the same grip on the pasta that they used to be able to get, so the sauce just slides right off.

Oh-ho. Now, all of a sudden, I became very interested in bronze pasta dies and the porosity of pasta!

So I went out and found some Italian pasta at Whole Foods that had been made using old-fashioned bronze pasta dies. I would tell you the name of the manufacturer, but I have eaten all of the pasta. (I’ll post it in the comments when I get some more.) It’s also available at Tasi in the Short North and at the little stall with all of the wonderful Italian foodstuffs in the North Market. It’s very, very good. Last night Patrick tipped me off to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola had started a bronze-die pasta company (Mammarella) in New York. I’ve also had slow-processed (“Lenta Lavorazione“) Rummo pasta, which was absolutely superb, from Cafe del Mondo on 4th. Regardless of the source, though, getting good pasta is key, because the point of the recipe is to bring out the flavor of the pasta and enhance and accent it.

Start by putting a very large pot of water on to boil. Alton’s proportions are 3 quarts of water to 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to 16 ounces of dried spaghetti noodles, which sounds about like what I’ve done. As it’s warming, put some extra virgin olive oil in a skillet on very very very low heat. Use good oil and be very careful with the heat: extra virgin oil has a very low smoke point, so don’t burn it. Tear up a head of garlic and throw as many peeled cloves as you’d like into the skillet to cook. Then go rummaging through the pantry and add whatever odds and ends appeal to you. In my favorite version of this recipe, I added some shelled pistachios and some acorn-fed sopressata from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor — utter heaven. A different time, I tried garlic, olive oil, sliced-up cheese brats from Weiland’s, three different mustards (walnut, grape must, and a mustard-based hot sauce), toasted pecans, cranberries, and a little Italian parsley, all of which worked surprisingly well together: the three mustards coated the brats and played well off of the cheddar cheese, the pecans and the cranberries complemented each other, and each group of flavors complemented the other and the brats.  Whatever you add, add the things that need to cook the longest first, and never turn up the heat. Cook low and slow.

When the water boils, add the pasta and stir gently until it bends and works its way into the water. Keep stirring and testing until it’s springy and just past the sticks-in-your-teeth stage. That’s usually less time than it says on the label, so keep on it. Drain in a colander immediately. Shake but don’t rinse (you want that starch to grab the sauce!) Then drop it into the skillet and coat it thoroughly with the oil, garlic, and whatever else is in there. Once it’s all thoroughly mixed up, portion it out and serve immediately.

Especially as spring approaches, a nice light white wine is great with a dish like this. Which one to choose depends on the oil and pasta and other ingredients and so on. The hands-down best I’ve had so far is a Château Virgile Costières de Nimes, a complex, minerally wine that complements the olive oil beautifully (and also happens to be a great value).


Written by Bear

April 19, 2008 at 4:15 pm

One Response

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  1. Found the pasta. It’s called Rustichella d’Abruzzo. It comes in brown paper bags with red and green writing.


    April 23, 2008 at 2:04 am

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