On Real Pasta

Ask me my favorite food and I’ll tell you without hesitation: pasta.  But I haven’t been eating it the way I used to.   Which is to say, without abandon.

I realized the other day that pasta, except, of course, for my beloved Ramen, has moved out of our weekly dinner rotation, and become something we have just every once in a while.

I had to give this one some thought–why was this happening in my life?  Did I even know myself anymore?


Around Christmastime I figured it out.  I had been spending each day leading up to December 25th figuring out what I was doing at that time last year.  Packing my suitcase, boarding a plane, exploring Rome.  Bingo.  I don’t eat pasta as much anymore because I went to Rome.  And when you’ve had pasta in Rome, you’ve had pasta.  Real pasta.  Rome made me pickier than you’d think possible about pasta.  As in, I was picky before (Barilla or DeCecco brands only, please and thank you), and now I’m ten times worse.  More than half of what makes Roman pasta so great is the homemade dough. I am searching high and low for a great quality pasta, so do fill me in if you have any leads. In the meantime, I’m still missing pasta all’amatriciana something fierce.

trattoria der pallaro

Which led me to my other conclusion, that the other part of what makes Roman pasta so great is how it’s sauced.  Simply.

pasta alla vino bianco

And that’s something I’m going to keep in mind as I work toward getting more pasta on the table.  Simple sauces often make the biggest impact.  This one comes from an old issue of Cooks Illustrated.  It took me back with just one bite.

To make Pasta alla Vino Bianco for 4, you will need:

  • 4 oz. pancetta (Yes, of course, you can use bacon.  No, it will not taste as Italian if you do.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) dry white wine
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sugar
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti
  • 5 C loosely packed arugula
  • 1/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 C grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 C pine nuts, toasted
  • shavings Parmesan cheese for garnish

Fry up the pancetta in a skillet.  Remove, set aside, and drain all but 2 T fat from skillet.

Set large pot of water to boil on stove.  Once it comes to a rapid boil, add 1 T salt, and cook pasta 4 minutes.  Reserve 1 C pasta water, then drain.  Yes, I know the pasta is nowhere near cooked yet.

Meanwhile, return skillet to heat and add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Saute 1-2 minutes, until garlic is brown.  Pour 1 1/2 C wine to pan, and scrape brown bits off bottom.  Let bubble till reduced by about 2/3, for about 8-10 minutes.  You should have about 1/2 C wine at this point.  Return pasta to skillet, and slowly add the rest of the wine, as if you were cooking risotto.  Add wine, about 1/2 C at a time, constantly stirring pasta as you go.  By the time you’ve done that, the pasta should be cooked (take a little piece out and give it a solid bite to find out for sure).  If the pasta isn’t quite where you want it, add 1/2 C pasta water and keep going.

Remove pasta from heat and add arugula, and pour 1/4 C pasta water on top.  Let sit for 1 minute, to slightly wilt arugula.  Give things a toss, and add cream and cheese.  Toss again.  Sprinkle a ton of freshly ground black pepper over top of pasta and give it one last, pre-serving toss.

Place pasta in serving bowl.  Top with nuts, and of course, more cheese.  Bring that pancetta back in the game, and portion out into bowls.

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