Saturday, October 16, 2010

Comforting Pasta

I've just returned from another business trip abroad.  While I am fortunate to enjoy plenty of good food during travel, there's just something about the pasta you make at home that is comforting.  I make all kinds of pasta, so today I wanted to talk about some of the ways I like to make and serve pasta dishes.

Probably the dish I find of most 'comfort' is the pasta that my mother regularly made.  It was pasta with a red sauce and ground meat.  She usually cooked a pork chop in the sauce along with the ground beef to add flavor.  It was served in a big pasta bowl on the table which made it look even more appetizing.  Sometimes she used spaghetti, sometimes she used rigatoni.  It really didn't matter the shape of the noodle, as it always hit the spot.   My version of that dish is shown here.  It always says 'your home' to me!

I do make meatballs, although sometimes I substitute sausage link pieces when I don't have ground beef in the sauce.  I have even used bulk Italian sausage in place of ground beef in the sauce.

I also like to make a couple different types of seafood pasta.  I'll separate these into two categories; red sauce and no sauce.

I like to make a spicy red sauce known as Arrabbiata.  This is a sauce with garlic, tomatoes, and red chili cooked in olive oil.  When fresh tomatoes are abundant it makes a fine sauce with seafood.  Arrabbiata means 'angry style' in Italian, because of its spiciness.   Sometimes I do it with mussels as shown here, and other times with a mix of seafood like shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels and even fish.  I often cook the tomatoes down to nothing more than a sauce with no solids remaining, but for something lighter I will gently cook the tomatoes and other ingredients, and add a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce just before serving.  I do now more often make this 'garden style chunky' sauce than any other type of sauce.

For a lighter dish, I often make pasta simply with a splash of olive oil, minced fresh garlic, chopped fresh basil and some salt/pepper.  To this I'm fond of adding some grilled shrimp, which are quick to do on the grill or on a grill pan on the stove top.  I make a variation of this for clams, by steaming the clams in some broth made with clam juice, white wine, butter and onions.  Once the clams have opened I use the flavorful sauce to toss with the pasta.

Heavy cream sauces (think Alfredo) are not something I often make.  While they are flavorful, I just find them too rich to consume.  I  do sometimes add a little cream to a tomato-based sauce which helps to reduce acidity and can improve the texture.

For all of the above, I cook the pasta until it's just barely 'al dente'... or still pretty firm.  I do this because, regardless of the sauce I'm making, I transfer the pasta into the sauce and cook it a few minutes more there, as I find it better absorbs the flavor and gives a superior presentation.  If there is one thing I can't stand it is plain boiled pasta that has been plated then topped with sauce. This invariably leads to a plate with water under the pasta.  Yuk!  And I use all types of pasta noodles, from very thin to very thick and all shapes, sizes and colors.

So as you can see, I find pasta such a versatile and comforting dish, I make it often.  That could be because my mother was Italian.  Or it could be that pasta is just a good food; easy to digest and wonderful on the palate. 

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