April 15 – April 21, 2019
Monday: Leftover Lamb et. al.
Tuesday: Omelet with Onion and Herbs / Dressed Arugula
Wednesday: Caldo Gallego – Galician White Bean Soup
Thursday: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Friday: Salade Niçoise
Sunday: Grilled Leg of Lamb/Oven-Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Pancetta/
Steamed Asparagus/Lucali Sald/Pear Crostata.
Our azaleas are out in force but I can’t show you because it’s been too rainy to take a picture. May seems to have gotten mixed up with April – it’s bee all showers instead of flowers. All of which is by way of apologizing for confusing the blog in the same way that the rain is confusing the calendar.
As near as I can figure, I not only omitted a post (the week before last), but last week I actually addressed menus from the wrong week. Look – you couldn’t be more confused than I am, so I think the thing to do is to ignore, for the moment, any sense of continuity and dip back into the menus from 2 weeks ago which, if you followed what I wrote above, were what I should have focused on last week. In any event – there they are – at the top of this post. And of those dinners, while the finest was Easter – certainly the pear crostata was super-fine – the most spring-like and the most in line with the current mode of cuisine at Casa Stuarti was the pasta with fresh tomato sauce that we cooked two Thursdays ago, or was it three?
Perhaps if we focus on food, rather than chronology, we can work our way out of this morass. It turns out that we, that is to say She Who Must Be Obeyed and I, enjoy all types of cooking (she’s iffy on anchovies only). But in Spring, during the week we are particularly drawn to simple meals with bright flavors. And who, you might ask, is not? Well, I can think of lots of folks, but I’m not going to name names. There is enough shaming going on daily on the internet and in D.C. to make a Salem witch-hunter blush.
So, what is a simple dish? In our house, a simple dish is one that you can throw together with a few minutes prep and cook in an hour or less. Something that doesn’t tempt you into considering take-out. In fact, if a simple dish takes an hour that’s because either (a) you need to fire up the grill or (b) you need to marinate something quickly. Pasta is an eminently simple thing to cook (in 9-12 minutes) and substituting fresh tomato sauce for an all-day simmer of ragû makes it perfect for the end of a busy day. Throw in a salad and you can feel righteous and be well-fed with a minimum of fuss.
Now what is a bright taste? Almost anything savory with a squeeze of lemon, and almost anything with fresh (uncooked) tomatoes. The trick here is to tone down the brightness (the acidity) of the tomato. If you simply threw a bunch of cherry tomatoes onto some cooked pasta, most of you would find it too tart and fairly uninteresting. So, use the recipe below to create a light, bright, savory pasta that you can cook while your spouse is groaning at the latest political statements of the president or his enemies.
Note: It is possible to buy a bad cherry tomato – some can taste soapy and some have a metallic bitterness. The “Cherubs” brand they sell at Giant Eagle is consistently good – I’m sure that your supermarket has something equal or superior. But do taste the tomatoes to make sure that they’re not off. Any brand of dried semolina pasta will work with this sauce. If you go for whole wheat, the flavor of the pasta will make the dish less bright but more savory. If you go with any of the more exotic flours they now transubstantiate into pasta – good luck. You’re on your own.
Two final points. 1. Garlic. Garlic can overwhelm and the garlic you find in most markets has been sitting for a while and is usually bitter as well as pungent. We want you to use some garlic, but less than the recipe calls for. Garlic will help to tone down the sharp acidity of the tomatoes, but too much will overwhelm the brightness we’re looking for here. 2. Olive oil – buy a good brand of extra virgin olive oil for the final dressing of your pasta. You’ll be using very little oil, but a little bit of rancid or muddy tasting oil will fuddle the taste we’re looking for here.
PASTA WITH FRESH (UNCOOKED) TOMATO SAUCE
(adapted from Lynn Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table)
Timing: 20 minutes tops
Ingredients: Serves 4
1 clove garlic, split (toss away half)
2 ½ – 3 pounds of flavorful tomatoes (at this time of year, in Pittsburgh, unless you got to specialty stores in the strip or Shadyside, that means cherry tomatoes – see note above in the main post)
1-2 tablespoons of packed basil leaves (or an equal amount of parsley or 1 tablespoon of oregano or thyme)
4 tablespoons or so of extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fusilli, penne, linguine or spaghetti (the tubular pastas are easier to toss in this dish, but we like the way that the spaghetti, if you twirl it with a spoon and fork, captures the tomatoes and herbs)
¾ cup or so of grated Pecorino Romano (you want an aged, not a fresh pecorino here – the hard stuff is the aged)
Salt and pepper
Halve the tomatoes. Rub a serving bowl with the garlic. You only need a good rub once around the bowl at various levels. If you love garlic, rub vigorously. If you take our advice, you’ll rub lightly.
Add the tomatoes, then the basil, three tablespoons of the oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir, then let sit at room temperature while you cook the pasta.
Boil water in a large part or Dutch oven. Salt it generously.
Cook and Serve:
Cook the pasta in full boiling water until al dente. You can go either of two routes here:
Cook the pasta to your own taste, then drain and toss in the bowl with the tomato mixture. Add a little cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, then serve and pass some more cheese.
Or undercook the pasta slightly. Then, reserving a ladle or two of the pasta water in a bowl, drain the pasta and toss it back into the pot (reduce the heat to medium). Add the tomato mixture and cook, tossing gently for a minute or two. Add some of the pasta water if it seems too dry. Now pour back into the bowl where the tomatoes marinated and add some cheese and toss. Serve and pass more cheese at the table.