October 28 – November 3, 2019
Monday: Tunisian Chickpeas and Chard
Tuesday: Pizza and a Salad
Wednesday: Cannellini-Bean Pasta with Beurre Blanc
Thursday: Feel-Good Chicken Soup
Friday: Composed Salad – Tomatoes, Tuna, Cannellini with Onion
Saturday: Strip Steaks (courtesy of Uncle Bill from KC)
Sunday: Beez’s Hummus, Lasagna after breath-taking Steelers victory
Everything I am I owe to spaghetti.
- Sophia Loren
For me, a life without pasta would be a life without music, a
life without love. No dish in history has as many variations,
colors, motifs, tastes, textures, and subtleties as a dish of
pasta. . . When you enjoy a truly inspirational dish of pasta,
you ooh and ahh, like . . . hearing a blues riff from B.B. King for
the very first time. It’s a simple magic that makes you smile.
- Marc Vetri
This last week was a sort of homage to Sophia, the focus of many teenage male fantasies back in the day. But that’s another story, altogether, and probably not a wise one to tell in modern America. (A picture of this great beauty can be found at the end of this post)
Which brings us directly to the question of cultural appropriation. Sophia Loren was Italian. Marc Vetri is Italian by descent. In the wonderfully tolerant universe of the ‘woke,’ Loren and Vetri would have every right to cook any pasta of their liking, to discuss it, critique it and even to make money from it, provided they didn’t become billionaires. But what about an American of dubious descent with a distinctly waspish last name.* And where does Marc Vetri, himself, get off appropriating the blues, a distinctly African-American music form?
*For the record, I had two grandmothers of Irish descent, one grandfather of Irish descent, and one grandfather whose family came to America from Alsace-Lorraine.
As you have, no doubt, gathered from my tone, the idea of cultural appropriation, far from being a problem for me, is something I applaud. Kind of like the great collaboration between B.B. King and Eric Clapton that produced “Riding with the King.” Would that more of us cooked like Italians or Mexicans or Chinese or the French, played music and sang like Nat King Cole, told stories like the Irish, and wrote plays like the English.
I hope you didn’t mind that slight digression. And now back to the gist of this post.
Our pasta-centered week ended on Sunday, when Beez cooked a dynamite lasagna which Uncle Rick and I devoured after the Steelers’ nail-biting win over Indianapolis. We presume that you have your own approach to this most versatile, voluminous and heart-warming of casseroles, and would not, for all the tea in China, encourage you to change what your family already loves and looks forward to.
But perhaps you don’t know about the wonders of beurre blanc or how wonderfully complementary are beans and pasta (pasta e fagioli – or, more popularly, ‘pastafizool’.
There is a generous use of butter in this dish. But hey, would you rather cook a dish for Sophia Loren or the vegan down the street?
The trick to good pasta is to finish cooking it with whatever sauce you’re using so that the sauce soaks into and coats the pasta. When we were children, we used to order spaghetti at a local restaurant where the sauce slid off the pasta and you had to spoon it back on as you ate. In retrospect, that flabbergasts me. Marrying pasta and sauce is not rocket science. And the technique of undercooking pasta in boiling water and then finishing the cooking in the sauce is something you’ll probably nail on your first try. You’ll certainly have it worked out by your second or third. It’s simple: When you think the pasta is ready, snag a piece of the pasta and eat it – if it’s still chewy but doesn’t have a hard or chalky center, put it into the sauce.
If that seems daunting, no worries, the recipe below doesn’t even require that technique, since you’ll be cooking the pasta in the broth which helps to form the sauce.
As for the pasta itself – If you’re into home-made pasta, use it by all means.* But there are great dry pastas available in local supermarkets and specialty shops. Use a brand that is ‘cut’ with bronze dies. The bronze die cutting gives the pasta a rough, thirsty surface which more efficiently sucks up whatever sauce you’re using.
* We rarely make our own because it leaves us, our entire house, the dog and half of the neighborhood covered with a dusting of flour.
CANNELLINI-BEAN PASTA WITH BEURRE BLANC
(adapted from NYT Magazine recipe from 10-27-19)
Timing: About 40 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 4
Two 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed (Note: we often just drain the cannellini beans and dump them into our recipes without rinsing, since we actually like the liquid in the can. But in this dish, you want the beurre blanc to dominate, so rinse.)
6 cups of chicken stock (the recipe allows for vegetable stock and if you can stomach that stuff, be our guests, but please don’t ask us to be yours)
½ cup white wine
½ cup white-wine vinegar
Medium white onion or two shallots, finely chopped
6 tablespoons of butter
2 cups of small pasta shells
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino to finish
Salt and pepper
Drain and rinse the beans.
Measure out the wine, vinegar, butter and pasta.
Chop the onion or shallots.
Put the stock and the beans into a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
While the beans simmer, make the beurre blanc: Combine the wine, vinegar, onion or shallots, and the butter in a saucepan. Simmer over medium-low for 15 minutes, shaking the pan, if needed, as the liquid reduces to keep it from burning. Turn off the heat and set aside.
After the beans and stock have simmered for 20 minutes, stir in the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 more minutes, until the pasta is cooked through. [TASTE IT TO MAKE SURE]
Now stir in the beurre blanc and season generously with salt and pepper.
Serve this with a little grated cheese on top. It’s irresistible. Even Italians will compliment you.