Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Growing up, Italian food was, like, the height of seductive cuisine in my world. In any TV show, people who were dating, people who were celebrating anniversaries, people who received promotions ... went to an Italian restaurant. Same with movies. As far as I knew, there was nothing more romantic or intimate or special than an Italian restaurant. Maybe French - but in films and on TV, the French restaurant was a place for experts; you had to speak the names with a French accent, and the waiters were always intimidatingly superior (pace francophiles, I'm talking about a child's impressions of pop culture 25 years ago here). People were obsessed with balsamic vinegar and arugula, every fancy cook with a cable cooking show would whip out that pasta machine and I'd feel a sense of awe and desire - heck, even as small child, one of my favorite toys was that play-doh expresser toy. Man, I loved that thing!
These days, though, you don't see a lot of hype about Italian cooking. It's everywhere, it's comforting ... probably fewer people have the time for the intensive prep work of making things from scratch. The exciting new areas of cuisine lately seem to be other Mediterranean cultures - and points east. Freekeh. Quince. Preserved lemons.
I've been wondering if it's about time for Italian food to make a comeback as a trend.
Certainly, in my own kitchen, I've been making more pasta and pizza this summer than in many summers I can remember - and yes, entirely from scratch. We even have the fancy pasta machine now, but I don't seem to have the strength to change the settings on the thickness so I only ever use it if Cass is here to help me. Most of the time, I roll my pasta by hand, with a simple, solid wood, French-style tapered rolling pin that I bought at the hardware store for six or seven dollars (seriously, sometimes the simple, basic model is the best - I love the control the taper gives me, letting me pivot the pressure and work one bit of dough or crust at a time).
Tonight, it's fava bean agnolotti with a rich, creamy curry emulsion from The French Laundry cookbook. You can click the link to go to the recipe - it's on epicurious! The guys at my favorite produce stand down at the Public Market (aka Pike Place Market) had fava beans last week and I was terribly excited to see them. "Probably the last of the season for us," they told me, and admitted that the beans were a little past their prime - and should be cooked 1-2 minutes longer than normal. Since these are probably my last taste of favas until next spring, I wanted to find a nice way to showcase their flavor; and grinding them into a pasty filling also seemed a good way to deal with the potential issue of woodiness of overripe beans. I had fun folding the pasta into a new shape (for me), and breaking out my new fluted pastry wheel to make those pretty pinked edges (another one of those cheap, hard-working basic tools, we bought the fluted wheel at Mrs. Cook's for less than $8) that are so classic.
Sometimes, it's just so satisfying to stop what you're doing and spend a whole afternoon kneading eggs into flour, rolling out dough, and carefully forming perfect bites for a special dinner. And to boot, while I was waiting for the dough to rest, I squeezed in a good research session - the limited time was just the motivation I needed to overcome some procrastination/intimidation that's totally been holding me back on putting a grant proposal together. I guess even the quiet ritual of making pasta is a comforting influence, for me!