Yes, it is the time of the year for gumbo, jambalaya, and all of those great, hearty recipe we are famous for in south Mississippi. No, its not very cold, we hardly need the extra calories, but it sure is satisfying to serve a big bowl of steaming gumbo to friends and family. But, I have to be honest with you, my most favorite comfort food isn’t gumbo, its pasta.
But let’s get something straight right up front: there are two basic types of pasta, dried and fresh. The two are so completely different, they can hardly be compared to each other. It isn’t a matter of one being better than another, just different. Dried pasta lends itself to hearty, thick sauces (think Bolognese), fresh pasta is better with light sauces, like brown butter or olive oil and herbs. Fresh pasta cooks in a minute or two but dried can take much longer (always look at the package directions).
Here is a point of contention: most Americans like their pasta cooked until completely soft. The Italians prefer al dente, with means toothsome with a little resistance in the center. Again, it isn’t a matter of being right or wrong (the Italians would disagree), it is a matter of taste. What is wrong is cooking pasta till it is mush. Pasta should be firm, just like most vegetables. Do not overcook it!
I love pasta in almost any style. Of course, Italian is the best, but I hate to tell you all pasta is not equal. The cheap stuff, most often domestically made, is pretty plain and not very interesting at all. The best is almost always imported Italian pasta, and it is more expensive. But the dollar or two you are going to pay more for the good stuff is well worth the cost.
So, what is my favorite pasta recipe? There is no way I could narrow it down to just one, but here are a few that I am very found of. Midnight pasta is near the top of the list. Use best quality pasta that is not overcooked. In a sauté pan add olive oil, garlic, 2-3 fillets of anchovies and capers. That’s pretty much it. Cook until the anchovies have almost disappeared. Add more EVOO if necessary. Then, toss in the pasta and sprinkle on as much freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano as you like.
I do love a good Bolognese as well, but it takes hours to make, and, no, there are no short cuts. Sauté beef and/or pork (use ground, using a roast is a whole other recipe) until well done, remove and set aside. To the same pan add diced onions, bell pepper and a diced carrot. Season with Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add a large can of whole tomatoes (yes, the Italian imported ones are the best), two cups of good dry red wine add a left over rind of Parmesan Reggiano, if you have it. And simmer until the wine has almost disappeared. Add the meat back and simmer for at least 45 minutes. If you want the long cooked version, do not add the meat until the sauce is just 45 minutes away from being done. (It becomes mealy if cooked too long.)
This may surprise you, but my favorite pasta dish is just pasta (of the best quality), butter, Italian unfiltered olive oil and Parmesan Reggiano. A pinch of red pepper flakes is all the seasoning it needs unless you have fresh oregano or rosemary that you want to add.
So, there you have it, my idea of a near perfect meal. For some reason, this is also my go to meal when I am eating alone, but it works just as well for a group of friends.