Days of Pasta
"Which pasta?" We ask each night.
The cupboard is opened, the boxes and bags are studied. Sometimes organized by brand, always organized by shape. The top two shelves are home to unopened boxes, where as the bottom shelf's sole purpose is for opened boxes. A half pound of this or that.
Ideally we like to use what is opened first, but sometimes that's not always ideal for the dish.
Last night we were fortunate. A half box of De Cecco Conchiglie Rigate (shells), sat front and center. The perfect vehicle for pasta with ceci (chickpeas) and capers. The perfection lies in the shape, texture and body it gives to the dish. A white sauce with a focus on extra virgin olive oil, shallot, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon, white wine, ceci (both whole and mashed), capers, parsley, scallion and Parmesan.
The shape. It's perfection lies in the fact that it holds a bouquet, the sauce that was prepared with such care and anticipation. Each shell, a tiny care package to be delivered from bowl to mouth. You can taste everything until the very last bite when you put down your fork with a great deal of satisfaction and ultimate sadness because the pasta is gone.
The texture. The thickness of the shell, the ridges, a great absorber of flavor. The sauce clings and won't let go. It's trapped. Lucky us.
The body. A good pasta releases itself to the salted water. The salted water is always used to increase and enhance the sauce respectfully. The starch draws everything together, becoming blissfully thick, adding gloss and silkiness.
While our pasta bowls are warming on the back burner, absorbing any heat radiating from the cooking pasta, the sauce is being made. The olive oil is brought up to temperature with the garlic, shallot and crushed red pepper. This is always started in a cold pan. One must be gentle and methodical when building a sauce.
When the garlic has released it's beautiful aroma and the shallot have become translucent it is time to add in the ceci. Everything is given a good stir and flip over a gentle flame. Roberto mashes some of the ceci with the back of a fork. This will add body and texture as well. A bit of white wine is added. The alcohol burns off quickly. A nice squeeze of lemon. We throw in the capers and parsley with a scoop or two of the boiling pasta water.
The pasta is pulled from the pot, al dente, and added to the sauce. The chopped scallions are thrown in, black pepper is cracked, a few spoonfuls of Parmesan are added to the mix. Everything continues to cook gently while being stirred, flipped, and folded.
Every shell is coated. All of the flames have been killed. The bowls are transferred to the counter. The pasta pot is moved to the back burner. Roberto fills the bowls. The bowls are brought to the table where we further enhance with more crushed red pepper and Parmesan.
We eat. Another vision becomes reality. The house is quiet. The only noise, the clinking of forks. There are smiles and bright eyes. I may be over-romanticizing, but it's the truth...really.
If you are a firm lover of pasta, as we are, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read a very nice article in the New York Times about Oretta Zanini De Vita. For further delight, I encourage you to wander over to the accompanying slide show.
p.s. It occurred to me that I forgot to mention the salt. It was added along the way. A given, I hope.