Saturday, October 22, 2011
A few months ago, I watched an episode of No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain, where he made a trip to Rome. The entire show was shot in black and white to capture a sense of Fellini's films, and in one scene, we saw an italian chef preparing a plate of pasta for Bourdain. It looked rather simple. make the pasta, toss some cheese in it and crack black pepper over it. In fact, it looked so ordinary that I didn't pay much attention to it until Boudain starting eating and finishing every last morsel of it. In fact, he did not even reveal the name of the restaurant to prevent it from becoming a tourist attraction. That piqued my interest.
Fast forward a few months later, I received Jamie Oliver's Dinners cookbook as a gift and I saw the recipe for pasta bianco. I was thrilled! Even though it was a different dish from the one shown on No Reservations (which, by the way is tagliolini cacio e pepe), it reminded me of that dish and I wanted to try!
The secret, as in many italian recipes, is in the pasta. I like mine al dente, with a firm bite to it. Once you've got that right, you've won half the battle. The other important thing to note is the use of good parmesan cheese. I use freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and believe me, there is a distinct difference between that and pre-shredded ones. Just a fun fact, according to wikipedia, under the italian law, only cheese produced in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova can label their cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano. That's how fiercely they guard its reputation! But if you can't get your hands on those, a block of good parmesan cheese is can do (just not pre-shredded!).
Pasta Bianco (adapted from Jamie's Dinners)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 1/2 of ounces butter
1 pound tagliatelle or fettucine (I used linguini)
2 or 3 handfuls of freshly grated parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small shallow pan, slowly fry the garlic in the butter without coloring for a few minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta, and cook according to the package instructions. When it's done, drain it in a colander over a bowl so you save some of the starchy cooking water. Reserving this water and using it to finish off a pasta sauce is absolutely critical to getting any pasta sauce right, especially this one.
Get yourself a big, warmed pasta or salad bowl and pour your melted garlic butter into it so that the whole surface is covered. Then toss in your cooked pasta with about 5 or 6 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water and the parmesan cheese. Season to taste. With tongs or two forks, toss the pasta around. The butter, garlic, water and Parmesan will form a really creamy sauce.
What you need to do next is get everyone round the table. You may have to keep feeding the pasta with a little of the reserved cooking water, so the sauce stays silky and delicate and not too sticky. Once you get the consistency right, serve the pasta into bowls and pass round a big chunk of Parmesan cheese and a grater.
There are many ways of varying this sauce - you can lay some prosciutto over, or stir some chopped tomatoes into your garlic butter before removing from the heat, or you can incorporate different cheeses, but the key is to get simple, well seasoned, delicate pasta coated in a butter cheese sauce.
Once you get this pasta exactly right, try to make it with a bit more speed the next time - the quicker you can do it and get it right, the better the pasta will be. Tweet