Monday, May 16, 2005

Pasta Riace

This spaghetti (or linguine) recipe is one of my favorites, and a great thing to cook when you're hungry and it's getting late and you just want something to eat. It's great by itself, but sometimes I throw some chicken or a pork chop (usually dressed in nothing but olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper) on my cast iron grill pan to add some protein to the mix. It doesn't add much to the overall cooking time of the meal. I first had this, or something very much like it, at Cafe Riace (reviewed here) in Palo Alto, and was determined to reproduce it in my own kitchen. After a few trials, including a few cloves of overdone garlic, I think I've pretty much got it down pat, at least to the point where I like it well enough to call it "done." I mentioned it recently on a post over at my other blog (here), but here it is in a more organized format. The recipe looks long, but that's just because I ramble. It's actually one of the quickest and easiest things I've ever made for dinner, and the ingredients are ones I always have in the pantry--and if you don't have one or two or three of the ingredients, no worries, it's a wonderfully versatile recipe.

You will need:

Butter and/or extra-virgin olive oil
Garlic: a few cloves, depending on how many people you're feeding and what their garlic tolerance is--I usually use 2-3 medium-sized cloves for myself
Crushed red pepper
Parsley (flat-leaf, of course)
Salt, preferably sea salt
Freshly ground pepper (optional)
Parmigiano Reggiano
Long, thin pasta--either spaghetti or linguine--enough to feed your crowd

Get a pot and fill it with enough water for however much pasta you're planning on cooking--as always, give it plenty of room to move around as it's cooking. (Semi-apologetic note: I realize that most people reading this blog know perfectly well how to cook pasta properly, thank you very much, but you'd be surprised at some of the heresy I've seen when it comes to cooking pasta. Better safe than sorry.) Set it over high heat and leave it alone for a wee while.

While that's coming to a boil, do your garlic and parsley. Peel the garlic cloves, and either mince them or put them through a garlic press--I do the latter because it's easier, it gets more of the juices out, and the texture of the crushed garlic works better. Put the garlic aside. Rinse and finely chop a small handful of parsley, then put that aside as well.

When the water is boiling, salt it generously and add your noodles. Get out a small skillet (I use my 6" one) and put it over medium-low heat. Add some butter and/or olive oil (I find the flavor is a bit richer with butter, and I put in a bit of olive oil to help protect the butter a bit). For me, I use maybe a tablespoon of butter and as much again of olive oil, but the amounts you use will depend (as always) on how many people you're serving and how much garlic you'll have going. You can always add more butter or oil later, so best to err on the side of caution--you don't want the garlic to be swimming in oil, but you don't want there to be so little that it burns, either. Anyway, get the butter melted and the oil sleek and shimmery, but NOT too hot--you don't want to have it so hot that your garlic fries and becomes bitter.

Tip in your garlic and shake in some crushed red pepper (about 1 - 1.5 teaspoons per person) and let that infuse slowly and gently. Keep your heat as low as you can get it without it shutting off on you. The key here is to let the garlic soften and lose some of its hit-you-over-the-head sharpness, while infusing the richer garlic flavor into the butter/oil. The crushed red pepper infuses nicely, too. You can add the parsley at any time, really: sometimes I add it right away, and other times I add it right before the spaghetti finish cooking. It doesn't seem to matter. Either way, keep an eye on your garlic skillet, and do not let it reach anything other than a slow bubble, if even that.

When the pasta is cooked to your liking ("done" for me means that when bitten, the pasta no longer has a white core), drain it well, dump it in a big bowl, and grate some cheese over it. Mix it up, grate some more cheese, etc. until all the noodles have at least a bit of cheese on them. Then add the butter/oil-garlic-pepper-parsley "sauce," draining out some of the oil if need be, and then add some salt and toss it so that it's well mixed. I usually grate more cheese over it and mix that in, but the amount of cheese you add is up to you. I eat it straight from the bowl, but if you're serving multiple people, you might want to put it in individual bowls or on plates. :)