Pasta of the Week
One of my favorite Italian cookbooks and one that every serious Italian cook should own is the classic, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi. It was first published in 1891 and is still in print. It is so much more than a cookbook. Artusi gives insights into Italian culture and many aspects of the human experience. For example, he takes digestion very seriously. Flatulence can certainly be an embarrassment and at the worst, downright mortifying. Artusi takes care to protect us from this horrible occurrence by explaining which food combinations are potentially dangerous.
I bring up Artusi because of his humorous insight into this week’s pasta: tagliatelle (tiny strips). Wider than fettuccini but narrower than pappardelle, these strips are the Holy Grail of pasta shapes in Bologna. The tagliatelle’s official size, registered in the Academia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cooking), should measure 1 mm thick and 6 mm wide. However, the residents of Bologna consider the competence of a good cook by the length of the noodles. Artusi writes, “‘Bills should be short and tagliatelle long,’ the people of Bologna say, and they are right, because long bills terrify poor husbands and short tagliatelle look like leftovers, attesting to the incompetence of their maker.”
For this recipe, I took the easy route and used dried tagliatelle. Because the noodles are so long, they come in cute little clusters in the package. Next week we will venture into the world of fresh pasta, so stay tuned.
Kabocha and Red Kuri winter squashes work best for this dish:
To the cook:
Peeling and cutting hard winter squash such as Kabocha or Red Kuri can be challenging. Try placing the whole squash in a 325 F oven for 15 minutes prior to cutting. Once it has cooled, use a Y-peeler to remove skin and a sharp knife will cut through with much less effort.
To rinse or not to rinse:
Do not rinse pasta after draining because you lose the binding quality of the starch. When the cooked pasta is added to the sauce, the starch binds to the sauce and thus the flavor is absorbed into the pasta. For best results, when the pasta is done cooking, be sure to add it immediately to the sauce.
For a grain-free pasta alternative, try this chick-pea flour pasta.
Winter Squash and Tagliatelle Bake
This dish is a favorite in southern Italy, specifically the Caserta province in Campania.
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 5-6 red chili peppers, seeded and diced (I like Cherry Bombs)
- 1 8.8 oz package tagliatelle bundles, dry
- 14 ounces winter squash, peeled and small diced
- 1 cup (3 oz) Pecorino (you can use Pecorino-Romano, but it will make the dish saltier)
- 1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 6-7 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into thin ribbons) or 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Grease bottom of 10-inch casserole dish with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Set aside.
- Heat 6 tablespoons olive oil on medium heat in a 12 – 14 inch heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) and saute onion and chili peppers for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Meanwhile, in an 8 quart stock pot, start pasta water, add salt and turn on high. Cook tagliatelle according to package directions.
- While the pasta water is heating and tagliatelle are cooking, add squash and salt to skillet and saute at medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Squash should be just cooked through.
- When tagliatelle is done, save 1/2 cup of cooking water and drain pasta. Do not rinse.
- Add cooked pasta, parsley, basil and cooking water to the squash mixture.
- Stir everything together for 1-2 minutes to completely coat the tagliatelle.
- Carefully spoon the tagliatelle, squash mixture on to the breadcrumbs in the casserole dish.
- Sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese and bake at 350 C for 15 minutes.
- Serve immediately. Wine pairing suggestion: Semi dry white with a bit of sweetness.
Here is a possible alternative- Spinach pasta!