It’s not a punch in the stomach!

One of the basic standard pasta dishes in Italy is “olio aglio” which means “oil garlic” and is simply the combination of spaghetti or linguine with a sauce of garlic sautéed gently in warmed olive oil. Often, some red peppers or red pepper flakes are added to the sauce and you have “olio aglio peperoncino” or “oil garlic red pepper”. 

I asked Marco to share his thoughts on this simple pasta, asking him, without taking time to think about it, to say the first things that came to mind. His first word was “garlic”. He said, the flavor of the garlic is what he enjoys about eating this comfort food. Then, he imagined the feeling of the oil in his mouth, just the right amount of olive oil flavor and silky texture without swimming in it or conversely being too dry.

This prompted a little philosophy about the art of Italian cooking. Marco shared how this simple dish illustrates many of the basic principles used and how the skillful application of them can mean the difference between a bad meal and an enjoyable plate of pasta. For instance, take the boiling of the spaghetti. Remember the time I posted about the salting of the water (click here)? If the water isn’t salted correctly, the pasta is less able to take on the flavors of any sauce that you might make.

Just as the French might test a chef through the making of an omelet, the Italian know a good cook through the skillful preparation of this simple pasta!

In addition to remembering to generously salt the water with coarse sea salt crystals, the heat is kept on low so that the garlic and red peppers get warmed up but not burned. Do this while the pasta is boiling.The other trick is to save some of the starchy water left over from the boil to add a couple of tablespoons up to a 1/4 cup based one how much pasta you’re making. This water gets stirred in with the sauce and spaghetti to ensure a creamy texture. So, if it’s a little dry, add a little more but not so much that the sauce is watery. In this case, simply have the heat turned up a bit so the water can boil off while vigorously mixing.

In addition to being one of the comfort foods from Marco’s childhood, he also remembers olio aglio e peperoncino as the late night snack meal after a bunch of friends have been out late and they get the midnight snack munchies. Every Italian kitchen has some spaghetti and olive oil and garlic and red pepper flakes on hand. It’s quick work, easy to make for a group snack, and as Marco said, “non un pugno nello stomaco“, “not a punch in the stomach”! It’s a light dish that won’t sit heavy in the stomach through the sleeping hours.Ingredients (4 people):

  • 70-100 grams of pasta per person
  • EVOO, coating the bottom of the pan
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic sliced thinly
  • 2 red peppers, ends cut off, sliced once the long way and then sliced into thin pieces (you can play around with quantity here, but an Italian will want to be sure and taste the garlic even while enjoying a little of the heat in the peppers)

Process:

  1. salt and boil the pasta till al dente
  2. on low heat, sauté the garlic and red pepper
  3. add the pasta, turning up the heat to high
  4. add small quantities of the starchy water, stirring vigorously until the desired consistency
  5. parsley could also be added at the end
  6. some also enjoy a sprinkle of grated parmesan 

Buon appetito!

Leftovers

I’m not a big fan of leftovers. I don’t know too many people who are! We usually cook in such a way that we don’t have any food left. So, for instance, when we make a pasta dish, we weigh out the dried pasta so that we have 70 grams each. This is enough for the main dish, then, with a side salad or veggie, a piece of fruit at the end, and, we call it a meal.Marco taught me one kind of leftover to love. It’s pasta! The key is in how it’s warmed up. It can’t just be stuck in the microwave. Nor can it be heated up in the oven. Instead, it must be done the way Adelina did it for Marco when he was a boy! Simply spread some EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) in the pan, heat it up a bit, add your leftover pasta and let it warm up, ensuring that some of the pasta pieces get a nice crisped browned crunchiness!
The pasta pictured here is not done this way, but was made using a different kind of leftover. Remember the Italian-styled pulled pork recipe from awhile back (click here)? Well, that makes a lot of pulled pork, more than we can eat in one sitting, even after serving guests! So, we freeze some in small batches. While the penne is boiling in salted water, we drizzle EVOO in the pan, sauté some sliced garlic pieces, add some of the defrosted pork, mix in some of our canned tomato sauce from the summer (click here for 3 minute video) and taste before adding salt and pepper. The result is a dish that really doesn’t seem like leftovers!Buon appetito!

Semiurban living

Our friend Matt coined the term semiurban to describe what Marco and I love about living in Salem; it is the best of urban living with the ability to easily enjoy life outside the city (click here for his FB page). Steps from our door we have an artisan bakery, a cheese shop, wine stores, and so many varied restaurants. We can walk to the Cinema, stroll to the harbor, and live next door to a world-class museum, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). We can walk to friend’s for dinner, amble through the parks and gardens within downtown, bike the paths to neighboring Marblehead, ocean trails and beaches, or even a large wooded preserve with hiking trails.

Last night, we walked 10 minutes to Hamilton Hall (click here), a historic building designed and build by architect Samuel McIntire in 1805 and named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first secretary of the treasury. The hall is located on one of the best preserved historic street of federalist style homes in the United States, Chestnut Street. It is on this street that you can see why Salem was the wealthiest cities in the country in the early 1800’s and housed our country’s first millionaires.

In this historic hall, we heard a concert of Czech Masters by The Boston Artists Ensemble (click here), a chamber music performance ensemble. The music of the evening brought us from a tale as interpreted by the Russian poet V.A. Zhukovsky to Dvorák’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in D Major, to a mystery piece of No. 11 from Dvorák’s  Cypresses for String Quartet, and ending with a Piano Quinetet No. 2, written by Martinû, a composer who fled to the south of France from the Nazis, and then New York City where he composed this piece. Hearing the music in the historic building, imagining the lives of the composers from Moravia, Prague, Vienna, Paris, and New York, dreaming that, perhaps the violins were made in Cremona, noticing the fine craftsmanship of the Steinway and Sons grand piano, I was, briefly transported to a world in which we are not bound by borders and walls but music that unites and expands our worlds.

A wonderful French addition to Salem is the patisserie that came to town about 1 year ago. We walk 5 minutes to the french bakery that makes this gem above, le religieux, or the religious (click here for Caramel). It is a collection of beautiful art work, all of which is edible. Our new habit is to go every Sunday morning for a breakfast of pain au chocolat and a café au lait. Of course, while there we buy a baguette, a dessert for Sunday lunch, and sometimes a homemade jam or jelly.

This week I attended a 3 day workshop in Dedham, forcing me to travel the 52 minutes to 2 hours it requires to get there by 128. While on break at the hotel I asked the best and safest way to walk the 1/2 mile to get to Legacy Place. After 20 minutes of walking, much of this on sidewalk-less streets, watching cars zoom past, hearing and seeing the bustle of highway and street noise, I realized that I wasn’t going to make it to the mall; it was a stark reminder that much of our system is built for the car and not pedestrians, and causing me to long for my semiurban life.

Bread bread bread!!!

My boys called me from the airport in Kathmandu just before traveling the 24 hours it would take to arrive home. Many things could be passing through their minds at a time like this:  “24 hours in a metal contraption in the sky!”. . . or. . . “we hope we make it home safely!”, or. . . “we miss you and love you so much and can’t wait to give you a hug!” But, the thing they wanted to stress with me, is that I had to make a certain meal for their homecoming, and it had to have my home-made bread! (click here for the recipe)

BREAD, BREAD, BREAD!!!

Italians love bread! It is a staple at breakfast, it’s included at lunch, and also a part of dinner. Bread is used to “fare la scarpetta (to sop up the sauce with bread).” Sometimes it is thin and long in the form of grissini (bread stick). Or, it is smothered in Nutella for a post-meal dolce (dessert) or a mid-afternoon snack.

I remember one of the first times that Marco’s parents came to visit years ago. We took them to New York city. Everything was new and different, the skyscrapers, the noise, and the food. We took them to their first Chinese restaurant in New York. Minutes into the meal the request came, “where’s the bread?” 

Back at their home in Italy, each morning Enzo heads out on foot for the daily bread. Our Condo in Cremona is two floors above a bakery so that each morning you wake to the smell of the freshly baked bread wafting up to call you to a new day.  Every Italian family has a process by which they access the day’s bread.  And, I imagine that, for centuries, a rhythm like this has existed with different moving parts built around the goal of making and eating the simple and glorious baked grain mixture we call bread!

Buon appetito!