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It’s All in the Pasta

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.06.14 PMAuthor Daphne Kingma suggests that we all have a signature strength, or a few, allowing for resilience during times of distress. She encourages her reader to get in touch with theirs, for example:

endurance
the ability to analyze things
the ability to look at life from an upside-down or inside-out point of view
the ability to organize and sequence things
the ability to see core truths
the ability to read energy and empathize

How about a deep and abiding love of good pasta? I remember a yoga teacher once saying that “focus is the opposite of depression,” key word being “focus” rather than “happiness” or “optimism,” words that tend to sound phony and inaccessible when you’re actually feeling depressed. But pasta? Pasta sounds delicious when you’re actually feeling depressed. And it takes focus to execute a tasty pasta dish. So, according to my logic, pasta equals the opposite of depression. Am I right?

Kingma articulates the significance of a “signature strength” in loftier terms:

“Just as your spinal cord runs all the way through your spine, there is a through-line of giftedness, a unique and powerful way of responding, that runs throughout your life. Certain things that were true of you at age seven, fourteen, and twenty-one are still true, no matter how much life may be rocking and rolling around you.”

If I really dig deep, there’s a through-line that involves pasta from the age of seven, and then at fourteen, and even at the age of twenty-one. Just recently I spent a long weekend visiting my parents and we made fettucini noodles by hand, something my dad used to do with my brothers and I when I was really little. This time we used a Kitchen Aid Mixer with the fancy attachments.

In recent years, I’ve experimented with various recipes for homemade macaroni and cheese — I’d vouch for both Martha Stewart’s recipe and Cristina Ferrare’s, sans truffle oil — and secretly I want to cook my way through Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta, which I’ve owned for a few years. When I’m low on groceries, I like making her rotelli with walnut sauce, which makes a hearty and satisfying meal out of little more than parmesan, walnuts, milk or cream, butter, and olive oil. It’s rather like Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for sphagetti with cheese and black pepper which has been on my “must try” list for years. Okay, there’s another through-line that runs through my life as sure as my spinal cord, and it’s a deep and abiding love of CHEESE. Don’t tell anyone.

To me, Ina Garten’s recipe for pasta, pesto, and peas epitomizes late summer pasta eating at its finest — a balance of fresh, resourceful, and cheesy 🙂 In my opinion, since fettucini noodles are more filling and somehow more elevated than bowtie pasta or spaghetti, they pair well with the richly flavored and textured sauce. Homemade noodles are even better 🙂 When I cooked this meal with my parents, we used all 4 cups of pesto instead of the 1 1/2 cups listed. It turned out delicious.

Tools

Measuring cups
Liquid measuring cups
Food processor
Measuring spoons
Mixing bowls
Chef’s knife
Cutting board
Colander
Salad spinner
Paper towels
Small skillet
Spatula
Lemon juicer or fork
Cheese grater

Pasta with Pesto and Peas
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe

Ingredients, Pesto

Fettucini noodles, cooked according to package directions*
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago

Ingredients, Sauce

1 10 oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pine nuts. toasted
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoons pepper

*If the fettucini noodles are homemade, cook for 3-4 minutes in boiling water, or until al dente.

*To clean the basil, place it in a colander and briefly run under cold tap water. Dry the basil in a salad spinner and remove any extra water by squeezing the basil between paper towels.

  • Get out all the ingredients, for both the pesto and the sauce. Measure out the ingredients for the pesto and place set everything out in mixing bowls. Toast the walnuts and the pine nuts together in small, dry skillet, until the nuts are fragrant and warm.
  • In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the nuts and the garlic for about 15 seconds. Add the basil, salt, and pepper and process until the basil is cut into small pieces. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
  • With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube until the pesto has the consistency of a thick, liquidy purée. Add the Parmesan and purée until combined.
  • Squeeze the defrosted spinach with paper towels. Repeat this process until barely any water can be squeezed out. Squeeze and measure the lemon juice. Add the spinach and the lemon juice to the pesto in the food processor. Add the mayonnaise and pulse to combine.
  • Measure out the remaining ingredients for the sauce and have them ready. Once the pasta noodles are cooked, combine the noodles and the sauce in a big bowl. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, defrosted peas, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper.

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