“Pasta is a canvas on which you paint with the colors of the sauce …” – The Philosopher
“Pasta is a damn quick meal at the end of a brutally long day at work … ” – The Realist
I have a bit of both in me ,so pasta offers some entertainment after a long day at work when the cafeteria dinner menu is just gets too dull for my tolerance limits. A few weeks ago, I took up a personal challenge to cook 3 quick pasta dishes on weekdays. To add some spice to the challenge , they’d all be vegetarian.
Cacio e Pepe
This one was really an excuse to break open 3 separate ingredients from their packs. The name translates to “cheese and pepper” – and along with the pasta are almost the only ingredients you need. The cheese here is a Pecorino Romano – a surprisingly difficult to find item in Seoul. The pepper was a can that I acquired in Sri Lanka on a trip earlier this year. The pasta – a splendid spaghetti. Because its such a simple dish … it pays to have good ingredients. To add a bit of zing, I put in a couple of sprigs of thyme to flavor some olive oil in which I tossed the pasta before sprinkling over the grated cheese and the pepper. Nothing can be simpler!
Spaghetti with grilled tomatoes
Cacio e Pepe was on a particularly brutal Monday. Tuesday was more relaxed and I got home earlier ,so tried to add some more color to the canvas rather than just a black and white sketch. The palette consisted of multi-colored tomatoes. They were cut in half, tossed in some olive oil with a few sprigs of thyme and basil, and roasted at 150C for about an hour. In the meantime, you can enjoy a soak in the tub or go for a run. For the last 5mins of the roasting, crank up the temperature to the highest possible setting to provide a nice “finish” on the tomatoes.
In a pan heat some olive oil and flavor it with a clove of garlic. Cook the pasta (spaghetti or linguine) and add to the pan of oil along with the tomatoes. Add some basil at the last moment and plate with a generous dose of grated Parmigiano Reggiano .
Pasta alla Norma
This classic Sicilian dish is both simple and a great joy to make. On a Friday, it was also a way to celebrate the beginning of the weekend. The colors of the aubergine, the tomato and the basil can’t help but cheer you up. A bottle of Nero d’Avola makes for wonderful pairing with both the dish as well as a perfect companion as you watch the sun set behind distant hills! Cut the aubergine into cubes, sprinkle with salt and let the moisture drain for about 40mins to about an hour. Have a (few) glass of wine, spin some poetry, enjoy the sunset (philosopher awaken … realist, rest for the rest of the week!) Remove the excess salt from the aubergines and toss them in hot olive oil for a minute with a bit of oregano. Set aside and put a whole (smashed) clove of garlic to flavor of oil. Start cooking the pasta (I’ve tried it with spaghetti, penne and rigatoni … all of them works just fine). Put the tomatoes in the oil over medium heat. As the pasta approaches completion, crank up the heat and add the part cooked aubergines. Add the pasta to the pan and toss around. Add the basil just before turning off the gas. Serve with a glass of Nero d’Avola.
I’ve deliberately avoided recipes here. Cooking is not just about following recipes , its a protest to the dull cafeteria food (AND the junk ready to eat microwaved stuff!), its a celebration of things in life worth enjoying and its about enjoying being impulsive. Ditch the cookbook, take out your brush and palette and paint a bowl of pasta!