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Pasta nada - last night's experiment

"A lot of delicious things in life aren't lookers." Felicity Cloake


When I first saw those words - 'pasta nada' in an article in one of The New York Times newsletters by Emily Weinstein, I thought it might be an actual Italian pasta dish, but no, it was just an expression used by Dwight Garner who wrote a cookbook in which he said his father used use that term for:


"pasta dishes that were made on the fly from whatever was in the house."


And this is what I did for last night's dinner - seen on the left. It doesn't look particularly wonderful but dear reader it was - hence Felicity Cloake's lead quote. I really had rather too much of it I'm afraid - it was so delicious.


In fact it was so delicious that I wondered whether I should write it down for myself somewhere - which is sort of what I am doing now. If I don't I shall forget what I did.


It was Friday night and I fancied pasta, and I thought I would do one of those 'what have I got in the fridge?' dishes. My main impetus was about a quarter of a very old cabbage. Cabbage lasts forever in the fridge doesn't it? But it was definitely beginning to look like the end was night. Cabbage is not something one generally associates with pasta. I thought potentially lemon but got no further so I went online of course, and found quite a slew of suggestions which rather surprised me. Several involved caramelised onions. Some of them cooked the cabbage with the pasta, some fried it.


The most appealing or rather the one that was nearest to my original thoughts was this

Creamy lemon & cabbage pasta with garlic crumbs from the BBC's Good Food website. And yes, it looks considerably more attractive than mine. Really though it was a combination of ideas from all of those other recipes that set me on my own path. So this is what I did - for two people:


"I put my pasta on to cook - a curly sort of ribbed macaroni, whilst I sliced one onion finely and started it caramelising over low heat in a good slice of butter, with a few drops of oil to stop them burning. To this I soon added my finely sliced cabbage - tough bits discarded; some finely sliced bacon; a crushed clove of garlic and finely chopped parsley stalks, plus a few - a very few - chilli flakes. I cooked this with the lid on the pan for some time, until it was nicely browning and soft, but not burning, at which point I took off the lid and added the zest and juice of a lemon and a couple of tablespoons of cream. When the liquid was disappearing I added some pasta water. To finish I just drained the cooked pasta added it to the vegetable mix and tossed it around until it was all combined, scattered some chopped parsley on top and there you are - dinner. With lots of grated Parmesan on top - and pepper. And for me - a few more chilli flakes. Before I started I had meant to scatter with toasted breadcrumbs as well but forgot all about that as I cooked."


I was actually amazed at how good it was. It was one of those dishes in which all the elements combined together so that nothing dominated, although I do think the lemon made it. I will make it again.


However, I decided to showcase my effort here, not to show off, but to show how really simple dishes can give so much pleasure. And also to ponder on that 'nada' concept - I assume it means 'nothing' in Italian, and I think it sort of does, although in Spanish it means 'you're welcome', which is also appropriate in its way - a welcome surprise - a response to congratulations and thanks received - perhaps - and a welcome to a new recipe for the portfolio. I think the origins quoted in The New York Times, however were Italian, so I'm going for the 'nothing' translation. Or next to nothing. The writer, Dwight Garner followed up with a longer explanation of the kind of dish he was talking about:


"One of our standbys is sage with toasted walnuts that are chopped somewhat finely. We always have a sage plant or two to raid, so this is easy. And it’s bliss. If you keep the basic ingredients for puttanesca (tuna, capers, anchovies, black olives, garlic, etc.) around, you can generally omit any two or three of them, add parsley and have good nada. Small leftover chunks of mozzarella mix well with cherry tomatoes or basil or both. Some nights, for us, dinner is just pasta with parsley and red pepper flakes and a mix of butter and olive oil. And decent bread and a glass of red wine."


And Emily Weinstein herself described the 'nada spirit' as "flexible and made with few ingredients, the kinds you might keep stocked in the fridge, pantry or freezer."


Some of the most classic Italian dishes are indeed supremely simple, and I have written about some of them in times gone by - al limone; cacio e pepe; olio e aiglio, pomidoro and so on, so I thought I would see if I could find a few more which were just as simple - from the usual suspects I'm afraid - but not Ottolenghi - he almost gets that simple, but not quite.


First Rachel Roddy who has several, but one which I have not mentioned before is a Neapolitan dish called Rubbish spaghetti – ’O sicchje ra munnezza'. I've included it here, not just because it is dead simple, but also because it has a slightly strange sweet and sour combination of ingredients - a kind of semi-dried tomato, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, capers, olives, oregano and parsley - all in very specific quantities, and not forgetting the olive oil which she describes as 'the foundation of the recipe'.

All of which produces:


"not so much an encompassing sauce, but a well-flavoured, well-balanced condiment to go with spaghetti" Rachel Roddy


So yes there are a few ingredients but you don't do anything complicated with them, just a tiny bit of chopping. It's an assembly job really.


On to two of the offerings from Jamie Oliver who, of course, has heaps. The first one is Pasta bianco - the recipe can be found on the Suitable for Consumption website. Bianco means white, and honestly this is just as basic as you can get - pasta, butter, cheese. Although:


"This dish can also be quite luxurious. It's the key pasta dish that's made when white truffles are in season. The truffles are literally sliced over the top - I can't think of anything nicer to have with them than really cheesy, buttery pasta." Jamie Oliver


You can watch him make it on YouTube although this version is really bianco in that there is not even any butter - but butter, I think is a common extra, and sometimes garlic. There is also a longer video in which he teams up with his friend Gennaro Contaldi - a version which features the truffles.


His second offering is a variation of one that many others provide - Tagliatelle with spinach, mascarpone and parmesan - Jamie Oliver/Roxana's Kitchen. In some ways related to my efforts of last night I guess. And, of course it could be any kind of greens and cream or ricotta instead of the mascarpone.


My last guru in the simple pasta world is Nigel Slater whose first book Real Fast Food is full of suggestions, including a somewhat more interesting variation on that last one, which he calls Pasta with yoghurt and herbs.


"Tip a pot of thick Greek-style yoghurt into a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir in the loosely filled teacupful of chopped fresh herbs. Season with 4 or 5 twists of the peppermill and heat until the yoghurt is just warmed through. Cook enough pasta for two in boiling salted water till al dente. Any shape of pasta will do. Drain and return it to the pan, off the heat. Stir in the warm yoghurt and herb sauce, scooping out the dish with a rubber spatula."


I could find no picture of it however, although his Pasta with lemon, green herbs and toasted breadcrumbs as cooked by the writer of Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops is similar.


And he has an even simpler pasta suggestion as well that I should mention:


"Commercial soft cheese, the ones sold in pleated foil packages and which reek of garlic, made a wonderfully fragrant sauce when cut into chunks and thrown into hot pasta."


Barely a recipe that one.


Or try Noodles with Butter and Green Peppercorns - for which chop 2 tablespoons of green peppercorns and throw them into 50g of butter, to which you add cooked noodles. Again no picture. However, he later refined this somewhat by adding smoked salmon to the mix - Pasta with smoked salmon and peppercorn butter.


We always have some smoked salmon in the fridge - or I guess it could be ham, tuna ...


So Pasta nada - a new and exciting opportunity for a fridge raid. I suppose it depends on you knowing what might go with what, and also on having things in your fridge that need using. My latest additions to the fridge raid category are some leftover roast peppered fillet steak, a couple of roast potatoes, a bit of sauce and some roasted red onions. Very different but I guess that too could be a nascent pasta nada or would it be better as a stir fry, or a kind of sausage roll.?


Never mistake simple for bland!" says Nagi Maehashi of Recipe Tin Eats. And never mistake it for boring or ordinary either. Have a go.

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21 apr
Valutazione 4 stelle su 5.

Well it might have been simple but it was delicious. 4 out of 5 for taste. Looked a little lacking in colour but great food! Let's experiment ........

Mi piace
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