Cooking with my toddler: Summer Pasta

Monday, August 23, 2010

It used to be easy to toss off something a bit unknown or surprising about Italy, or Italian food. Like the fact that the South is pretty vegetarian and tomato oriented, but it’s the North with the best vegetables, despite the emphasis on meat up there. Or the fact that the further North, the less Olive Oil is used: by the time you get to the Swiss border, it’s just used a dash, maybe in a spring salad dressing. Butter is an almost un-heard of luxury in the South-- even cakes are made with olive oil.

But times are changing, even in Italy. More than fish is eaten on Fridays, and gelato has long been available in Naples.

One thing remains the same, though: Rome is the capital of pasta. Because it’s in the middle of Italy, Rome is called the capital of the “mezzogiorno”, the “mid-day”, in between North and South, in between olive oil and butter, meat and tomatoes. A compromise was forged in pasta. Rome has the greatest array of pasta dishes, and the most with meat sauce (unheard of even 50 miles south-- it’s almost all vegetarian sauce, meat was too special). Beyond pasta alone, Rome is really known for its spaghetti.

I grew up in Rome, and developed an unquenchable taste for pasta. I could eat it for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, 5 days a week (I want a hamburger, a banh mi, merguez, and some fish, yogurt, fruit, nuts, and some of M’s pizza, once in a while).

J seems to have inherited my pasta-tooth, but to accommodate his little two-year old fingers, I’ve modified a lot of our old pasta standbys to use penne and rigatoni instead of spaghetti. and in keeping with Italian tradition-- different types of sauces are suitable for different shapes of pasta-- I’ve ended up modifying some of the sauces along the way, too.

Tonight J and I made what I’ve taken to calling Summer Pasta. It started out life, years ago, as a version of a recipe in Patricia Wells’ Trattoria (highly recommended!), but has now, of course, taken on a life-- and flavor of it’s own. I shaved the cheese and diced the tomatoes, J spun the bitter greens and mixed the sauce together (I put the ingredients in individual bowls for him to pour into the large bowl and stir).

Tonight I added basil for the first time ever, but as always it was a total success: J ate two huge adult size helpings... and so did all the adults.

Summer Pasta
This is extremely easy to make, and while the sauce doesn't require cooking, it's a little more "done" and "saucy" than a pasta salad or pasta primavera. You can substitute any sort of bitter greens for the arugola-- the important thin is that the pecorino and bitter greens combine to give the sauced a kick, while the sweet/acid of the tomatoes mellows that out. Olive Oil binds it all together.

6 oz Pecorino
2 oz Parmesan
2 bunches Arugola or other mixed bitter greens
Sea salt
12 oz Tomatoes (use the tastiest ones you can find-- cherry, heirloom, etc-- whatever it takes. In a pinch I've used a can of Muir Glen)
1/2 c Olive Oil
1 lb Rigatoni

Shave 4 oz of the Pecorino into a large serving bowl. Rinse and spin the Greens, and tear/shred to bite size if necessary; Add to the bowl. Add salt.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them and their juices to the bowl, add a little more salt (this will help bring out the juice). Let sit for at least 10 minutes and up to 30.
Meanwhile, bring water for pasta to a boil, and add Rigatoni; cook as package directs.
Grate the remaining Pecorino, grate the parmesan, combine in a separate bowl.
2 Minutes before the pasta is ready, add the olive oil to the other ingredients and stir together.
Drain pasta and add to ingredients, toss to blend. Serve at he table and pass the additional cheese to top individually.

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