You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

martedì 9 marzo 2010

Comfort Food

This past Sunday was sunny and glorious. We had aperitivi outside, the dogs ran wild (except for Harry, who runs so wild he runs away; he was firmly leashed and in Samantha’s hands). The Italian Scallion pruned the apricot tree just outside our door; we put branches of it in a vase, and put it in the bathroom.

Today it is bitterly cold. Winds gusted through the night; you could hear the cypresses moaning. This morning, high humidity and the occasional snowflake. This afternoon it’s even colder and more miserable. I hear it is sunny and 60°F in New York. But it’s not here, so tonight’s dinner calls for comfort food. We always find it in spaghetti aglio e olio.

Waldo loves pasta, particularly any uncooked shape. He loves crunching on it. He loves crunching on things. We discovered this during his early months when we were in the south of France. We rented a small house with a garden, and the garden was full of snails. He was about three months old, and found great pleasure in eating them au naturel. He was in France, he reasoned, so why not enjoy some local fare?[1]

Waldo is sometimes humble, and he was most inexpensive. (Indeed, he was free.) He was born to a somewhat promiscuous mother named Leila. She was less than three years old, and Waldo's litter was her second. Leila roams the countryside in Galluzzo, a pretty suburb south of Florence. She has a sunny character, a rodent-like aspect to her muzzle, and her coat is a creamy tan.

All of her children were born black sometime in May 2005, some with little white markings. Clearly they take after their father. Waldo (see picture) is a mishmash of a pup. His tail sticks straight up, then curves over his back, a periscope gone awry. He is very silly, and loves to chase his tail, particularly after dinner.

Spaghetti aglio/olio, like Waldo, is a most humble, most inexpensive dish. Four basic ingredients are required: spaghetti, extra-virgin olive oil, hot peppers, and garlic. We mince the garlic; most slice it thinly. [2]We also add a lot of other stuff to it. What elevates this from something very tasty to something sublime is the addition of a beef bouillon cube (or a chicken cube, or a vegetarian cube … but it absolutely tastes best with a Knorr beef cube).

You could drink a simple, young red wine with this and still taste it; il Cucchiaio d’Argento suggests either Gavi or Frascati, both light white wines that easily induce headaches the next day. This dish goes really well with beer or ale (like Ceres) which also helps cut the heat from the peppers.

Samantha’s Spaghetti aglio-olio-peperoncini-dado di carne
Or Poor Noble Giovanni’s Spaghetti

200 gr. spaghetti
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 hot peppers such as jalapeno or cayenne (or more, or less, to taste)
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 beef bouillon cube, preferably Knorr[3]

Fill a big pot with water about two-thirds up, and bring to a boil.

the meantime, peel and mince the garlic; stem and chop the peppers. (If you have a mezzaluna, mince the garlic and peppers together.) Stem the parsley, coarsely chop, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pan, then add the garlic/hot peppers. Salt the water (with kosher salt if possible), toss the spaghetti into the big pot, and cook according to package instructions.

Take ¼ c. of the pasta cooking liquid, and add to the sauce pan. Add the bouillon cube, mash up. Once it’s melted, remove from the heat or let it reduce to your liking.

Drain the spaghetti, put it in a bowl, add the sauce pan mixture, the parsley, and stir vigorously. The garlic usually sinks to the bottom of the bowl, so either stir from the bottom up, or serve yourself last. That way you get most of it.

Serves two. Dogs would love this, but there are never, ever any leftovers.

Variations: add crushed green peppercorns (in brine); add a couple tablespoons capers; use coriander instead of parsley.

Oh, my, what an image this conjures up:

[1] Unfortunately, he shed this habit upon our return. Highly unfortunate. Snails rule our garden, and all efforts – beer traps, surrounding plants with ashes from the wood-burning stove, hand-picking them – to keep them at bay have been an abject failure.
[2] Il Cucchiaio Argento/Silver Spoon, (Milan, 1997), Simon Hopkinson (in his lovely Vegetarian Option (London, 2009)) and the Joy of Cooking (New York, 1997) suggest slicing it).
[3] For those of you who scoff at using such a product, Marco Pierre White doesn’t – or, at least, not publicly. He features prominently on a new Knorr launch here in Italy – in this case, semi-solid vegetable broth cubes. The TV ad shows him deftly slicing vegetables, then adding one of the cubes, and inhaling profoundly. The next scene shows him serving the dish to a handful of children, all of whom look thrilled (Thrilled children and vegetables? What's wrong with that picture? If you have children, demand that your grocer stock this product, and soon.) And Anthony Bourdain, in his eye-opening Kitchen Confidential (New York, 2007 reprint), freely admitted that he used them while at C.I.A.

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