Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto

Pesto-Prosciutto Lasagna-2091

I eat a tomato lasagna about twice a year.  When it appears in caveman portions, as it usually does, the sight of it fills me with a kind of anticipatory fatigue.  Oh, no…  Am I really up for this?  It doesn’t have to be this way.  A Ligurian lasagna redolent of basil and pine nuts is seductively lighter, a Wilma Flintstone to Fred’s red version.  No need to clean the Augean stables or capture the Cretan bull to work up an appetite before you can eat it.  Ordinary hunger will do just fine for Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto.

Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies

Spaghetti with Bottarga and Preserved Lemon-2667

For the last two years we’ve posted spring recipes for shad roe, a seasonal reward for surviving winter. We’re still rolling with roe this year, but of a dramatically different kind: Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies. Bottarga is the salted dried roe of gray mullet or bluefin tuna. Grated over pasta or served in very thin slices, it may be even more of an umami bomb than garum. Until recently only Americans fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, Sardinia or parts of Calabria were likely to encounter bottarga. But about ten years ago lumps of bottarga began showing up in a few American chefs’ hands. Its rich, funky flavor provokes either love or hate, but at twelve to fifteen dollars an ounce, it’s pricey enough to keep all but the curious or committed from seeking it out and trying it. Two ounces is more than enough for pasta for 4. Be forwarned: the curious have a way of morphing into bottarga zealots after their initial taste experience. Think guanciale of the sea. Armed with a small amount of bottarga and prep so rudimentary it makes bolognese look like a kidney transplant, you can make a pasta dish fit for the gods.

You say Tagliatelle, I say Fettucine…

Tagliatelle - How to -276-15077

Stand aside, from-scratch croissants.  Out out, damn osso bucco!  For all of the satisfactions of spatula-and-tongs-ing your way up culinary K2′s  nothing produces quite the same glow as transforming 3 eggs, 2 cups of flour and bit of semolina into a pound of Fresh Tagliatelle.   Making your own pasta is akin to making your own pie crust, one of those notches on the wooden spoon that certifies you as a cook.  Contrary to reputation, it is neither difficult nor arduous, and only mildly time-consuming (30 – 40 minutes, start to finish).  We’ve wanted to do this post for awhile, if only to give everyone who makes one of our pasta dishes a place to go for instructions on making their own.  After you taste your first batch of homemade, you’ll marvel at your abilities, those you feed will sing your hosannas (or you’ll kill them) and while you may not entirely give up buying commercial noodles, you’ll know that your own taste better.

Back to meat – Rialto Bolognese

Rialto Bolognese-181-14664

The good news is you get a great pasta sauce this week.  The bad news is you get the pasta part of the post next week.  We thought asking you to make both the sauce and the fresh pasta would be asking too much, so this week we’re doing Rialto Bolognese, enough sauce for three meals.  Next week we’ll be posting Fresh Tagliatelle.  You can wait until then to bring them together, or simply use a pound of your favorite fresh wide noodle pasta and jump the gun.  In fact, the great thing about a sauce like this is having it on hand, ready to go, for a meal when all you have to do make the pasta.

Tagliatelle with Shad Roe, Pancetta and Spring Peas

Tagliatelle with Shad Roe, Pancetta and Spring Peas-1

The swallows of San Juan Capistrano return to their California mission home every March 19th, one of the natural world’s cyclic wonders.  Nature, however, may have had something rather less dependable in mind with the annual spring running of shadfish.  Last year we posted about shad roe on March 31st.  This year, we’re only a couple of weeks shy of June.  Shad roe is an ephemeral treat, briefly available on short notice, then vanishing, so when the season arrives you have to stay on you toes, prepared to swing into action at a moment’s notice.  I found three seafood stores had the roe… yesterday.  A single purveyor* had it the day I wanted it, one day before blogging.  So if you’re inclined to make this weeks’s  Tagliatelle with Shad Roe, Pancetta and Peas, finish reading this and immediately pick up the phone.  If your favorite fish vendor doesn’t have the roe today, he may be able to get it for you tomorrow.  Next week you might still get lucky, or not.  That’s the way shad rolls.   

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce

Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce-1

Well, it had to end some day, our last taste of the Bue Zones: Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce.  Contrary to all of the clichés about Californians, in reading Dan Buettner’s description of Seventh Day Adventists in our final Blue Zone, in Loma Linda California, I was put in mind of the genial self-effacing mainstream Mormons of Jonathan Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.  They’re enthusiastic, they volunteer, they care about each other, always willing to pitch in and lend a hand.  In short you’d be happy to have them living on your block.  Except that they’d live way longer than you; actually, they live longer than just about anybody.     

Burnt-Wheat Pasta – Cavatelli with Tomato-Eggplant Sauce and Ricotta Salata

Making your own shaped pasta like cavatelli or orecchiette (as versus rolling out noodles) is so gleeful, so hilariously liberating, that I can only compare it to being a little kid running naked down the street hollering, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  It’s just that great.  Er… what?  You never ran outside naked as a kid?  Really?  Never?  Well, sounds to me like somebody’s got some serious catching up to do.  No, don’t take your clothes off–we’re all adults now–the naked-in-the-street developmental train left the station some time ago.  But that’s okay–you can still make Homemade Cavatelli with Tomato-Eggplant Sauce.  You don’t believe me now, but if you share the joy and invite a friend to help, a friend with a bottle of wine, after seeing each other’s first dozen cavatelli, hilarity will ensue.  Nobody’s cavatelli are bad–some are just different–and you do get better, fast.  

Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms

Oh, the birds and the bees, you gotta love ‘em, especially if you enjoy eating things like this week’s dish, Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms.  After Jody’s rant last week about the tyranny of seasonality, we’re presenting another dish that is, well, seasonal.  But move fast, the season for squash blossoms is here and gone in the blink of an eye and you’ll have to wait another year for the opportunity to enjoy their delicate flavor fried, stuffed or, as we do here, expressed in a light pasta sauce.

Poor No More – Spaghetti with Clams and Toasted Breadcrumbs

Spaghetti and Clams with Toasted Bread Crumbs takes its inspiration from two dishes–spaghetti alla vongole, a dish of string pasta with clams popular in Naples, Rome, wider Campania and farther north along the Italian coastline; and pasta con il pangrattato, pasta with breadcrumbs, a very basic dish of la cucina povera, the cooking of the poor.  At its most elemental the latter contains no more than pasta, breadcrumbs, oil, salt and a bit of garlic.  Variations include raisins, cauliflower, anchovies and olives, which is to say that a little stale bread, some pasta and oil is all you need for dinner–if you have anything else you can dine in the lap of luxury.