Quick boil some water!
No, I’m not having a baby– it’s Default Pasta Night!
At my house, Default Pasta makes regular appearances. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call these appearances star turns. That’s because learning how to bring forth quick, flavorful weeknight meals can be a lifesaver, and a toe-tapper as you will see.
There are a lot of good reasons to master the concept of Default Pasta. Maybe you have not been to the grocery store for weeks and the fridge and pantry are pretty bare. But never fear, because if you follow my rules for Default Pasta you can make any meal special.
Of course in my world (well, most of our worlds really) Default Pasta Night happens at the end of a long day, you are tired, hungry and just want to turn the TV on and sing and dance along with Glee. Singing and dancing with hot soup is hell on the carpet, and you are sure to burn your vocal chords. That’s where the Default Pasta rules come in and that’s what the pot of boiling water I used as my opening hook is for; cooking dried pasta, the greatest friend a weeknight cook has ever had.
In the case of that dried out cheese rind choose spaghetti or something similar. While you are cooking the noodles put a little butter in a saucepan. Once it begins to brown remove it from the heat and add a bit of minced garlic. Toss this mixture into your cooked spaghetti and add the cheese along with a quite a bit of black or red pepper. It’s important to get the noodles well coated with the butter before you add the cheese. This will keep the cheese from clumping. You could replace the butter with excellent olive oil too, the rules allow for that. However, to make it true Default Pasta you need something unexpected or slightly devious. There is no room for deviation on this point.
Of course, Default Pasta need not be so simple. Nope, Default Pasta can even be gourmet, decadent or downright fancy pants-ed.
To prove that point I have a rather rich Default Pasta recipe for you today, not that a good Default Pasta requires a recipe… Chicken Liver Fettuccine with Truffles & Pink Peppercorns.
Which on its face seems wholly unrelated to the simple and satisfying pasta of leftover cheese I laid out earlier. But you see that’s what Default Pasta is all about. It’s a quick, flavorful pasta dish (following a few simple guidelines) with whatever you have on hand. Provided you have pasta that is. ‘Cuz it’s just not Default Pasta without pasta! In fact, that’s the first rule.
Rule 1: Default Pasta uses dried pasta. Fresh pastas are lovely, but they show a level of pre-planning and preparedness that belie the true intention of Default Pasta. Besides, I just prefer dried pasta, and these are my rules.
Rule 2: Always include something slightly rich. It can be meat or cheese or even stunningly good olive oil. But without something rich it’s just homemade Chef Boyardee!
Rule 3: Whenever you have something luscious (in this case chicken livers) balance it with something bold or bitter (in this case red wine vinegar). That’s not even a Default Pasta rule, that’s just a life rule, metaphorically speaking of course.
Rule 4: It’s not Default Pasta without garlic. It may be pasta, but it’s not default pasta. Learn the fine distinctions.
Rule 5: Vegetables are not mandatory, nor is meat. But if you are going vegetarian, choose something pretty. Color is your friend. Embrace it. Dead animals enliven most any pasta, but vegetarian pasta requires an artistic eye.
Rule 6: Please include something unexpected or slightly devious. In this case, both the truffles and pink peppercorns count. Which (I swear) I happened to have. But super-saturated, super-crunchy breadcrumbs are a good choice. As are egg yolks. Avocado would certainly surprise me. But I would accept anchovies as well, just don’t tell the dullards in your life that you put them in.
Of course, these rules are very broad and highly subjective because that’s the point of Default Pasta Night.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- Salt to taste (plus more for pasta water)
- 1/2-pound chicken livers, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1/2-cup red wine vinegar
- 1 pound dried fettuccine
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 black truffle (jarred is fine in this instance)
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
- Pink peppercorns lightly crushed
In a 12 to 14-inch saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over a medium-high flame until very hot but not smoking. Add the onion then turn the heat to medium. Sweat over medium heat until softened somewhat, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and season the onions with a generous sprinkling of salt. Continue cooking, stirring often until well caramelized and jammy. About 30 minutes.
Raise the heat to back up to medium-high and add the chicken livers to the same pan and continue cooking until the livers are lightly browned on all sides, about 7 minutes more.
Add the vinegar and continue cooking until it is completely absorbed and evaporated. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 10 minutes more, adding a bit of water if the pan gets too dry.
Bring 6 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
Bring the pan with the chicken livers back up to medium-high heat. Add the cooked fettuccine to the pan. Add parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the pasta out onto a large serving platter and top with generous amount of truffle shavings, grated Parmigiano, and a few pinches of pink peppercorns.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD