Silky, slurpy, chewy. Pierced with a fork or spooned into my mouth. I’m a pasta fanatic. And I’ll admit that the myriad of shapes is part of the fun. From well-known noodles like penne and spaghetti to more fantastical creations like strozzapreti (priest stranglers) and semi di melone (melon seeds). Even the seemingly random-shaped maltagliati (badly cut) pasta shards make me smile. However, at today’s table, it’s possible to forget how much I love the traditional joys of pasta. That’s because as a cook it’s fun to explore the new. And lately, it seems there are so many choices when it comes to using grains as the base for whatever’s on the plate.
These popular grains have proven to be a delicious and healthful addition to my cooking repertoire. Which surprises me. As a persnickety traditionalist, it took me a while to embrace some of the changes we see on our plates. Quinoa, kamut, spelt, buckwheat, freekeh. These nutritious grains are so in vogue it’s easy to overlook pasta when dreaming up an interesting meal.
Yes, pasta contains gluten, that gremlin of so many modern ailments. But I’ll never give it up (and fortunately I don’t have to). I adore its silky, slightly chewy texture – which cannot be reproduced (at least this cook’s hands) using alternative grains or newfangled methods. Good pasta is made from durum wheat and always will be.
Good pasta is also surprisingly easy to make from scratch. You don’t even need a pasta machine: elbow grease and an empty wine bottle will suffice. So don’t be intimidated by all those shapes and funny words! Start with an easy, rugged type of homemade pasta such as today’s maltagliati, where the beauty lies in misshapen happenstance.
Spring Lamb Ragù with Artichokes, Fava Beans, and Maltagliati
As for what to put on it, there you can go to town. What I like about Italian food – particularly pasta – is that it’s pragmatic, seasonal, and often up for all sorts of improvisation. I’ve gone for a simplified lamb ragù enriched with re-hydrated porcini mushrooms and complemented by sweet, seasonal fava beans and unpredictably gutsy artichoke hearts. GREG