Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Perla does Spaghetti

In March I will be 54 years old. As a child in my mother's kitchen, one of the very first dishes that I ever attempted was spaghetti. It was a cheese layered casserole thick with Mozzarella and a sauce that simmered with fine ground herbs from little tins that were popular back then. As a wife and mother I have continued to simmer sauces, doll up jarred sauces, and even keep an herb garden for the best possible sauce flavor. I have tried spaghetti with all kinds of added vegetables, with and without onions, with garlic salt and different amounts of fresh garlic. I've made it with fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and paste. In a pinch I once built a sauce from condensed tomato soup. There is hardly a pasta shape that I have not tried at some time, nor a pasta grain, be it rice, corn, whole wheat, semolina and even buckwheat ramin once. I've made it with ground meats simmered in the sauce and with meatballs that were added after the sauce was made. I have tested all sorts of vegan sauces. I've cooked it in different kitchens, at the beach over a wood fire, in campgrounds on a Coleman stove, deep in the forest from a tomato leather I had made at home that was reconstituted with water from a flowing brook on a tiny blow torch of a stove that was stashed in my back-pack. And lately, in my pretty trailer. When Ray bought me a shiny new set of cookware, the set I chose won out over the others because of a pot that seemed perfect for simmering sauce. After nearly 40 years of spaghetti I did not think there were any surprises left.

There was Perla, sitting neglected on my shelf all these years.

Ray and I went grocery shopping last night. After everything was put away I thought I would make something simple, something I could do by rote, something I don't have to plan for because I always have ingredients in the pantry. Just as I was about to chop into an onion, with my knife in the air like Abraham must have been over Isaac, I wondered, "Does Perla make Spaghetti?"

Does she ever! All kinds of spaghetti. One day soon I will try her Spaghettini in Anchovy and Mint Sauce and will do so with an adventurous attitude. But last night I decided to try the more familiar sounding Spaghettini in Sauce Basquaise.

I did end up being forced into a few changes but I think I stuck to the spirit of her sauce. My Italian sausage was made from chicken instead of pork. I only keep fresh basil in the summer and fall when the days are long enough to keep her happy. And I have tried to like zucchini but I just do not, so I used sliced mushrooms instead of chopped zucchini.

There isn't an onion in Sauce Basquaise. The sausage is cooked in olive oil with hot pepper flakes (what is it that Lydia calls that? Peppercini?) Once the sausage is nicely browned on all sides it is removed from the pan to cool down for slicing. Meanwhile, back at the pan, the mushrooms are fried in the spiced oil with fresh parsley and garlic. Three roasted and chopped peppers are added once the mushrooms have a golden glow. That was new for me. In all my spaghetti making years I have often added peppers to the sauce, but I have never roasted them first. After a couple of minute's sautéing with added herbs, chopped tomatoes are added. About the herbs, when I am out of fresh basil, I like to add crushed fennel seed. It isn't quite the same as bright fresh basil, but it does add a lovely anise flavor to my sauce that dried basil does not deliver.

Finally the sliced sausage is returned to the sauce and the cooked pasta is added right to the sauce. With bread and salad I called it a meal.

The thing about having made so many tomato sauces in my life is that the adventure has disappeared from the eating. My guys sit down and eat spaghetti, fill themselves up, put away their dishes and life goes on. We talk about our latest pursuits; we laugh, or just watch the TV with a plate in our laps. Seldom do we notice the dinner that is the background to the moment on spaghetti nights. Not so last night. They took note. Something was different, something was delicious and they commented on it. Maybe it was the roasted peppers, maybe it was the pepper flakes in the oil. The sauce didn't seem all that special, but they took time to wonder what was different because this is REALLY good. Another win for Perla.

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