Gourmet Files Vasundhara Chauhan

Pasta perfect

Different shapes of pasta take well to different sauces.  

“When in 1553 Catherine de’ Medici went to France to marry the future King Henri II, and took her cooks with her, the wedding banquet included one dish of pasta dressed with the juice from roast meat and cheese, and one with butter, sugar, honey, saffron and cinnamon; one savoury and one sweet.”

Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food.

Now the sweet is rare but the savoury so common that, the other evening, waiting for popcorn at a snack counter in a cinema hall, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the man ahead of me say “cheese pasta sandwich”. I gawped without embarrassment and saw that thick white bread was split, filled with white macaroni in white gloop, covered and grilled. So the dish of choice was flour tubes napped in a flour sauce encased in a flour pillow — although maybe the flour is of durum, said to be more nutritious. Pasta is now ubiquitous, almost but not quite as much as noodles, its cousin. In Italy, the word had previously meant just dough, and now refers to a long range of products. Their names are defined by the shape: farfalle, orzi, radiatori, fusilli, garganelli, anelli, cavatappi, ziti rigatoni… there are 350. Gnocchi, which I love, is made of potatoes, and tortellini and ravioli are filled little parcels or twists.

I suspect I’ve mentioned this some years ago, but it bears repetition. At catered dinners I’ve been told by helpful sous chefs manning the “live pasta station” that they have “two kinds of pasta”. Not Bolognese or arrabbiata sauce; they mean macaroni and penne (or fusilli, farfalle, spaghetti or whatever), the shape of the pasta. Which will be tossed in a pan with one of the two sauces ready to hand: red or white; or, if we’re lucky, a third: pink. The better restaurants do interesting, authentic sauces, and, after a trip to Italy, I realised that pasta is just a vehicle in which any ingredient can ride. Garlic, eggs, herbs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, anchovies, nuts, zucchini, spinach, prawns, chicken, cheese — or just good olive oil or butter, salt and maybe chillies. Like rice, which can transformed into a complicated biryani, or eaten with anything or with nothing at all, just ghee.

Pasta is made of flour and eggs, with perhaps a little oil or water, and salt. It should be boiled according to instructions on the package and tossed without delay in the sauce. Every home has some favourite sauce recipes. Some need more ingredients or skill, but after a couple of attempts and near-misses, most of us manage to put together something new, something familiar or something extraordinary. Different shapes of pasta take well to different sauces: spaghetti is best in a carbonara or aglio e olio. One is more complicated and delicious and the other is quick and delicious. Which explains Sophia Loren’s “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”


Serves 4

500g uncooked spaghetti

12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes


Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Boil a large pot of lightly salted water and cook spaghetti in it, stirring occasionally until cooked through but firm to the bite, about 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a pasta bowl. Combine garlic and olive oil in a cold skillet. Cook over medium heat to slowly toast garlic, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low when olive oil begins to bubble. Cook and stir until garlic is golden brown, another 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir red pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt into the pasta. Pour in olive oil and garlic, and sprinkle on Italian parsley and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; stir until combined. Serve pasta topped with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.


Serves 4

500g spaghetti

1 tbsp olive oil

8 slices bacon, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)

4 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 pinch salt and black pepper to taste

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti pasta until al dente. Drain well. Toss with 1 tbsp of olive oil, and set aside. Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook chopped bacon until slightly crisp; remove and drain onto paper towels. Reserve 2 tbsps of bacon fat; add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, and heat in reused large skillet. Add chopped onion, and cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Add wine if desired; cook one more minute. Return cooked bacon to pan; add cooked and drained spaghetti. Toss to coat and heat through, adding more olive oil if it seems dry or is sticking together. Add beaten eggs and cook, tossing constantly with tongs or large fork until eggs are barely set. Quickly add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste (remember that bacon and Parmesan are very salty). Serve immediately with chopped parsley sprinkled on top, and extra Parmesan cheese at table.

Email: vasundharachauhan9@gmail.com

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