Wednesday, April 22, 2009

even when i want to lie, i can't

when i thought about this post,
as i have, for months,
i imagined explaining to you
that sometimes
i lie.
that while i once
told you i prefer
thick, 
pastas,
i lied to you,
because i only keep
a rule until it no longer
applies to me.

i thought that i would
tell you about these amazing
extra long durum wheat strands, 
that were just handed
over to me,
just given to me, in a casual,
you like to cook, right? kind of way.
and i would tell you
the all-too-true tale
about how,
seeing as they were packaged
merely in thin plastic,
in the two months
that it took me to find 
a recipe that i deemed 
worthy of obviously
expensive, gourmet
and once-in-a-lifetime
pasta,
i was positive that they would 
break,
so i refused to store them in
the cabinet or even take
them off the counter.

and, then,
i would let you know,
again,
that sometimes, i lie,
because i love these 
round noodles, 
called bucatini,
trademarked by the 
very visible hole
that runs down their
center.
but i can't.
i tried. but they were
thick and really long,
and impossible to
wrap around the tines of
a normal-sized fork,
and they made me 
frustrated.  

for starters,
this bucatini was incredibly
long. it was so long that i spent
a really, really long 
time trying to take
the perfect picture so
that you could understand
just how long the strands
really were.

(i felt incredibly
dumb hours later - for multiple 
reasons -
first, when i stuck them into the pot 
of boiling water and realized:
this was the only picture 
i needed.)

the second reason:
i was always taught,
whatever you do, don't break
the noodles. 
submerge the bottom
half in hot water and in 
a few seconds
they'll soften 
enough so that you can
gently coax the top half in.

i was an idiot for not 
thinking this through.
first, these were really long -
which in my defense was part
of my reasoning...
isn't that their charm?
and they're thick.
needless to say, it took a long
time to get them all in
and then they cooked unevenly.
i just kept thinking,
why would anyone make them
this long, 
just so that they're broken
later?

but, even once cooked,
i found them unruly and 
just not my favorite thing.
i realize, however, that 
some people would love these,
my friend tricia 
gets extreme pleasure
out of twisting al dente
strands around a fork,
busily twirling while
resting on a spoon.
but not me.

bucatini, aside,
i really enjoyed this
unexpected dish
that i finally decided
on:
pasta with dried figs.
it was created for
the cookbook,
a page turner that uses
bucatini several times.
in fact,
if i can digress for a moment
from the dish explanation,
i'd love for you to 
read the (long) sidebar note:

bucatini, literally means
"little bucato" (bucato is another 
pasta shape)...it's a difficult 
pasta to eat - because it is so thick,
it is almost impossible to twirl
on a fork. if you can't twirl the entire
strand, which almost nobody can do 
and certainly you cannot if you 
did not grow up doing it, you have
to slurp the end into your mouth. if you
do this with a pasta covered in condimento -
and especially one that has a hole that 
is full of condimento - at the end of
the slurp, some of the condimento
is sure to fly out...

i should have known.

however, when i found
the fig recipe,
it sounded unusual
and comforting
and potentially delicious,
all in one.
the figs troubled me 
slightly,
enough that i was 
afraid to tell larry
what we were eating 
for fear that he would sneak
a 9-1-1 for pizza delivery.
(i should have been
afraid, he looked scared
when he saw what was 
going on.)

but the figs,
which are soaked for
hours in tepid water,
soften beautifully,
as if they were made
to become a sauce.
and because 
they are few and far
between, bites
are not overly sweet.
actually everything,
from the onions,
to the almonds
and pepper
are used sparingly,
there to create a coating,
rather than a 
soupy mixture.

the onions
are also soaked,
to reduce their harsh 
flavor and soften
the half moons before they
even hit the pan.
these two steps
mean that when
it's time to put everything
together, it actually
takes very little time.

the figs had been bathing
for hours. when i
set the onions in water,
i used this time to toast
the almonds - i opted
to toast ones
that were slivered and
blanched -
and to grate the cheese.

after hunting around
for two days for the 
smoked provola called for,
i switched tactics
and opted for
a hard goat, figuring
figs, nuts, goat cheese?
it should work. 

and it did. while
a sliver
on its own is
sharp and possibly
questionable to some
tastebuds,
finely grated with a
microplane, the
cheese becomes
the perfect tangy
foil for the thick
noodles and sweet figs.
(and i've since learned
that provola is nothing
more than
smoked buffalo mozzarella.)

the end result was lovely.
and while i'm not
running out to buy
bucatini anytime soon,
i would love to recreate
the meal with farfalle,
rigatoni or even, orzo,
and serve it on the side
of chicken or fish.
with these types of pasta,
it would be easy to scoop,
stab, lift 
and enjoy
instead of slurping,
struggling
and cursing.
bucatini with dried figs
i mean it - i would love to try this dish using a different shape of pasta. i may even go as far to say...linguine. whatever your favorite may be, i think it should work. as for soaking the figs - the recipe called for two hours and due to unforseen out-of-the-kitchen circumstances, i soaked them for three. i recommend the extra time and in fact, felt that the larger ones could have used a little longer under the water. also, while the original directions instruct to grate the cheese on top, i used less and added it to the bucatini before tossing with the remaining ingredients, then grated some on top before serving. if you're not a fan of goat cheeses, i'm sure you could substitute grated parm. i also reduced the butter and didn't bother adding olive oil to the pasta water, but upped the figs by an extra ounce.

4 ounces dried figs
1 pound white or yellow onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup white wine
1 pound bucatini
1/2 cup blanched and slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 ounces hard goat cheese (i used capra valtellina)

in bowl, soak figs in slightly warm water, at least 2-3 hours; drain, blot on paper towels and chop. in separate bowl, soak onions in water 30 minutes; drain.

in large skillet or saucepan, melt butter. add onions; season with kosher salt and cook over medium heat 15 minutes, or until golden brown and tender, stirring often. reduce heat to low; add wine and simmer onions 20 minutes, or until almost melted. add a splash of hot water, if onions stick (for me, they didn't).

meanwhile, bring large saucepot of water to a boil; season with salt and add bucatini. cook according to package directions, until just al dente. reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water. drain bucatini and immediately add to onions.

increase heat to medium-high and add about 1 cup cup of cooking water. add figs, almonds, cayenne pepper and 2 1/2 ounces grated cheese; toss to combine and add remaining cooking water, if necessary. cook 2 minutes, tossing together. transfer mixture to large serving bowl or individual bowls and top with remaining grated cheese.

4 comments:

doughgirl said...

Love the shots of the bucatini! Very nicely done. Also, I like hearing about recipes using dried figs because I always think it's a good idea to buy dried figs and we always leave a few in the container and they get all gross and I don't want to eat them anymore.

brooke said...

thank you! i know - i love figs, dried and fresh. but i don't usually see a lot of savory, meatless recipes that use the dried. i actually upped the amount of the figs in part, because i had so many.

Stephanie said...

I was watching Giada De Laurentiis one day (as I often do) and she was making bucatini with her mother. She said in Italy they had a name for the pasta that translated to "dirty shirts," because that's what you got when you ate it. I agree and am not a fan.

brooke said...

yes! dirty shirts! and dirty pants! it's kind of a nightmare in a bowl, if i'm being honest. and dramatic.