Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Pasta Met Garlic
My Garlicky Pasta tossed in fresh garlic infused evoo, scallions, pancetta, more garlic, grape tomatoes and basil

Over the last two weeks I have spoken with two or three people, one of whom is a most fantastic fellow blogger, about how just about uncomfortable it is to cook without using garlic and onion.  For me, it is nearly impossible to cook without either of them.  Unthinkable! Unless it is a dessert.  However, I have been kicking around a pasta dish idea incorporating a lot of garlic and fresh aromatic vegetables and herbs.  I think, my friends, that I have done so pretty well!  Not only is this recipe a thirty minute or less meal, prep time included, unless you get distracted, but it will fill your kitchen and/or home with the most incredible aromas of garlic and basil and extra virgin olive oil and more.  It is fresh, colorful and above all fantastically flavorful.  Perfect summer fresh meal!  Let's get to it!

The Ingredients list is short and sweet:
1/2 pound your favorite spaghetti for two, a pound for four
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved at an angle (must be pretty!)
1 cluster scallion greens, cut at an angle (pretty!)
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated + two cloves sliced into chips
1/4 to 1/2 cup of cubed pancetta  
Parmigiano Reggiano shaved and a palm full grated
6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonad
4 tablespoons your favorite high quality extra virgin olive oil (I used a bottle of evoo gifted me last Christmas by one of my precious students whose family make it:  Olive Tree, Teresi Family Orchard, Acampo, California).  Some of the best extra virgin olive oil I have used!
Salt and Pepper

You can purchase the pancetta already cubed at most grocery stores, or, you can purchase it from a more traditional Italian deli counter and cube it yourself.  I love doing that, personally, but I bought a package already processed at the store.  To prep, halve the tomatoes at an agngle, along with the scallions.  Just makes a nicer appearing ingredient in the toss and garnish. As I  mentioned above, six fresh basil leaves, rolled up and chiffonad cut.  You can always tear the leaves, which is far more traditional.  

Start a large pot of water on the stovetop over high heat to boil the spaghetti or, your favorite long pasta.  Be sure to liberally salt the water when it begins to boil, as that is the best and about the Only time you can season the pasta. 

In addition, add a tiny amount of evoo to a small skillet and saute up the pancetta, allowing the bits to form a crust, over medium heat for several minutes.  About seven minutes.  This will add amazing flavor.  

Meanwhile, add the four tablespoons of evoo to a large non-stick skillet or, as I used, a non-stick wok.  And do not let me forget to tell  you what I learned in this process.  I KNEW what I was Going to do, but did not, and learned a lesson everyone who has cooked with oil before Knows.  I knew and I still made the  mistake, for which I am deeply shamed.  Add the garlic clove discs to the skillet or wok over warm heat, then to low in a few minutes.  To infuse the oil with the fresh garlic, you want to very slowly increase the heat over several minutes' time for the best infusion of flavor. 

I sauteed the pancetta in a small cast iron skillet to allow the bits to caramelize and form a crust. 

When the pasta has finished cooking to al dente, drain it and leave it in the colander until ready.  Elevate the heat of the oil to medium and after two minutes, to medium-high.  Remove the garlic chips and set aside for garnishment and treats for the cook!  

Alright.  Now to my embarrassing part of the story and the unfortunate lesson I learned.  I knew that once the oil was hot and rippling, I was ready to add the pasta followed by the finely chopped garlic, then the tomatoes three minutes later, followed by some of the scallions and some of the fresh basil a few minutes after that.  I meant to use my tongs or my hands to scoop out the pasta (I used a half pound, and, though it was hot, still, my hands and fingertips are very used to hot things) to place the pasta into the non-stick wok I was using.  Perfect for this type of dish!  I used a couple of days ago to make Kung Pao Chicken, which will arrive on this blog site tomorrow.  Stay tuned for that, please!  But no, I lifted the entire colander over to the wok and yes, water dribbled into the wok and my kitchen and I were splattered with hot oil like it was a geyser!  Luckily, it was not as bad as I just made it sound.  I was able to get out of the way and the worst part was, of course, the clean up afterwards. Had I used my hands or tongs to lift and place the pasta into the wok, it would have been a much more pleasant and cleaner experience.  

The oil in the skillet is rippling, smells fragrantly of garlic, and CAREFULLY lift the pasta with tongs, perhaps shake it out a little, and add it carefully to the skillet or wok.  Add the garlic immediately and toss aggressively.  Get the pasta good and mixed with the oil and garlic.  After two or three minutes, add the halved grape tomatoes and toss vigorously.  You do not want anything to sit and crisp.  Keep tossing!  Now add a small hand full of grated parmigiano reggiano to the pasta.  Toss!  After four or so minutes, add half or more of the chopped scallions and some of the fresh basil and continue tossing!  Very important to keep tossing!  The entire cooking time takes seven to eight minutes from start to finish.  

Turn the heat off when you are ready to serve and remove the skillet or wok from the heat immediately.  This is important so the pasta does not harden.  Use tongs to plate the pasta.  Make sure you get some of that crispy pancetta and the now warmed and tangy sweet tomatoes to add beautiful bright colors to your plate!  Add some of the remaining scallions and basil to garnish your plates.  Toss some of the shaved parmigiano reggiano to each pasta plate. 

Be sure to drizzle the extra virgin olive oil left in the skillet over the pasta.  What a fragrant and incredibly flavorful (I am still even surprised by how flavorful and aromatic it was, and I planned it to be that way!) meal.  Your family and friends will love it, unless they are not garlic people, but the chances may be pretty slim. I am also confident that you will be receiving many requests for you to prep this dish for your family and friends, repeatedly.  So, get ready!  

Thanks Very Much for the generosity of your time and consideration. 
Now, go cook something wonderful - like This dish - for someone you love!
Thank You!