Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Buttery Noodles, Sidewalk Chalk and El Rey del Mundo

It seems it was just a few weeks ago when the idea of a Fall season was laughable; sure September was starting, but, we were having gorgeous days in the 80's, the ground was pick axe hard, parched from an early and blazing summer.  This is the year, I thought, that it wouldn't rain until Halloween.  Mother Nature has a funny way about her though.  The rain came a few weeks later and it came down in monsoon-like sheets for 3 days.
Still, it was an extraordinary summer season...

...a time of much anticipated vacations, well intentioned home projects, over abundant vegetable gardens, and sandy swimming suits hung over patio rails.
One of my pleasures is sitting out on the front porch, watering the lawn, smoking a cigar and listening to the end of the day.  Our 50's vintage, metal shell-backed swing with nine coats of paint remains a sturdy companion, made no doubt at a time when car fenders and bumpers actually 'fended' and 'bumped.'   One night especially comes to mind...

The sun had slipped past a towering laurel hedge behind me and began radiating its warm glow across to the neighbors gently bending, thirty foot stand of bamboo in front of me.   The ivory and pale greens of their leaves contrasted brilliantly against the backdrop of dark and brooding cedars.  Robins begin darting in and out of trees seeking an optimal roost.  Siobhan had joined me with her box of sidewalk chalk, a bowl of buttery noodles and bare feet. 

"Dad, what do ya want me to make you?"  she asks, knowing full well what she will create, yet again.

"I dunno, how 'bout some hearts and rainbows?" I suggest. 

Stick with a proven winner, me thinks, and avoid the fuss of artistic disaster.  She sets her bowl of noodles down, tucks her curls behind her ears and begins the Concentric Heart Project, 9.0.   She starts with a small heart of one color and makes larger and more colorful hearts to encompass each preceding one. 

"That's nice, baby girl.  Is that for Mom?" I ask.
"Not finished yet...!" she informs me in a sing-song voice, still on her hands and knees, horn rimmed glasses teetering on the tip of her nose. 

I'm reading a book by American gastronome, James Beard, which was written in the early 60's.  Picked it up at a yard sale for a buck and figured, 'what the hell.'  It's a somewhat interesting collection of stories: from his childhood on the Oregon coast to European travels late in life which focus on foraging, cooking and eating.  This at a time when our American culture was head-over-heels with the post-war zealotry of convenience: canned was good, frozen even better and electric was as necessary as the next ICBM.  Beard wrote at length about seasonal, fresh and local foods decades before a California chef, Alice Waters at Berkeley's Chez Panisse, brought California Cuisine to American palates, shocking a nation about the importance of 'fresh' and 'local.'

"Done!" Siobhan pronounces, raising chalk-caked hands, "and it's for Mom and Tobin."
Good Lord, I think, looks like I just lost out to a first grade boy.
"Isn't he the one that's always in trouble?" I ask.
"Yeah, but, he's fun!" she assures me. 
Bless her little heart, she has a crush just like I had on Jennifer Russo in first grade.  I return to my book.

Beard repeated his mantra of building a cuisine from the ground up; starting with basics, creating layers of clean flavors with solid, simple ingredients.  Nothing new really, the French are credited with taking notes from Italian cooks hundreds of years earlier and codifying it.  And while Julia Child was wowing them for entertainment on the new TV with elaborate, French fare sporting funny sounding names, James Beard was eating crabs from the West coast, touting and tipping California wines, fishing for salmon, preparing summer greens for salads in New York and harassing every local butcher he could find.  Great sauces started with carefully tended stocks, Mr. Beard would say, a delicious steak began with marbled beef and good company was essential to feeding both body and soul. 

As I look down upon our daughter's creation, I realize that Siobhan's sidewalk art and our own home cooking share a common ingredient at their very essence--a heart. 
Concentric hearts from inside-out illustrate how good cooking starts with fundamentals and works out...
Bonnie's buttery noodles with Romano cheese + cream and garlic = alfredo...
Alfredo + bacon and eggs = carbonara...

Art imitating Life! 

I chuckle at the relation, take one last draw off my cigar and look once again at it's band that's beginning to singe...

...El Rey del Mundo...
...King of the World...

Pasta Carbonnara: serves 6

1 lb.    Pasta, whatever shape you like
2 T.    Cooking oil, (I use reserved bacon drippings whenever I can!)
8 oz.   Pancetta (Italian style bacon) or bacon, cut to 1/2 inch slices
2 T.    Garlic, diced
6         Eggs, beaten
1/2 C. Romano or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
taste    Black pepper, freshly cracked
touch  Cream (optional for desired consistency)

Bring 4 qts water to a boil and add pasta.  Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Reduce to medium heat till cooked to desired doneness.  While that is boiling, move to a separate burner and begin the other half of the dish.
In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat, then add pancetta.  Cook to desired doneness (I'm not a fan of crispy bacon chips), then add the minced garlic and warm for a minute or two.  "When is garlic done?"  Well, it will release it's water in the form of vapor as it cooks.  Don't let it get brown or crispy.  Garlic is done when the water vapor has subsided.  Use your powers of observation: look and listen!
When garlic is done, remove from heat, add the beaten eggs, grated cheese, black pepper and hot pasta, stirring vigorously.  The eggs will miraculously cook off the burner with just the heat from the pan and pasta; coating the noodles with a decadent layer of 'sauce.'
Garnish with something green (parsley, green onions, etc) and server IMMEDIATELY!

Buon Appetito!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


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