What’s with me and pasta? No, seriously, I’m really asking: how can I eat so much of it and never get tired of it? Sometimes I think it’s my own personal Rosebud, because my earliest food-related memories involve sitting at a little yellow plastic table on a gray carpet in front of the big TV, eating fusilli with Prego on top. Am I trying to recreate the innocence of childhood? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that pasta is so versatile and, more importantly, once you know the rules of how to make it–undercooking your pasta in well-salted water, then finishing it in the sauce, taking off the heat when almost all the liquid’s absorbed, and finishing with raw olive oil and grated cheese–it’s just one of the most impressive, delightful things you can make at home.
This dish came about because I had a bag of Rancho Gordo Flageolet beans that I hadn’t put to use yet and a bag of really nice pasta that I bought at Cookbook in Echo Park:
Of course, I had to start the beans first because dried beans can take a really long time. The bag gave general instructions–put in water with aromatics, bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, lower to a simmer until creamy and done–but no cooking time. So I followed those instruction, throwing half an onion, some celery, peppercorns, and bay leaves in with the beans:
They took longer than expected. I started them at 6:30ish and they weren’t done ’til 8:30ish. In fact, I was getting so hungry, I’d resolved myself to the idea of using a can of beans instead and using these cooked beans the next day in a different dinner. But then they tasted creamy and I knew they were done (oh, I also salted the water halfway through, so the beans took some of that salt in; I don’t believe the superstition about waiting until the very end).
Now how did this become dinner? Well, in a large skillet I added 3 or 4 slices of Nueske’s bacon (the best readily available bacon, as far as I’m concerned) sliced into lardons, plus a splash of olive oil:
When the bacon rendered its fat and became crisp, I added my mirepoix minus carrot because I didn’t have carrot: so that’s onion and celery plus a pinch of salt.
Once that cooked down for a bit, I added 3 cloves of sliced garlic; let those cook in there until fragrant, then I pushed everything aside and added some tomato paste to color a bit in the oil.
I stirred that in to the vegetables, dropped the pasta into a big pot of boiling, well-salted water, and then added a ladleful of that water to the pan with the tomato paste and vegetables:
I let that cook down for a bit, while the pasta was cooking, and then I added about 2 cups of the cooked beans:
Stirred that all around, letting it simmer and reduce, as the beans took in all of those nice flavors. Take a look.
When the pasta was al dente (you can only really know by tasting; I rinse a single noodle under cold water so I don’t burn my mouth), I lifted it with a spider into the pan with the beans and the bacon and the sauce. I turned up the heat, added a ladleful of pasta water, stirred everything on high heat until there wasn’t any liquid left in the pan. Then I turned the heat off, added a drizzle of cold olive oil, and a bunch of grated Parmesan cheese:
Does it get better than this? I really don’t think so. It’s like that Carly Simon song: “The stuff that dreams are made of.” She must’ve been singing about pasta.
I ate this for several meals last week and then on Sunday night, some friends came over for dinner, and guess what I made?
We all know the answer. If you want to stage an intervention, do it soon. I’m afraid to tell you what I ate for lunch.