The title of this post contains a pun, though you’ll only catch it if you actually know what frascatelli is — which up until a few months ago, I sure didn’t. But when I saw this recipe for Frascatelli with Mustard Greens and Pecorino in the November issue of Bon Appetit, I was intrigued enough to do some research. Frasca is Italian for branch, which refers to the original method for making these semolina dumplings.
This is quite possibly the easiest pasta to make at home. There is no special equipment needed and only two ingredients are required, semolina flour and water. You pour about two cups of semolina flour in an 8×8 baking dish and then slowly flick it with water from your fingertips until the top of the dish is ragged with water droplets. These droplets absorb the flour and within ten seconds, become small little dumplings which are sifted out and set aside. Once you have gone through all the flour, you cook the dumplings in boiling water and that’s it — fresh pasta in minutes.
I have always loved corn. As a kid, I remember my mom would set out a bowl of frozen corn while she made dinner, ready to pop it in the microwave at the last minute. But she often had to refill the bowl before it made it that far because I used to sneak handfuls of the frozen kernels to snack on. Yes, frozen corn. Such a cold but tasty treat. And yes, I was kind of a strange kid.
It’s still one of my favorite vegetables (starches?) of all time. I love it raw right off the cob, especially when it comes from my grandparents’ garden, or hot off the grill, slathered in butter. I love it in soups, stews and curries. I’ve even eaten it numerous times in pasta dishes — one of my favorites being with lobster, cream and agnolotti. *Swoon*
So really, a sweet corn sauce for raviolis (filled with corn puree, roasted poblano chiles and manchego cheese) was truly the best idea for dinner I’d had in a while. To keep it from being a total carb fest, I bought a pork tenderloin for protein, some arugula for roughage and some spring onions because I have no power to resist them. Oh and a spicy serrano pepper and garlic to make things extra tasty.
I remember when I first discovered pesto. My great-aunt Kay made it for me when I was about 12 or 13, more than 20 years ago. My family was in Vancouver BC, visiting Kay and other relatives, and she had a big family dinner planned for one of the nights that we were in town. Kay was known for not only being an extraordinary cook, but also for preparing — in true Italian fashion — enough food to feed an army. One of the dishes she made that night was pasta in pesto sauce. I had never even seen pesto before and was a little hesitant to try it. I had no idea its green color came from basil and the idea of a green pasta sauce threw me for a loop.
I should take a quick moment to explain that I am from a small town on an island in Alaska. The produce in our grocery stores was certainly not of the best quality and I honestly can’t remember having seen fresh basil before. So this was definitely a first for me.
Once I took my first bite, I was hooked. It was amazing. I requested it again and again in the following years and my mother would always make some variation of it for me. To this day, one of my favorite combinations of all time is pesto mixed with any kind of pasta and broccoli.
A couple of weeks ago I was on a Meyer lemon kick and every recipe that contained even regular lemons got pulled out of my recipe binder to be examined. I saw one from Cooking Light that caught my eye, this Baked Pasta with Spinach, Lemon and Cheese, but when I read the reviews online, everyone seemed to hate it. There were complaints about how long it took to make, coupled with numerous comments about how bland it was. This was by far my favorite comment because you really got a feel for how bitter this person was after making a dinner that sucked: “We just had the ritual burning of the recipe. Now we’re making sandwiches so we’re not hungry the rest of the night.”
Now since I’ve had years of experience cooking professionally, I have to admit my first thought was to blame the cooks and not the recipe. If you keep tasting while you cook, you should end up with something fairly decent. I have also learned to add copious amounts of salt, as well as extra cheese, to Cooking Light recipes to avoid working hard at a meal just to find it severely lacking in flavor when you sit down to eat it.
So I thought, screw it, I’m a good enough cook to make this pasta dish and have it turn out fabulous. Oh, I was so wrong…I did everything from upping the garlic and lemon tremendously to even making a little more bechamel so the final dish was creamier. Nope. It sucked. The flavor was terribly bland — it was only after squeezing two lemons over the pasta that I found it palatable. The main problem was the spinach. It turned into a gross mush. Ugh. I can’t even express my sadness over this dinner, but I will tell you my lesson in humility was also a lesson in perseverance.
Since I was still craving pasta with lemon I decided to take Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Baked Lemon Pasta out for a spin. I started with fresh pasta which I was a little nervous about, but the chive linguini I had in my fridge coupled with sour cream and lemon sounded too good to pass up. Optimistically I pushed the thought of the failure from the night before out of my head and got started.