PASTA AND HAPPINESS
“The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star,” wrote the philosopher and cook, Brillat-Savarin. I hate to disagree, but for me it is the discovery of a new pasta.
While dried pastas don’t vary much in flavor, their contours and proportions determine how the sauce and pasta will go together and how the finished dish will taste. A heavy, meaty ragu can turn thin, delicate pasta strands to mush while chunky rigatoni can overwhelm the flavor of a light, delicate sauce. In addition to the shape, the ingredients, how the pasta is manufactured, and the drying method used are important, too. And no matter how good the pasta is, it has to be cooked and served the right way.
Last week, a cellophane bag of Don Bruno fusilloni, or giant fusilli, arrived in a package from Roland Foods. According to the label, Don Bruno pasta is made from 100% durum semolina from Puglia that is shaped with bronze dies for the best texture, then dried slowly under controlled heat and humidity for perfect “al dente” results.
While I have eaten corkscrew-shaped fusilli all my life, the giant Don Bruno fusilloni were new to me and looked like just the thing to go with the Macaroni with Tomatoes and Spicy Sausage I was planning to make. The recipe is from The Bistro Laurent Tourondel Cookbook that I co-authored a couple of years ago with the famous chef. It has mouth-watering recipes and gorgeous photos from Laurent’s BLT restaurants around the country.
A quick check of my refrigerator revealed 2 cups of my favorite canned Bella di San Marzano brand tomatoes and some sweet Italian sausages left from a recipe testing project, a package of Satur Farms wild arugula and an open bottle of white wine. Laurent’s recipe calls for fresh tomatoes and hot sausages, but the canned tomatoes were a reasonable substitute and I could add some crushed red pepper to compensate for the mildness of the sausages, though I preferred not to. The ridges and twists of the fusilloni seemed like they would be even better than the rigatoni Laurent called for. I always have pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano on hand, so the rest was easy.
One of the questions I am asked most frequently is how to prevent pasta from sticking. Here is my mantra–use a big pot with plenty of boiling water and salt; stir often; don’t overcook; drain, sauce and serve immediately. Here is how I do it:
I started the sauce and put up a 6-quart pot filled with 5 quarts of water on high heat. When it came to a rolling boil, in went the fusilloni and a generous amount of coarse salt. Stirring the pasta frequently, I finished making the sauce just as the pasta became tender yet firm to the bite — in short, al dente. Don’t rely on package cooking times and taste it to be sure. Allow a little for the residual cooking that occurs between the time you remove the pasta from the heat and start eating. Remember — when the pasta is ready, it is is not the time to make a phone call, set the table, or have a drink. The sauce has to be finished before the pasta, and you can’t hesitate with the cooked pasta or it will overcook and get sticky. I drained the fusilloni, reserving a cupful of the cooking water just in case, and quickly mixed them with the hot sauce. I added the cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and tossed again. (The hot water wasn’t necessary this time. If the pasta had been dry, I would have added a little to loosen it up.) Meanwhile, Charles opened a bottle of Pallagrello, an unusual, red wine from Italy and we sat down to eat.
The fusilloni had good wheaty flavor and held their texture and shape beautifully. The ridges in the pasta captured the bits of sausage and basil and tangled around the long arugula leaves. The pasta was a perfect match for the rich sauce, freshened with grassy flavor of the arugula. As I savored the pasta and the rustic, pleasantly bitter wine, I thought of all the ways I might use fusilloni again. It would go well with all kinds of meaty ragus or sauces containing bits of cauliflower or broccoli, or strands of zucchini or carrots. If by chance you cant find Don Bruno fusilloni, use regular fusilli, gemelli or rotelle.
Adapted from The Bistro Laurent Tourondel Cookbook by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone (John Wiley & Sons 2008)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
12 ounces hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 medium-ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into large dice
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces fusilloni
1 bunch arugula, tough stems removed and coarsely chopped (1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Cook the Sausage In a skillet large enough to hold all of the ingredients, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage meat and cook until lightly browned, stirring the meat to break up the lumps. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl.
Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Sauté until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Cook 1 minute more, scraping the bottom of the pan.
Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in the sausage meat and cook until heated through, about 1 minute more.
Cook the Fusilloni Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the fusilloni and plenty of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fusilloni is al dente, tender yet still firm. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce.
Finish the Pasta Add the arugula and basil and toss well. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with the cheese and toss again. Serve immediately.