A Pasta Success

Aha! Finally, after a couple of cooking experiments which turned up less-than desirable results in the past week or two, I wound up with this enormously satisfying concoction last night, right in time for a bit of cold weather that made me want to stay in side and, well, eat a nice plate full of warm, tasty pasta.

I didn’t track the recipe along the way exactly so I’m afraid I can’t share it with you exactly. Still, I can tell you what the basic key to it’s success was: garlic, broccoli, and hazelnuts. Man, do those ever go well together. Also featured in the culinary cast were mushrooms, red onions, and imitation crab meat (hey, I am an impoverished graduate student!) but, while I didn’t realize it until I had tasted the pasta, it was only the first three ingredients that were really needed to make it such a hit. The rest mostly contributed texture. So, if you want to try it at home, start by whipping up a light cream sauce (a couple cups of milk, a touch of butter, and a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese; bring to a boil, stir vigorously, then bring back down and simmer stirring occasionally). Saute onions and minced garlic with a dusting of red pepper flakes, then throw them in with the cream sauce along with chopped hazelnuts. Stir-fry together the broccoli, mushrooms, and crab, then combine the two (adding water to the sauce if it’s thickened past your taste). A bit of oregano somewhere along the way might help too.

By the way, this dish showcases two different themes that I’ve noticed appearing in my pasta dishes, the first of which is “nuts.” Pine nuts are an obvious pasta addition, but walnuts go nicely in a lot of places too (toasted is better), as do hazelnuts and chestnuts (not necessarily toasted). To my taste buds, nuts like these compliment vegetables really well, so if your sauce has substantial veggie components (or at least a strong veggie flavor) you might want to think about them. For my money, walnuts go well with zucchini and squash, hazelnuts with broccoli or eggplant, and chestnuts with mushrooms. I see a lot of recipes with almonds and eggplant as well, but I haven’t tried it myself.

The second is “mixing pastas.” I don’t know if there’s any authentic Italian precedent for this or not, but I really enjoy having two different types of pasta in my food from time to time. Usually a noodle and a non-noodle combination. The dish above is shells and angle hair (about 1:3, serving wise). and I’ve had luck in the past with tortellini + spaghetti in a red pesto sauce and rotini plus linguine in a mushroom sauce. I like the mixtures because they let you get some of the “best of both worlds” out of the sauces. The one above, for example, is fairly runny and has a light flavor that goes really nicely on the gentle angle hair noodles. But the big chunky vegetables need something to grab hold of, and the shells do this much much better than their thin little counterparts. Same goes with tortellini plus spaghetti in a pesto: don’t you have how the pinion nuts always end up sedimenting out to the bottom of your plate underneath the noodles? Well they stick much better to the tortellini.

Obviously the trick with multiple pasta types is adding them to the boiling water at the right time so that they all come out al dente together when you need them, but that’s not hard. Maybe it’s because I’m too obsessed with variety in food (I really can’t eat a meal if it consists of only one food item) but I think it’s a lot of fun, and gives the dish a more unique look too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go reheat some leftovers for lunch…

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

One Response to A Pasta Success

  1. Moominmamma says:

    This looks sooo good. Creamy, warm, soft and crunchy all at once. What a terrific idea, using two types of pasta-though I imagine it would be tricky for me to get the timing on those just right. I think I’ll put this one on the experimental list for home, and try it on some cold, blustery evening. I’m still planning on trying the kofti balls sometime, too, so we’ll let you know how all that turns out!

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