I have been contemplating the simple dish of pasta and wondering why one dish has a certain cachet that makes me want to eat it and the other is shied away from swiftly. I'm not even aware that I'm making these choices on a day to day basis - but I am.
Once upon a time, pasta was a three times a week staple for two young marrieds in their first little two-bedroom terraced house. We were sitting on the floor (as we couldn't afford a sofa) and eating off a wallpapering table. All available cash was going on stripping the doors and damp proofing the walls. And pasta enabled us to eat.
Over the years it morphed into the once or twice a week family dish - usually a Lasagna or bolognaise - until eventually it became once a week, and then PERHAPS once a week. It is not that I particularly want to bring back pasta dominance into our weekly menu, but I wonder how it got to be so unimportant and forgotten.
Nowadays, if its pasta then there has to be a more exciting accompaniment or sauce to go with it: Something that works, something that has a certain wow factor to it. Sometimes, I am disappointed with what I produce, or just not very inspired. But lately I have come to realise that there is a reason for this; something that I have been missing, or hit and missing without realising its relevance - and that is the texture of the pasta itself.
Looking at the packets of pasta on the supermarket shelf, it is easy to miss this small detail. There are so many shapes and sizes to choose from. Why wouldn't you choose that packet of bright yellow linguine rather than the rather old, tired looking one next to it which looks frankly a bit dried out and possibly out-of-date? Surely the former has been made with free-range, organic eggs to achieve that colour, you might reason. Not so. Dried pasta is extruded through a machine using either a bronze or a silicon die. The bronze die extrudes pasta at a slower rate (hence it is more expensive to produce), but it leaves a rougher texture to the pasta - like that of an antique leather sofa - which allows the sauce to cling to it better. The silicon die leaves a smooth surface and a brighter yellow colour. How often have you eaten out and been given a dish of pasta only to find half the sauce remaining at the end of the meal? or perhaps they fudged things by using too thick a sauce?
It's a small thing, perhaps, but I am aware that pasta is making a come back in this house. I don't begrudge paying slightly more for it when the over-all cost of the dish is usually considerably less than some of the other meals I cook. We eat less pasta these days, quantity-wise. No longer is there a huge heap to be ploughed through. Sometimes the pasta is almost the accompaniment to the other ingredients, or at least an equal part.
Tonight, however, I am making 'food for a windy night.' I am making 'Artichoke "tartiflette"' (page 27) - 'Not just a hot meal to fatten and fill, but something that will warm our very souls'. It is inspired by the 'Alpine dish of tartiflette, whose layers of potatoes, onions, smoked bacon and Reblochon cheese help to thaw out skiers and snowboarders alike'. It is pertinent as number two son, Christopher, has just moved to Geneva with his Brazilian girlfriend, Beatriz. Only there a week and he sends me a photo of them skiing in the Alps. Lucky boy. Lovely to see him looking so happy and alive.
Your dish involves those lovely little knobbly vegetables - such a pain to peel - called Jerusalem artichokes. Their taste is so wonderfully earthy and deep that all is soon forgiven. We sit down to a large plate of melting softness. The cold is swiftly driven out. It is good; very good. The interplay between the stronger flavours of the Jerusalem artichokes, the Reblochon cheese and the lardons is well-balanced. The 'pale milky curds (of the Reblochon) melt into a velvety blanket, and whose flavour softens upon heating.'
We feel complete as we curl up on the sofa.
(Small note: Although you say you have to rechristen this dish 'fartiflette' the next day....hence a windy night in your place....I have to say that it didn't have quite that effect over here! Thank goodness: It's a small house.)
Love Martha x