Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cavatappi with Peas and Dates

I've been using a lot of short pasta lately for these emergency meals. A confluence of circumstances make it so we have hardly any ingredients in the house, yet I have to make dinner nightly. I'm working most of the time so I don't have time to go shopping, and we're leaving town on Sunday for a week and I don't want to risk a bunch of fixings going bad while we're gone. As a result, I'm using dry goods, canned vegetables and whatever fresh ingredients I have left to consume before we leave town. Yadda yadda long story short, we're out of long pasta.

I've never been much of a fan of tomato paste as a base for pasta sauce. It tends to remind me of the heavy, wet red gravy served at suburban Mama Mia! Free Giant Garlic Bread! Meatballs As Big As Your Head! All You Can Eat Calamari! Half Price Pitchers On Mondays! Try Our Zucchini Poppers! Famous Tiramisu! Italian Restaurant! I cannot abide restaurants of this type. They debase our palates and insult our ancestors with watery matter piled in mountainous heaps and buried under granulated Kraft Foods "Parmesan." Screw this school lunch bullshit and get it the fuck away from me. Tomato paste is where that debasement and insult starts.

Still, we had no tomatoes left, and I needed to make something. I decided to make a very light sauce to bind some peas and diced dates to the pasta, and enrichen it with some tomato paste, but not enough to give me Mama Mia! douche-chills. I looked in the pantry for some herbs or spices to shift the sauce out of the suburbs and had to stop myself from grabbing the dried oregano. If any flavor combination defines pedestrian "Italian! American!" cooking, it's dried oregano and tomato paste. I settled on some cardamom seeds, which have a weird petrochemical/insecticide aroma that I love, and cannot associate with Mama Mia! After starting the sauce with some olive oil, diced onion, ginger and garlic, I added less than a tablespoon of the paste and let it caramelize with the onions. I incorporated about a half-teaspoon of honey at the beginning of cooking to induce a little color during caramelization. By cooking the paste dry I hoped to make the flavor a little less trivial. The dates were a substitute for bacon, since we had no mammal meats left in the house. They have a meaty body and a dark sweetness and mouth feel reminiscent of pork fat. I added the dates just before the pasta, so the date sugar didn't leach out too much and the pieces would retain their texture.

The pasta went in a little underdone with a ladle of the boiling water, and with a few minutes of high heat, the sauce coated the cavatappi nicely without hanging out in a puddle. I decorated the pasta with olives, pumpkin seeds and grated parmigiano. Good thing we have a lot of pumpkin seeds or I'd be sprinkling the pasta with pennies or cigarette butts or something. (vg, v without honey or cheese)

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