A warming autumn pasta
Now that we've set back the clocks this past weekend, it feels like autumn is really here. Nighttime is coming earlier each day and, more and more, there's a chill in the air -- even here where I live, in Southern California.
I love cooking pasta at this time of year. A bowl full of noodles prepared al dente -- "to the tooth," the phrase that Italians use to describe pasta that is perfectly cooked until tender but still pleasingly chewy -- feels robust, filling, and warm, like the most delicious insulation imaginable. And when you toss that pasta with a simple, quickly made sauce featuring earthy vegetables along with creamy and tangy goat cheese, you have a main course that will be certain to sustain you. So, let me share with you my simple strategy for preparing such pasta dishes.
First, to provide a touch of classic flavor that brings distinction to so many Italian-style noodle preparations, I usually double-blanch a few garlic cloves. This simple chef's technique mellows their harshness without diminishing their distinctive flavor. Just boil the whole trimmed but unpeeled cloves briefly, cool them quickly in a bowl of ice water, and then do it all once again before draining, peeling, and slicing them. You'll be surprised by how pleasant tasting the result will be.
Then, in extra-virgin olive oil, I saute whatever vegetables look their best at the farmers' market at this time of year. Sliced mushrooms are a good choice, for example. I also like strips of kale leaves, or small bite-sized florets of broccoli or cauliflower. One of my favorite selections, however, is cubes of slender Asian eggplants, which have a mild flavor with none of the bitterness you may find in some of the larger globe-shaped eggplants.
Once the vegetables have been browned, I'll add the garlic and saute it a bit before tossing in herbs, a touch of spicy red pepper flakes, some slivered sun-dried tomatoes, and a little broth, which finishes cooking the featured vegetable while it also reduces to coating consistency to form a sauce that I'll enrich just before serving with the goat cheese and a little butter. Meanwhile, the pasta cooks in a separate pot of boiling salted water -- allow just a couple of minutes for fresh noodles, a while longer if all you can find are dried -- and will be ready to toss with the finished sauce.
It's that easy to produce a seasonal pasta main course that needs only a side salad, some good, crusty bread, and your favorite beverage to complete the meal. You'll feel so comforted by the results that you'll feel almost thankful that Daylight Savings Time has come to an end.
SPICY EGGPLANT FETTUCCINE WITH TOMATOES AND GOAT CHEESE
4 cloves garlic