In college I lived abroad in Milan, Italy for about seven months. The floor of my apartment building had a shared kitchen and I refused to step foot in it for the first few months. I was completely intimidated. The Italian girls on my floor whizzed about the kitchen like master chefs all while laughing and enjoying a glass of wine. They were confident and skilled, probably from years of experience.
One evening I finally took the plunge, tip toeing down the hall with my box of pasta and can of sauce under my arm. As I dumped my box of pasta and a pinch of salt into boiling water, someone behind me started to laugh. I turned and looked at her (the girl who all the others called the best cook) quizzically. Then, without saying a word she walked over to the stove and dumped a mound of salt into the pot. She stood back and after the pasta had cooked a few short minutes she turned off the burner. I thought, “well this was about as bad as it could have gone.” But, I continued on, plopping on the sauce (she added olive oil and basil, only after informing me that it was best to use fresh tomatoes instead).
I learned the two keys to cooking pasta that night: don’t be afraid to add salt (maybe not as much) to the boiling water and undercook the pasta (I’ve figured about two minutes less than most American boxes advise). It has the added flavor, without being overly salty, and an al dente texture that I can’t live without.
I found this Alice Waters recipe and it sounded too good to pass up. Waters is an incredible chef, an activist for organic and farm to fork eating and she founded Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. This dish is hearty thanks to whole wheat pasta and walnuts. The cauliflower and walnuts give it crunch, while the red peppers, lemon and feta give the dish a zesty, spicy and refreshing flavor.
We are in the beautiful Sierra mountains, swimming and hiking during the day and gathering around a fire at night. Have a great weekend!