I think it would would do every home cook well to eat with Italians once in a while. More than anyone on the planet, Italians seem to understand the prime directives of food wisdom.
Here they are: Find good ingredients. Present them simply. Don’t screw them up with extraneous seasoning.
Over spring break last week, we got a visit from our friends Rita, who comes from the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, and her grown son, Alessandro. While Rita is the accomplished cook of the family, Ale (as everyone calls him) was bouncing from a second wind after the flight from Europe and asked if he could cook dinner. He had one great bachelor dish, a Friulian specialty, and he wanted to make it.
“Do you have spider crabs here? Do you have black squid-ink pasta?” he asked. Um…wow. How some shrimp and macaroni?
Still, we went to Your DeKalb Farmers Market in search of the ingredients. I assumed we wouldn’t find spider crab — i.e., the granseola native to the Adriatic — but maybe some picked blue crab would work in a pinch. As for the black pasta: success!
Among the boxes of Spinosi pasta (love the pappardelle — tastes like homemade) we found this box of tagliolini.
“Is is as good as fresh?” Ale asked. I had no idea. While I’ve eaten black pasta before, I wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado. I recalled once eating a squid-ink risotto with so much ink in it that everyone’s teeth turned black like those monks in “The Name of the Rose.” It wasn’t a wholly pleasant experience.
So we bought the pasta and a bunch of Italian parsley and were on our way.
Ale’s recipe was so simple that I hovered nearby, ready to “fix it with a little dash of this or that if needed. He flaked apart the crab meat, added about a half cup of water to it and gently heated it until the water had mostly absorbed. He poured it over the cooked pasta, added a good fistful of scissor-chopped parsley and a healthy stream of olive oil. That was it. No salt, no pepper, no lemon, no secret ingredient.
The pasta was amazing. It didn’t need anything except for a splash more oil when it started getting too dry. We passed the bottle at the table. The flavors were brilliant together — the distilled, seafoody essence of the pasta against the bright sweetness of the crab seemed like two perfectly matched colors. No salt or lemon was needed. In fact, they would have interfered.
Remember this recipe — it’s a keeper.