I'm headed out for the first bike trip of the season. (In the rain, yeah. Don't ask.)
While I'm out there dodging the raindrops and the text-while-you-drive idiots and the 80 mph trucks that forever conspire to ruin me, here is a dish you might find comforting in the days ahead.
It is one of my faves, this bowl of pasta. As soon as I laid eyes on the recipe, a dozen or so years ago now, I knew it was for me. The book in which it resides, Lynne Rossetto Kasper's "The Splendid Table," is worth having on the shelf. All the recipes are from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region and there isn't a clunker in the lot. The pasta recipes alone, 56 in all, are worth the price of admission.
Anyhow, I need to get going. Have a good Memorial Day weekend. And be happy that you are in the comfort of your home, smelling the lovely garlic braising on the stovetop, instead of slogging through the slick New England highways and backroads with a meatball like me.
Pasta with Braised Garlic and Balsamic Vinegar
Recipe adapted from "The Splendid Table," by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
8 large cloves garlic, cut into 1/4-inch dice
6 quarts salted water
1 pound pasta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 to 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 to 10 tsps artisan-made or high-quality commercial balsamic vinegar (if using commercial, blend in 1 teaspoon brown sugar) [NOTE: If you're not willing to spend big bucks on super high quality balsamic, or take Kasper's advice about the brown sugar, don't bother making this. —MM]
Working Ahead: The garlic can be braised up to 8 hours ahead. Set it aside, covered, at room temperature. The dish is best finished and eaten right away.
Braising the Garlic: In a large heavy skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook, covered, 5 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking over the lowest possible heat 8 minutes, or until the garlic is barely colored to pale blond and very tender. Stir it frequently with a wooden spatula. Do not let the garlic turn medium to dark brown, as it will be bitter.
Cooking the Pasta: Warm a serving bowl and shallow soup dishes in a low oven. As the garlic braises, bring the salted water to a fierce boil, and drop in the pasta. Stir occasionally. Cook only a few moments for fresh pasta, and up to 10 minutes for dried pasta. Taste for doneness, making sure the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the cooking water into the cooked garlic just before draining the pasta. Drain in a colander.
Finishing and Serving: Remove the garlic from the heat and add the hot drained pasta. Toss with two wooden spatulas. Season with salt and pepper. Now toss with all of the cheese. Turn into the heated serving bowl. As you serve the pasta, sprinkle each plateful with a teaspoon or two of the vinegar.