I kneaded the tagliatelle for this post as the weather turned colder and colder outside, the fire crackled vivid in the fireplace, and Vivaldi was playing in my ears (what better than the vivid sound of a violin to accompany an activity as vigorous as rolling pasta?). Music gets me thinking, and pasta-making (along with cleaning) is the ultimate for of meditation for those who cannot sit still for longer than 5 minutes.
Pasta is a truly wonderful kitchen endeavor, one that I would not be shy to call a form of art. Amongst the many interesting ideas that can help you get into the right mindset for pasta making, there is the idea of Depth vs. Complexity, which I first read about in this article (I do encourage you to read it!).
According to the author, elegant, enjoyable design is achieved when high depth meets low complexity: you want a product of which is easy to learn usage and rules, but that could ultimately take a lifetime to master. This is how you keep the fun going, and the reason why games like chess have been played for centuries.
I could not help but notice how this idea can easily be applied to recipes. Think ice cream: to make it, you only need few basic ingredients and one specific tool, yet you have a world of flavor combinations to try out before you get bored of it. You could probably spend your lifetime making a different kind of ice cream per week.
Same goes for pasta.
Pasta, too, requires few basic ingredients and one specific tool, but the combinations of doughs and sauces are endless. Yet, mastering pasta could very well take a lifetime. In her golden days, my grandma could roll out 4 pounds of dough in mere minutes, and invade the table with tagliatelle in a matter of half an hour. For me, the challenge is being fast enough to work the dough while it’s supple and cut the pasta before it dries out.
While I am excited at the idea of having the rest of my life for mastering pasta, the challenge at hand right now is to find new flavor combinations and get out of the most traditional recipes, thus improving the depth of recipes without making them overly complicated or denature them.
I love how, to the careful observer, these kitchen-inspired ideas can be easily applied to everyday life. The pursuit of low complexity and high depth can be easily applied to everything, from keeping the fengshui of your home to managing your relationships. Silly as it may sound, the best way to avoid complicating things is, well…not making them any more difficult than they actually are.
And isn’t tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffle simplicity itself? It is one of the most traditional recipes of the Italian repertoire, and a basic anyone can cook. It is not complex at all, but it has depth of flavor. How can you bring the depth up a notch, without overcomplicating things – which are so delightfully simple?
Add a teaspoon of miso.
The truth is that you need perfect mushrooms for this recipe: fresh, flavorful porcini and button or champignon mushrooms, which not everyone can easily find. Some miso is an addition that will deepen the flavor without altering it.
When you shop for mushrooms, pick the ones that still have dirt sticking to the roots. Smell them, and, in your mind, picture the dish you are going to make: imagine the woods in your plate, with its earthy colors and fragrance.
I do hope you can find truffle paste – it is available pretty much all over the world in specialty shops, or online. Make sure it is not aestivum (summer) truffle, which pretty much taste like thin air. If you do not want to invest in truffle paste or are not sure what you’re buying, consider using truffle oil. A little goes a long way.
Some of the photos you see were taken in Acqualagna, a world-famous town for truffles, which happens to be just some 40 minutes from where I live. Do visit if you ever have the chance. I dream of hosting a mushrooms and truffles workshop next fall, as Acqualagna and its produce are one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
In the future, I will experiment with more pasta recipes, following this idea of depth vs. complexity. A step-by-step guide on how to make tagliatelle, tagliolini and pappardelle is coming very soon, and new recipes are in the works.
But, as things will get more interesting, let us start with the basics, shall we?
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter (or more oil)
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- 1 small onion (or half a bigger one), finely chopped
- 10 medium white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 3 medium porcini mushrooms, fresh or frozen (or ¼ cup dried porcini slivers), chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- Pepper to taste
- If your mushrooms are just so-so: 1 teaspoon white miso
- 1 heaping teaspoon truffle paste (or a couple teaspoons truffle oil)
- 1 lb. fresh whole wheat tagliatelle (if made without eggs, this can easily turn into a vegan dish)
- Heat the oil and butter in a pan just until the butter has melted. Add the chopped shallots and onions and stir-fry until golden, about 10 minutes.
- Add the chopped mushrooms and porcini. If using dried porcini, soak them in hot water for at least one hour, squeeze them and finely chop them, then add to the sauce. Reserve the soaking water.
- Stir, add salt and pepper. If you decide to add the miso, dissolve it in a tablespoon of hot water and stir it in. The mushrooms will first release water, then, as they cook, the liquid will reduce and the flavor will concentrate. Cook on medium-low for about 25 minutes, or until the water from the mushroom has fully evaporated and the fat renders.
- If you used dried porcini, add their water towards the end of cooking, and turn the heat to medium-high to let the liquid evaporate.
- Once the sauce is ready, turn off the burner and add the truffle paste, stirring well. For a creamier result, purée ⅓ of the sauce, pour it back in the pan and stir well.
- Boil the tagliatelle in plenty of salted water until al dente. It should take from 3 to 5 minutes.
- Drain the tagliatelle into the pan with the sauce. Turn on the burner again, add a tablespoon of pasta cooking water and stir well until the starch binds with the sauce and forms a cream.
- Serve straight away with a glass of cold, full-bodied white wine.
- They can easily be reheated in the pan with a splash of water.
What is the weirdest pasta flavor combination you have ever had? What is your favorite simple pasta dish? And what is your perfect depth vs. complexity dish/recipe? Is there something in particular you would like to see in this blog? Please let me know!
See you soon with more fresh pasta making goodness!