Friday, April 9, 2010

Pasta Is Our Standby

I've been coddled at sea level for a long time.
As I set out to make a quick pasta dinner for James in the dreaded hotel "kitchenette" I remembered my time in Colorado and my neighbor Roger (a flatlander and a Kansas native) saying -- "it's darn near impossible to fry chicken at 10,000 feet." Years of California cooking have nearly erased the memory of special instructions for baking cakes and the lower temperature, slower cooking boiling water dishes from my mountain cuisine. At higher elevations water boils at a lower temperature -- great for a braise or a simmering stew but not exactly the ticket for pasta which becomes tender and magically still toothy in rapidly boiling, super hot water with the shortest cooking time possible. An easy 10 minute dinner in California became a half hour of worrying and stirring in New Mexico.
All I did was sauté some chopped bacon (pancetta would have been the thing if I'd had it), onion, garlic, and lots of pepper (wish I'd had some crushed red pepper handy -- bought a bunch for gifts but none to use it seems) in some olive oil. When the bacon was getting crisp -- that took a bit, still have the smoke alarm issue -- and the onions softened I tossed in about a cup of artichoke hearts (chopped) I bought from the olive bar at Whole Foods and gave it all a good stir around with a healthy knob of butter.
When the pasta was finally cooked I reserved about 3/4 of the nice starchy water and stirred it, the drained pasta, the sautéed mixture, a good dose of parmesan cheese and a quick squeeze of lemon over medium heat until warmed through and nicely combined.
Hmm . . . spaghetti at 7000 feet, no wonder slow simmering rice and polenta took hold in the Alps. Next time a nice risotto.

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