Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fettuccini with Roasted Cauliflower, Caramelized Onions, Pancetta, Pine Nuts and Parmesan 
Lately we’ve been trying to be so “good” about pasta consumption that I’ve developed a blind spot. A few years back, when the Handsome Venezuelan embraced his Weight Watcher’s regime to acclaim and belt tightening results, I shifted our kitchen over to the newly marketed full grain pastas crowding the market shelves.  It made spaghetti pretty much guilt free, and as any gourmand with a full time job knows…. Pasta is the solution at least once a week.  Good Goddess, it’s just so easy to love.  Sadly though, the echos of carb free preaching continue to taint the lip smacking goodness of a bowl of fine, lovingly prepared maccheroni.
So it was that I finally awakened from my pasta-phobic coma last weekend to hear the very same Handsome Venezuelan saying – “Maybe this weekend we can make pasta?  I’ve been asking for a month!”  By “make pasta” he so wisely means, MAKE pasta.  The very noodles themselves. 
The previous summer we had enjoyed our first fresh made pasta bliss moment when we rescued a classic Italian crank and cut pasta roller from yard sale purgatory.  It was an absolute revelation.  And this was a month after our return from 2 weeks in Italy mind you.  That 2 minute old pasta was brand new and never before known, something neither of us had ever enjoyed before. We had entered Nonna’s kitchen territory, and we knew it.
So it was with excitement that late last October we had opened our home to a SIMAC pasta maker discovered at a country auction.  It was ours for a thin greenback dollar.  After reviewing our purchase at home I found a few things to be missing, primarily the instruction booklet. Quickly our bargain grew to a minor investment.  Yet I still imagined myself the Duke of Ziti, Marquis of Mosticelli and  Lord of Linguini.  If we had thrilled to the tender strands of egg pasta last summer, imagine the excellence of what a true Italian pasta machine could achieve. This modern marvel promised equal flavor with the thrill of a Play Dough Factory adventure.
The instruction book arrived, an underwhelming Xerox and staple construction.  But it wasn’t until I began to plumb the intricacies of its Italo/Anglo translation that I truly began to appreciate the experience I was about to embark upon. The pre-adventure involved the assembly of the machine. Mostly smoothly accomplished, though I did realize that the tightening wrench for the pasta disc was missing. Not so important I declared.............. ha!

Measure the flour, dump it in, measure the water, attach the lid, engage the kneading blade, add the water slowly for one minute, check your dough, should be lumpy, the size of walnuts.......... Walnuts?
Mine was a raggedy mix with no discernible lumps of any size. Process more..... OK... add more water or flour a tablespoon at a time. Don't let it form a smooth ball.. what? And most importantly don't process for more than 5 minutes total time! What time is it now???

OK, enough, can't let it form a ball. Let's make penne. Remove the shutter slide and let the dough move to the pasta disc and extrude. Oiled knife at the ready, I watched and waited for the pasta to push through the template... OK, any minute..... Ah there it is, should be pushing through now.... OK...OK...It's going no where right? Hmmmm. Oh look, the entire pasta disc and lock nut are prying loose as the dough extrudes everywhere except through the pasta disc. Shut it off, shut it off, shut it off. Somehow I knew I had made a wrong turn right next to those walnut sized lumps.

The manual assures me that the more I work with the Simac PastaMatic700, the more I will learn to judge when the dough is sufficiently kneaded. Until that day, I will do as I did last Sunday, and pull out my tried and true hand crank model and enjoy linguini, fettucine or taggliatelle that still amazes and enthralls me like the very first time. Plus it demands a pasta making partner, and that makes a dinner like this even more of an occasion.

Here's the sauce we enjoyed with our most excellent fettucine that night. It's a little out of the box, but 100% delicious, and while not meat free, certainly more veggie focused than most pasta meals. 
Fettuccini with Roasted Cauliflower, Caramelized Onions, Pancetta, Pine Nuts and Parmesan 
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin, crosswise
2 ounces pancetta, sliced into thin strips
3 cups cauliflower, cut into medium florettes
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¾ pound homemade fettuccine (or ½ pound dried)
to taste Parmesan cheese
to taste freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat oven to 450*.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced onion. Stir onions often. When they have just begun to go limp add the pancetta and mix very well. Turn heat to low and cook until onions are deep caramel color. Stir often.
In a large mixing bowl, toss cauliflower with remaining olive oil. Season with salt & pepper.
Place on a baking sheet and roast in preheated oven until well browned, tossing after about 5 minutes.
The cauliflower should take between 8 and 12 minutes. When cooked and browned, remove from often and reserve as it cools.
When onions are ready, drop fettuccine to cook. Add cauliflower and pine nuts to onions and warm. When fettuccine is tender, drain and add to onion, reserving some pasta cooking water. Toss pasta and onion mixture, add some Parmesan cheese and a few tablespoons of pasta water to loosen sauce. Portion into warm bowls, garnish with more Parmesan cheese, parsley and enjoy

Babies, I hope you make this soon. It is absolutely Life affirming. And so, I'll leave you sated and sassy. And hungry for more.