Root Vegetables…and My Cooking Roots
I cooked something the other night that got me thinking. (By the way, coming up with that sentence is the first sign that you need to write for a food blog.)
The meal was tasty. It was parsnip and pancetta tagliatelle with Parmesan and butter, in which I took the liberty of substituting fettuccine for the tagliatelle (I’m a rebel like that). Otherwise, I played the recipe pretty much by the book. I hardly ever work with parsnips, but it’s not really much more than a pale carrot, so all that really needs to be done was avoid using too much of the more fibrous center if you find yourself with a larger parsnip. Judging by the photo on that page, I decided not to cut up the pancetta too much. Rather, I kind of “unwound” it and split the longer piece in half, resulting in something similar to a short strip of bacon.
Everything gets fried in a bunch of butter and pork fat, so that’s good. My one departure from the technique laid out in the recipe was the addition of some pasta water a little earlier in the process, creating more of a sauce for the fettuccine once I moved it from the pot into the frying pan. However, the water caused some of the thinly-sliced parsnip to go a bit mushy, so either add the water later or take this into account when you’re slicing. Despite the slight misstep in texture, the flavor was very good, with the parsnip providing a surprising and tasty sweetness that paired well with the rich sauce and pancetta.
So that was the “cooking” part…
The “thinking” part comes from the fact that I pulled the recipe from my copy of Happy Days with the Naked Chef. OK, some people like to rag on Jamie Oliver because he’s a bit on the goofy side. I understand that, but I have a certain place in my heart for him and for this particular cookbook. It’s because they both date back to the earliest moments of me becoming an active foodie.
I was post-grad school, gainfully employed, living on my own for the first time (other than in a dorm) and pretty much devoid of any creative or artistic outlets, unless you count my imaginative and original methods for unsuccessfully hitting on women. Plenty of free time and a whole lot of cable stations meant that it was only a matter of time before I came across Food Network. I had seen cooking shows on television all my life, but Jamie Oliver was slightly different. He cooked familiar looking food, but his London perspective opened up the possibilities of curries, ginger and other things that were exotic to my eyes at the time. It wasn’t long before I was watching him and a number of other shows religiously, cashing in my Morton’s Iodized for some Kosher and becoming a foodie-in-training. One of the first recipes I tried upon getting this book as a gift (it was one of my first cookbooks, actually) was the pasta with parsnip and pancetta. Hey…parsnips constituted “exotic” in my house growing up! It was a promising first step.
So give that pasta dish a try some time when you don’t have any better ideas. It probably won’t have quite an impact on you as it did on me at the time, but it’s tasty. And it will always have a special place in my heart, reminding me of how I got where I am.