saveur, you never disappoint me, even with poppy seeds in your teeth ::::
“There are too many dessert recipes on the blog.” Someone actually said this. My brother. Such a first world problem I have here, the gravitation to expand the girth of sugary creations, a deftly executed panna cotta, maybe a silky smooth Swiss buttercream, or colorfully-decorated cake. Because pretty counts.
But I am all about ephemeral balance, usually skewed to the weight of a 5 pound bag of sugar over a bowl of pasta. There are times past where sugar could not be dominant, for lack of resources and need of real nourishment. One of two summers during these times, I lived in a van in Europe.
When I was 10, my family moved from my dad’s job sabbatical in England back to the United States. We spent over a month camping around Europe before flying home via the Netherlands.
We drove a bright blue pop-up camping van to the coast and boarded a ferry to cross the English Channel, well before the Chunnel was built. We celebrated our first night in France with champagne and light sleep pinned with anxious eagerness to start the next morning. Some of the highlights of the trip include my twin brother getting sick in the Paris subway platform. I didn’t eat raspberry ice cream for quite a while after that. I remember crispy wienerschnitzel in Austria. There were soundless glider planes floating in the Swiss Alps. I first ate fondue at a German restaurant in the mountains. I became a fan of stinky cheese. I remember having a severe asthma attack in the Swiss chalet we were renting and subsequently having to sleep in the living room, away from the featherbeds. There was the unrelenting heat of the French Riveria in an unair-conditioned van, showers few and far between. Instead of the sweet treat of a square or two of hazelnut chocolate, my mother would hand us a community spoon, each licking a melted spoonful, salvaging the chocolate the best we could. We drove on twisty roads in clots of green, dotted with old stone homes like fairytale castles. We camped in campgrounds with other travelers from all over the world: drunk and stupid young men, sunkissed Scandinavians, American tourists with grating voices that embarrassed me, Dutch families with kids who were anxious to practice English, and friendly Luxembourgers who spoke perfect English.
And then there was the pizza. We spent many days in Italy, hoping to spend more but changing our path away from the south due to the loping summer heat. There was one restaurant I remember well. It was so good the first night we tried it, we went back again. Our waiter and host was remarkably unItalian looking: he was very pale, possibly had freckles, and red hair.
We ordered a lot of good food, my parents enjoying spaghetti, my little brother probably eating plain noodles, my sister and twin brother trying all sorts, but I only remember taste of the pizza. I still remember the char on the crust from the wood-burning oven and the deep pink translucent slices of prosciutto.
I have yet to find a place in the United States with pizza so good. Coalfire in Chicago comes close. Real New York style pizza, in New York, is also similar. Pizza My Heart in Mountain View, California was also our go-to pizza in California. The trick is good crust with the right flour (“00” milled if possible) and a wood-burning oven. Since I have little access to either of those, I prefer to bask in the memory of real Italian pizza.
Today I give you a hybrid of those memories: with pasta and prosciutto. Tagliatelle is a bit more delicate than fettuccine but has a similar profile. I love the nuttiness of the poppy seeds, the hint of cream, the sweetness of the shallots, and the salty chew of the prosciutto. It’s strange for food memories in Italy to not include desserts, the pizza far eclipsing them, that ephemeral balance finally tipped to a savory direction. Back to the sugar soon. Not sorry!
One year ago: one-eyed chihuahua cocktail
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons poppy seeds (Besides lemon zest, this is the only deviation from the original recipe's 2 tablespoons poppy seeds.)
- ½ cup white wine (I like a Pino Grigio here.)
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 pound tagliatelle or fettucini (I like the tagliatelle better.)
- 2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling before serving
- 4 scallions, cut into diagonal rings
- juice of ½ lemon
- a few scratches of lemon zest
- With medium-high heat, melt butter and olive oil in a skillet. Add shallots and season with salt and pepper. Cook to soften, about 2 minutes.
- Add poppy seeds and cook while stirring. They will smell nutty and the shallots will brown.
- Add wine and cook until almost all of the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes.
- Add buttermilk and cream, cooking to reduce slightly, about 3 minutes.
- While working on the sauce, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (read the package instructions). Scoop out some of the pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta.
- Turning your attention back to the skillet of sauce, add a bit of the pasta water and the pasta. Add the sliced prosciutto, Parmesan, half the scallions, and the lemon juice. Use tongs to combine well, adding more pasta water if needed to make the sauce smooth.
- Season with salt and pepper and transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with remainder of scallions, the few scratches of lemon zest, and more Parmesan before serving.