I remember reading, though I forget where exactly, another food blogger had written words to the effect that any time you start getting a big head about how great your blog is, take a look back at your earliest posts and it will bring you back to earth with a bump. Great advice, though it could just as easily reinforce your view that you’ve come a long way. Indeed, many of us long time bloggers have done just that from those dimly lit, low contrast beginnings, paving the way, I like to think, for all those parvenues with their new cameras and fancier blog templates.
Ironically though, for us at least, what we notice looking back is that while we still love the food we post on our site, it’s often a different kind of food — more complex and, in some cases, pretty arcane — to what we posted back in the beginning. Granted, our technical skills in the kitchen have grown immeasurably in this period as we’ve pushed ourselves to try new techniques, styles and flavor combinations — though we’re still lousy bakers and very limited on the dessert front — but our tastes haven’t changed all that much. We still love the same kinds of unpretentious, rustic cooking, with a distinct bent for the ugly parts of the beast, that we always did, so why don’t we cook like that anymore?
The truth is that we actually do, but that uniquely competitive nature of food blogging makes us feel like we shouldn’t post about it. It’ll seem a presumptuous comparison to anyone who is familiar with his expertise, but when Zen Chef went through a period in the recent past where he remade many of his old posts and noted the improvements in recipe, presentation and technique, it made us feel like we should do the same, if only to update some the godawful shots we took first time around.
In fact, we actually eat many of the dishes we used to post about on a regular basis as week night staples and can produce them faultlessly without thinking about it. Returning to that kind of blogging – this is what we made for dinner, this is what we ate at a hole in the wall place on vacation – would, in many ways, be more honest. Sure, we love Guyanese chow mein, bandeja paisa, mofongo and locro de mondongo, but they aren’t the kind of dishes we eat more than a couple of times a year.
So, it’s motivated by a desire to return, however briefly, to our roots as much as it is against this kind of over-thinking that we decided to do this post. My mother, whose encyclopedic use of regional English idioms was one of her great charms, used to say that the pretentious and the poseurs, those overly concerned with their appearance, were in danger of disappearing up their own trouser legs, and in order to avoid this is rather awkward demise, I decided to post this simple pasta dish from Calabria.
Pasta al pastore or shepherd’s pasta, is nothing more than crumbled hot or sweet Italian sausage (in this case a pound of loose homemade hot sausage meat – thanks Michael Ruhlman), a couple of ladles of pasta water and half a tub of fresh ricotta. There’s nothing to it, but nor is there anything missing. It’s as totally unremarkable as it is exciting and delicious, and could be found just as easily on the menu of a white table cloth restaurant as our house on a Tuesday night. That this is a Lidia Bastianich recipe also returns us to our origins as PBS fans fond of regional Italian cucina povera. Sure, we’ve betrayed our best intentions to go natural and rustic a little by gussying up the plating a little with chive flowers, but our excuse is that we have glut of them in our pots right now and using them up is as honest as it comes.
(adapted not at all from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich)
- 4 hot (or sweet) Italian sausages, skins removed and crumbled
- 1lb package rigatoni or other tubular pasta
- 1/2lb fresh ricotta
- abundant salted water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Grated pecorino cheese (optional).
- Boil well salted water in a large pot
- In a large skillet or saute pan, heat oil and crumble in sausage meat. Saute until cooked through.
- Add pasta to water and cook for around 7 minutes until under done by about two minutes – i.e. in cross-section pasta is uncooked in the middle
- Reserving 2-3 ladles of pasta water, remove pasta from water and add to sausage in saute pan.
- Ladle in 2 ladles of pasta water and stir together.
- When pasta is cooked through, kill the heat and stir in ricotta.
- Sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve with a hearty southern Italian red