When the world is spinning and things feel out of control, the simplest of rituals are often the most comforting. This includes the manner in which we eat. Uncomplicated and resourceful meals are soothing and rewarding. It's not necessary to deliberately skimp, but to use simple, minimal ingredients with little waste; ingredients that are easily purchased or unearthed in our kitchens.
This ethos is present in the following recipe, which takes inspiration from the most basic yet tastiest Italian pasta dishes. Aglio e Olio is a humble Napoli dish consisting of pasta, olive oil, cheese and dried red chili flakes, glistening with reserved pasta water.
If you haven't added pasta water to your kitchen toolbox, then it's time you did. The cooking water is loaded with starch and salt, and is a wonderful way to loosen a sauce or moisten noodles. This nifty, no-cost byproduct of the cooking process is best added in the last few minutes of preparing the dish.
Another ingredient in this dish with humble Italian roots is breadcrumbs. Pasta con la mollica is a southern Italian dish in which breadcrumbs are considered part of the cucina povera - the "poor man's cooking." It may sound redundant to add bread to pasta, but well-toasted breadcrumbs are a fabulous flavor carrier and a resourceful way to use not-so-fresh bread. And like most dishes born of modest origins, it translates to a timeless and comforting dinner classic.
To this recipe, I add fresh arugula, simply wilted by the heat of the cooked pasta, and bacon, arguably another resourceful and economical food. After all, who can say no to bacon?
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of "Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture" (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.
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