A Virtual Pasta Party
A couple of weeks ago, the nice folks from Al Dente Pasta got in touch with the G3 via this blog and asked if we’d be interested in hosting a pasta party and writing about their product. I was interested in trying the pasta, but I had two reservations about this. First, as you might infer from the sparse posting around here, we are three really maxed-out women right now. Work has been non-stop, we’ve been on the road, dealing with domestic life and all that other stuff that makes it hard to cook, let alone write about it. We can barely get ourselves in the same room for coffee for fifteen minutes let alone have a party. The second is that I worried that well, I wouldn’t like the pasta. And then what would I say? To solve the first problem, we decided on a virtual sort of pasta cook-off. We’d all make our pasta as part of our daily lives, but then compare notes and photos. As for the second issue, I decided that if the pasta was unremarkable, we could just maintain a polite silence.
Guess what? It’s good! Really good. I have to tell you, I’ve been staring at Al Dente bags for years and never thought about them. So when a case of the stuff showed up on my porch I was surprised to see on the label “since 1981.” Really? And it’s made in Whitmore Lake? Who knew? There’s a nice information page on the company site explaining the history and growth of Monique Deschaine’s company from a one woman operation to a business with national reach. I’m glad to know she’s sending her pasta all over the country, but I’m more glad to know I can get a high quality pasta made only a few miles away.
But I bet you want to know what we did with it. Well, lot’s of things.
The wild mushroom fettucine was a natural pair with those Michigan mushrooms I’ve been going on about. I diced up some trumpet mushrooms and shallot and did a quick sautee in olive oil. When the mushrooms had taken on some color, I added some green garlic (local green garlic has been in stock at our food coop lately) sliced into two inch lengths and a little bit of diced preserved lemon that had been hanging around in the fridge. While this melded together, I tossed the fettucine in boiling water. It cooks fast, so be vigilant! Just before the pasta was done, I added a little cream to the sauce and let it warm. Then I drained the pasta, saving out a bit of the water, added the pasta to the sautee pan and bound it all together with the pasta water and a couple of tablespoons of butter. It resulted in a silky tangle of noodles and a flavor deepened by the earthy undertones of the mushrooms. Quick, easy and delicious. Four thumbs up around here, although certain younger members of my household patiently picked out their mushrooms and laid them on the side of the plate.
We thought Shana had drawn the short straw when we made her take the whole wheat fettucine. But she’s an enterprising young woman, and not only made the best of it, but made the rest of us feel like wimps for having been afraid of the healthy stuff. Here’s what she has to say:
I used the whole wheat (and flax) fettucine, and I modified this recipe — – subbing chard for kale, and making my own harissa. I follow a recipe similar to this one in Saveur . (As an aside, I can’t stress enough how great it is to keep a jar of harissa in the fridge at all times. It turns what could easily be a loser dinner — scrambled eggs, or some leftover potatoes and greens—into something very nearly quite special.)
I was skeptical of whole wheat pasta, which I always thought tasted like wet cardboard. I thought that people only ate it to be virtuous, and I for one always put taste before virtue. But the pungent garlic, harissa, and olives, really stood up to the hearty pasta and the meal was well balanced and delicious. I wouldn’t have wanted to make this dish with non-whole wheat pasta, in fact, because the flavors would have overwhelmed the pasta. It was a good combination.
I was surprised that the pasta cooked so quickly – like 4 minutes or something — and that it tasted really fresh.
Anne went in a spring direction with spinach pasta with leeks, garlic, asparagus, peas, lemon, prosciutto, parmesan w/a little bit of cream added. She says “We liked it a lot – it was very light and delicate – very close to tasting like fresh pasta. I still have to try the spicy sesame – I was planning to do it maybe with tofu and a peanut sauce.”
My final Al Dente experiment was the squid ink pasta tossed with olive oil, capers, kalamata olives, green garlic and parsley, topped with grilled swordfish (I’d like to say it was fancy, but it was frozen and from Trader Joe’s and just fine.) That meal is best described in three year old Nick’s words:
“Mama, are you serious this is octopus noodles?
( a couple of minutes later) ” I LOVE octopus noodles.”
(extending hand with caper held gingerly between thumb and forefinger) “what’s this??”
(a minute later) “Capers are GREAT. Can I have some more noodles?”
And about a week later while staring at his plate of Barilla penne. “Where are those octopus noodles?”
Al Dente pasta is available by mail order, and locally at both Sparrow’s in Kerrytown and the PFC. I believe I’ve seen them carried at Zingerman’s and Busch’s as well.