Lamb Shanks Two Ways, and the World’s Rarest Pasta

Awhile back, I was reading Saveur magazine, and stumbled on an article entitled “On the Hunt for the World’s Rarest Pasta.”

Su filindeu — or “threads of God” — are a hand-pulled pasta the width approximately of human hair, served at the end of a 20-mile overnight pilgrimage through sheep country on the isle of Sardinia, a tradition that has dwindled down to two or three woman still able to make it. Here’s the article, a great read, if you want to learn more of the back story.

Sardinian sheep

The fine filamented noodle supposedly takes decades to master. Repeatedly stretched by hand, it grows thinner and thinner with each successive round. It is only eaten one morning a year, following a foot bath, in the Sardinian village of Lulu at the Sanctuary of San Francesco, boiled in a sheep stock and showered with grated sheep’s cheese. More

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A Lobster Dinner for One

My wife was going out for dinner for a girlfriend’s birthday. The kids would be eating fried chicken and pizza. And here was the rare opportunity to make myself a fancy dinner for one.

Look who's coming to dinner!

Look who’s coming to dinner!

When I was a bachelor living in an apartment in Santa Monica, I often made myself a fancy dinner. I’d open up a bottle of wine, get out the pans, cook up a multi-course meal, light some candles, put on some music and sit down by myself to eat. It felt like it was me taking good care of myself. Many people were surprised when I told them this. More

Carbonara in the Clouds

On a recent vacation to Lake Tahoe with our friends the Heins and the Pfaffs, I planned a post-ski carbonara — a perfect simple pasta to feed a large group.

For some reason, the pasta never got made — perhaps it was the Flintstone-esque beef short ribs or the opening of Dungeness crab season that distracted us, or the mellow lull of the tequila that met us first.

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

Through the Mojave Desert on the road to Tahoe

So the eggs, guanciale, parmesan and spaghetti that made the 8-hour drive into the high Sierras turned around and came back home again. And made the perfect post-ski-trip dinner when we got back. Just as well, pasta is a little tricky to nail at 8,000 feet.

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Simple Perfection, Perfectly Simple

My pal and sometime Skinny Girls sidekick Bob and his lovely wife Shoba came for dinner the other night with a small tub of gazpacho.

“Bob, this is incredible!” another dinner guest gushed upon first taste.

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe

“Sean’s recipe,” Bob immediately fessed up. Although I must immediately fess up, it is the simplest off all recipes — ripe tomatoes, stale bread, water, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into the blender. Done.

Simplest of all recipes besides, perhaps, one of Italy’s easiest, most delicious pastas — cacio e pepe. Or, roughly translated, “cheese & pepper”.

All the world’s great, simple dishes are the sum of the very best parts — sushi, for example, depends entirely on the quality of the fish and the rice. Traditional cacio e pepe is composed of three ingredients — pasta, cheese and pepper. I add butter and chopped parsley because I like to, and a real Roman might tell you that I have completely @#$*ed it up. But I am particular about the quality of the butter and the parsley. If I’m counting on five ingredients to make my dish a success, you better bet I care.

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Speaking of those five ingredients… the dish will be tasty even if you purchase whichever brands of spaghetti, pecorino, butter, parsley and pepper they’ve got at the local Safeway (or, because I can track readers on six of the seven continents, whatever the local grocery store in your neck of the woods/jungle/savannah/desert may be). But I highly recommend finding a beautiful aged pecorino, the highest quality spaghetti you can (I like spaghetti alla chitarra), fresh organic parsley, a freshly churned or raw butter and some tellicherry pepper.

If you’re like me, I’m guessing you won’t want to drink a white wine with this. And fortunately, the towering flavors of the pecorino and pepper stand up nicely to a medium to full-body red — try a Chianti or a California zinfandel or sangiovese.

And please… enjoy!

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Cacio e pepe
serves 4-6

1 lb. spaghetti
1 packed cup grated pecorino romano
1 heaping tbsp. best quality butter
2 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Cook spaghetti to al dente in a large pot of salted water.

Drain spaghetti, retaining 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Return spaghetti to pot. Toss spaghetti with remaining ingredients until creamy and incorporated.

Season to taste with salt and serve.

The Beautiful Simplicity of Simplicity

I was making lunch for my wife and myself the other day, and had settled on a simple pasta. I had a nice heirloom pineapple tomato I needed to use, and would go from there.

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Ciriole di farro pasta with heirloom tomato

In the cupboard, I found an open box of ciriole di farro noodles (farro, for the uninitiated, is an ancient Roman grain related to barley) that would work beautifully as a canvas. More

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