Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Scintillating Simulation of Something Sicilian

Last night I invented a new sauce for pasta. Perhaps "invented" is the wrong word, since what I really did was to allow all the cookbook reading I've done over the past ten years to blossom forth in the confidence to violate the conservative attitude towards Italian food that a combination of factors has shackled me with. I guess it's a testament to the rightness of my reading and my reflection upon it that the finished product did not meet with the hostile response that inspired me to write this piece a decade ago. Or maybe it's simply that my left leg's Oedipal tendencies inspired a torrent of sympathy. . .

Anyway, since my mint plant is finally big enough to cull leaves from and I'm still craving anchovies and I have such fond memories of the last time I paired them with raisins and I want to free myself from the compulsion to end sentences before they can be declared run-ons, I came up with the following:

• If you have cherry tomatoes that are shriveled, as I did, you can use those. But you will need to cut each one in half, which takes time. I used a scissors during the sauteeing of the anchovies and onions (see below)Otherwise, you will need to rehydrate some sundried tomatoes in warm water for about fifteen minutes. The sundried tomatoes should be cut into pieces -- you guessed it -- roughly the size of half a cherry tomato
• Chop two or three cups of almonds fine. I was able to do this during the cooking of the sauce, but it might be easier to do it ahead of time
• Boil pasta -- I used spaghetti -- until al dente, coat lightly with olive oil and set aside (a task that can be completed during the cooking of the sauce or beforehand, depending upon how much concentration you can bring to bear on the stove)
• Start simmering between one and two cans of anchovies -- I used one and a half -- in the olive oil they came in plus a little extra
• Dice an onion or two and add to the frying pan, cooking them until they start to go translucent, being careful to keep the heat low enough that they don't start to stick or burn. You could also add chopped chile peppers at this point, if you wanted the sauce to sting a bit
• Insert the cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomato piece and mix them thoroughly with the onion-and-anchovy mixture, then cook everything slowly until most of the liquid has evaporated
• Add the equivalent of four to eight cloves of garlic -- I usually go for the high end when it comes to garlic and onions -- before the mixture in the pan has become too thick and pasty
• Toss in a bunch of raisins. I used about half the quantity of the cherry tomatoes I'd added earlier
• As the mixture starts to show resistance to your spatula, pour in enough white wine to cover it, then turn the heat up to medium-high
• Add some mint-flavored water. You could also use mint tea, I suppose, though I shied away from that degree of culinary postmodernism
• Add a healthy dash of cumin and three healthy dashes of hot paprika.
• Once the mixture is bubbling, reduce the eat to low again
• After the liquid in the pan has been reduced by 2/3, you may add a can of diced tomatoes, if you want your sauce to incline in the direction of red sauce. I did. Once these tomatoes are added, you should again reduce the liquid by 2/3
• Mix in the juice of two lemons
• Add the chopped almonds, stirring them in with vigor as you turn the heat to the lowest possible setting
• After two or three minutes, during which time the almonds have soaked up some of the sauce, add the chopped mint and basil leaves
• Turn off the heat, then mix the mint and basil in
• Let the sauce sit for about fifteen minutes
• While you are waiting, prepare whatever cheese you wish to accompany the sauce and pasta. I opted for grated pecorino romano, but similarly textured hard cheeses would do well too, especially if they are strongly flavored. Feta or a similar cheese would also work
• As you are getting ready to serve the pasta, turn the heat back on just long enough to get the sauce lightly bubbling again, then turn it off for good
• Toss the pasta with the cheese of your choice and the sauce

Although I was skeptical of the notion that cheese would not clash with the mint flavor in the sauce, the combination of anchovies, onions, raisins, garlic, tomatoes and lemon juice seemed to bridge the gap between those flavors to startlingly tasty effect. The texture of the chopped almonds helped as well. I feel it necessary to point out, however, that my trepidation did not come from anxiety about whether I was guilty of a "mad scientist" experiment in culinary fusion. All the ingredients I used are ones that factor in Mediterranean cuisines where the Arab influence was strong during the Middle Ages, of which the regional cooking of Sicily is a prime example. And now, since I have written myself into a dubious desire for a hearty late-night snack, I will go make myself a portion of leftover pasta with this very sauce, which I will then eat while icing my shin and foot for the tenth time today.
Tags: food, recipe

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