Pasta is the pride of comfort foods in the way that Pacific Coast Highway stands out among California highways.
It is essential, versatile, soothing, and often a part of unforgettable moments. Cinematically, pasta is a preferred accessory to family gatherings, mobster powwows, and of course, romantic dinners.
Who could forget "Lady and the Tramp's" dreamy, amorous "spaghetti and meatballs" scene?
That blush-inducing scene, in fact, was a part of the movie that I avoided like a chore; the passion and intensity of such canine romance was just too much for my pure-hearted, sheltered 5-year-old mind to handle.
Interestingly, pasta is a major component in some of my best food memories.
On our second date, my now-husband invited me over for a movie and some pasta. A pretty daring invitation on his part, considering I was a chef-in-training at the time, but he insisted he really could cook like a champ.
Long story short, he completely forgot about the pasta boiling on the stove (the movie must've been really interesting), and the noodles turned into a giant gooey mess of soggy carbohydrates.
When he finally remembered his perpetually boiling pasta, he rushed to the kitchen, trying to pretend there wasn't a problem and figured it would be best to dump the gummy evidence down the garbage disposal.
As you might know, a whole pot of pasta dumped down the disposal is like pouring cement down a drain. By the time I came in to check on his progress, he was over the sink, wielding a giant plunger and a very sheepish look on his face.
Needless to say, he decided to stick with his proven talent, piano playing, and we ended up going out for burritos.
The pasta date disaster was soon forgotten, and he got his girl despite it all.
These days, I do the majority of the pasta cooking, and it's one of our favorite family meals. The kids love it, our guests love it, but mostly, I love cooking it! Pasta is such an easy way to be creative with ingredients, and it keeps well if you have some left.
While my schedule does not allow for much homemade-pasta-making, if that's your thing, then whip out the semolina and get with it!
If not, then try to buy a good quality, imported dried pasta. I love that dried pasta is easy to store in the pantry, and is always available to enhance a meal. It's inexpensive, too!
Play with different shapes and sizes -- you'll be thrilled with what you come up with. If you need some more pasta ideas, check out Giada DeLaurentiis' "Everyday Pasta." I've tried just about every recipe in the book, and they're all delicious.
I wrote this recipe because it's just right for the warm evenings -- light, lemony, a little spicy. It also makes good use of the delicious summer squash available in the stores and farmer's markets.
Amanda De Jager Friedman owns the Piano Caffe in Merced.
1 lb. angel hair pasta
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
3 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
2-3 cups assorted summer squash, stemmed and cubed into
1/2 inch pieces
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup white wine
Italian parsley and lemon slices, for garnish
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a few pinches of salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil to the pot, then add the pasta. Do not break up the pasta, long noodles are necessary for this recipe! Boil according to package directions. When cooked to your liking, drain pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the drained pasta to the pot, then add the reserved pasta water, juice of a lemon, and the 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss to coat. Keep covered until ready to plate.
While pasta is boiling, heat a large sauté pan to medium high heat. When pan is hot, add olive oil, shallots, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook for just a minute, then add chicken and summer squash. Sautee for about 5 minutes, or until summer squash is soft and golden. Turn off the heat, and immediately add lemon juice and white wine. Turn heat back on, then simmer for about a minute.
To plate: using metal tongs, grab a serving size of pasta. Transfer to large serving platter, but do not release tongs. Twist pasta on the platter in a clockwise direction, until it forms a "nest." Carefully release tongs. Repeat with remaining pasta. When the nests are formed, spoon the chicken-summer squash mixture over the nests. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, lemon slices, and a side of parmesan cheese. Use a metal spatula to serve nests.