Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Corn Pasta Primavera


Cooking became easier when…I asked my husband to fill in the blank. ‘When I started to read recipes,’ was his answer. Figures. Exactly opposite to my own answer, ‘when I stopped reading recipes.’

A marriage of opposites, attraction of polarities, is such a cliché, but stereotypes and truisms come from something. My husband and I are definitely such a pair—almost like a children’s book. He’s tall, I am short; he has blue eyes, I have brown eyes; he has white skin, I have brown skin; he has curly hair, I have straight hair; he’s neat, I’m messy; he’s shy, I’m outgoing; he’s quiet, I’m loud. Our path to a common kitchen was one of convergence from vastly different places.

When I was first interested in cooking in middle school, our local PBS channel was auctioning off cookbooks from the local bookstore. The auctioneer was one of those types—neat short hair with carefully placed blond highlights, brightly flowered pants, and scarf knotted purposefully around her neck. She spoke in slow, unpunctuated, short sentences. You need these books, she told us. These are the cookbooks, she explained. As I lay on my mom’s bed, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer tucked under my elbow, I felt a little giddy. I would love to have the cookbooks of the year. In my mind, I was already flipping through the books, planning out my summer entertaining plans. Never mind that I was in sixth grade and I didn’t really have the wherewithal to host a summer garden party.

Time was ticking at the auction in a quiet, calm PBS sort of way. Running down to my mother, I hatched a plan. This was a win-win for her. She needed the tax break. Who doesn’t? And, I would be able to learn to cook for her to relieve her of some of the load at home.

My pleading must have worked; I still have most of those books. I also have the sense-memory of the giddiness I felt when the box arrived at my house. I spent many after-school days eating cereal and reading the books, marking up the recipes with ripped pieces of paper—kitchen napkins, notes from classes, paper previously used to practice my autograph. I loved those recipes. They were a promise. Soon I learned promises could be broken. The first recipe I tried was a raspberry barbeque sauce. The blend of costly fruit and molasses was surprisingly and completely flavorless. This failure was followed by a particularly sad primavera. I had been prompted to preboil the vegetables (rather than blanch them.) I was told to drizzle olive oil over the resulting soggy mass. The dish looked like fall leaves and twigs stuck in a mass of oily grey hair. And, it sorted of tasted like old lady too.

This however was the beginning of a fabulously fruitful revelation that recipes are a suggestion to be thrown away at a whim and a fiction to be enjoyed for what they are. I started to just cook by feel and smell. I grew to learn when ‘brown slightly’ should be substituted with ‘roast until crispy golden’ and ‘sautee’ could be substituted for ‘serve raw.’ And, when pasta primavera could be delicious. But first, we need to pick up on my partner in crime.
In his childhood, my husband was not camped out indoors watching television. His rural Connecticut life was the stuff of Norman Rockwell. He was wrestling copperheads, jumping fences and basically being Tom Sawyer. At sunset, his mother would open the door to beseech her children to return for dinner. The evening meal was one of order, linens, manners and routine. Ham and potatoes were passed around with Dad served first.

College was a time of food explorations for J. He broke free from dinner brought to you by onion soup mix and Campbell’s. He began cooking from feel, hoping to channel his Nonna. Early cooking experiments certainly moved his audiences. Hearing J in the kitchen would call his roommates to action closing their bedroom doors in fear. His cooking was cacophony rendered in food. Rather than my overcooked, uniformly yuck pasta primavera, his version was disturbing for its heterogeneity—undercooked asparagus, overcooked beans, burned anchovies. I don’t know if it was a slow realization or a flash of lightening, but somehow, J came to think a recipe was the way to go. For him cooking was nuture, and being taught to cook from recipes, rather than nature, and having Italian genes.


At this point in the story, my husband andI met each other. There were those coffee dates where we talked about making our own pasta, traditional paella, the perfect tiramisu, handcrafted sushi. Then there were dates spent in the kitchen. When J would say, ‘the recipe says add the spices now’, I would scoff. When I would say, just add all the vegetables now, J would say, ‘no the recipe doesn’t say that’. There were tiffs and sighs. There was teasing and laughter. And then there is now…

I started this pasta dough when my husband was in his study. He walked into the kitchen to find me elbows high in shifted flours. I mean, there was corn flour dripping down the kitchen cabinets. He didn’t yell, he didn't wince, and he didn’t ask me what the recipe was (he knew there wasn’t one). Instead, he came over to watch, and then help knead. We talked dough for a minute—too soft, underworked, so smooth. The next evening, we saddled up to the kitchen table to roll out the threads, joined in our cooking by Belle. There we sat, Tiger in her chair, Belle, J and I in happy action, chitty chatting, giggling and making our dinner together by hand.


A decade in our joint cooking life, I wouldn’t say that J is steadfast to a recipe and I would guess that I give recipes a little more credence now. Ours is now a blended cooking life that grew over time. In marriage, though, it’s the common ground that holds you together. These are often the unspoken, expected, unquantifiable truths of your life—so normal that they are givens. For us, it’s the making, the doing, the living in art and food. We just do. They are part of the life of our joint kitchen.

Our Pasta Primavera
Make the corn pasta.

Combine 2 cups white whole wheat flour with 1 cup corn flour and sift onto the counter.

Add 1 tsp yeast.

Make a well and put in 6 egg yolks, some drops of oil and some drops of water. Break the yolks with your finger, and the start pushing in the flour until you get a stiff dough. Knead until you feel like you can’t anymore. Then knead more.

Rest for 2 hrs. It won’t rise extremely. Accept that.

Break off acorn sized balls. Roll them into snakes on the table like you are starting a coil built pot in summer camp.

Pinch the snakes into three inch pieces.

Boil corn cobs in salted water. Add pasta. Cook the past 2 minutes past when the raise to the surface. Add beans and cook until very al dente.

Sautee garlic, onions, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds. Add this to the cooked pasta, de-cobbed corn and beans. Then finish with 1 T yogurt and a large handful of basil and a few more sliced uncooked mushrooms. Salt it all.

I wrote this as part of Gluten Free Girl's writing prompt monday. I am also submitting this to yeastspotting from Wild Yeast.


Joanne said...

I think that for me, cooking became easier when I started cooking things that I liked rather than things that I thought would be good for me. Nowadays, I cook largely by recipe but within each recipe I always add and subtract...and inevitably end up cooking by feel.

I love that you paired corn pasta with actual corn. Homemade pasta is the best!

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

Beautiful post. And very interesting, yeasted pasta. I must give this a try!

mary said...

what are we going to cook when i get there?

Carolyn said...

Sounds as if you get along well in the kitchen, although you may not see eye-to-eye about how to get things done. I have to say I'm somewhat envious of that. My hubby isn't a very good "team-player", so he likes me out of his way when he is cooking! But I do like him to participate when I am cooking. In fact, he jokes about how I am always asking HIM to do MY chopping because he is just way better with that big knife than me!

Great post and I love your blog!

grace said...

i certainly hope you're backing up all your eloquently-written posts--these are things you'll enjoy reading again when the two of you are old and gray. :)

Eat the Love said...

I love this post!

It so true that marriage is held together by the common ground. My partner and I are opposites in a lot of ways, but we both look at recipes as a starting point to improvise from. Granted, it's easier to do that with cooking than baking, but I'm at the point now that I can improvise there too.

And I love your memory of the first cookbooks you used. Mine was an awesome, terrible, "american" cookbook that had an avocado green cover as well as a "cookie" cookbook by some Duncan Hines or something like that. I made chocolate chip cookies out of the green covered one, and I can't even remember what awful thing I made out of the cookie one. Next time I go home, I'm going to rescue them from my parents basement and bring it back.

I'm so making your corn pasta too. It sounds SO good. Yay!

Johanna GGG said...

lovely post - you made me think - do I follow recipes or go it alone but I think I like a recipe for company and then duck and weave and find where I should have followed but got distracted - but it is lots of fun - esp now that sylvia loves to see why is going on in the saucepans

your pasta looks delicious - I love the little twigs rather than trying to do the uniform fettucine - does the corn flour make it remarkably lighter?

Heather S-G said...

How incredibly beautiful! I was sprawled out on my blanket under a shadey tree engrossed in somebody else's life! And the pasta is gorgeous, too =)

Mimi said...

How interesting. Why yeast in the pasta? There is corn meal in the dough so you are starting with less gluten. You don't see much rise after the rest.... Is it for texture?

Dharm said...

Nice looking pasta and a lovely post! Its always nice to read about the inspiration and the background to someones cooking. Thanks for sharing not just yours but hubbys cooking joys too!!

Stefanie said...

My boyfrind is more the "follow the recipe" sort, too, while I when talking about cooking normaly starts with: I made this recipe but I changed following parts ...
My mom commented last week that I just should point out the rare occaisons when I follow a recipe. :-D
I am totally fascinated by the fact that you use some yeast in the pasta dough. I will try the recipe and try to stick to the recipe. ;-)

Thistlemoon said...

A match made in heaven to be sure! :)

Elle said...

What a beautiful post! Brings me right back to reading cookbooks with my mom. We'd dream of all of the things we'd make--sometimes we did, other times we didn't. But we always had fun.

Alicia Foodycat said...

This is such a lovely post! Cooking together really is one of the very satisfactory parts of my marriage.