Hello, my name is Francois and I am addicted to pasta. I love pasta in all it’s shapes and guises, whether it’s the bowl of ricotta cavatelli with pork cheek ragu I had for lunch yesterday or the Kung Op Wun Sen (Shrimp and crunchy Pork Belly with Glass Noodles baked in a clay pot) I made for dinner just a few short hours later.
For a long time I fantasized about owning a food cart that primarily sold noodle dishes from around the world. Everyday I would offer five or six of my favorite interpretations, anything from Chinese dumplings to Bucatini all’ Amatriciana to a seriously homey Macaroni and Cheese. Pasta evokes comforting happy thoughts in anyone who has a soul. The concept evolved into wanting to open a funky brick and mortar in Portland entitled AOP, or aglio, olio e peperoncino, named after the holy trinity of great flavors, garlic, oil and hot peppers. Building out a neighborhood spot appeals to me as it is familiar grounds in which I have spent the better part of my adult life. The added benefits are that start up costs are relatively cheap, the return fantastic and it is a food that has broad appeal. Look for a kickstarter campaign to begin soon.
In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars
Spaghetti AOP is one of those dishes that is so deceivingly simple to prepare that so many people often get it wrong. It’s just garlic and hot peppers cooked in olive oil and maybe a spoonful of San Marzano tomato sauce thrown in for good luck. But as we learn in life, sometimes the simplest things are the hardest. Chris Lye and I have been passionately talking pasta ever since I met him a few weeks back while on a wine country tour. The conversation got so intense the past few days that I had to make this, for him – ok, let’s not lie… I made it for myself.
There are a few pasta rules to abide by and a few to throw away. Rule number one: cook the pasta, drain and do not rinse the starch off. You want the noodle to absorb the spicy flavors. Rule number two: dried pasta and hand cranked fresh pasta are not interchangeable. Dishes like AOP, Amatriciana, and pasta con la bottarga need dried pasta that absorb the sauce into the noodle. Fresh pasta would just fall apart trying. Forget when an Italian pasta mentor says never to grate cheese on fish and/or spicy pastas. Do as you please.
I add chopped basil to my AOP because I adore basil, especially fried basil. I use tomato sauce in my AOP because that is the way I had it at Coco Pazzo in Chicago several years ago and it is my favorite version. I stopped using red pepper flakes and started grinding my own dried peppers in an old cheapo coffee mill. I use Espelette Peppers because I love their flavor and they have the perfect amount of heat for me. Play with peppers available where you live and that fit your taste/heat profile. Be sure to spend the extra money to buy an amazing finishing olive oil. It is a worthwhile investment. Finishing oils should NEVER be used to cook with as they tend to lose their flavor when heated.
- 100 grams Spaghetti
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 teaspoons just crushed Espelette Peppers (use red chili flakes if you want)
- 4 big fat cloves Garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh Basil, chopped immediately before using
- 2 teaspoons Maldon Salt (use Kosher Salt if you want)
- 1/2 cup San Marzano Tomato Sauce (see below)
- 1 T. Finishing Olive Oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook till very al dente. The pasta will continue cooking when drained and undercooked pasta is better for you.
- While spaghetti is cooking, put extra virgin olive oil, garlic and hot peppers into a COLD saute pan and start cooking on medium heat till garlic aroma fills your nostrils with joy.
- Add basil and continue cooking while basil splatters, that;’s just the moisture cooking out of the leaves.
- Add San Marzano tomato sauce and remove from heat.
- Add drained and unrinsed pasta to sauce and let sit for two minutes.
- Pour yourself a big glass of wine and get ready to have a culinary orgasm.
- Plate pasta in a warmed pasta bowl. Drizzle with finishing oil and liberally apply grated parmesan. I use an amazing local one from Jacob’s Creamery in Oregon. Reggiano who?
- Call me and invite to eat!
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1/2 cup chopped Basil leaves
- 28 ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- pinch sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil.
- Hand crushed San Marzano tomatoes and add.
- Add everything else and simmer for thirty minutes.
- Puree everything through a food mill. If you do not have a food mill then a blender very quickly on low speed, You do not want to aerate it.
Where did pasta originate? Good question and the scholars are fighting over it. The best researched and most thought out version comes from the incomparable Clifford Wright. CW Pasta History 101