How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Faux Valenzana Success

In choosing this week's recipe -- for a dinner with friends who dine with us frequently -- Pam and I grabbed a few of the cookbooks that have worked well in recent weeks, and started browsing. This time, Pam was the first to find something that was both appealing and new to us. Coincidentally, it comes from the same "flexitarian" swath of the Moosewood oeuvre that Pam mentioned just two weeks ago in her fish is not a vegetable post.

What she found -- on page 183 of Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home -- has a name whose geographic significance we did not recognize. Pasta Valenzana is a linguine dish with a savory sauce that is named for Valencia, Spain. The word "faux" in the title of this post refers to the fact that I did not take the time to recognize the geographic reference and its culinary significance, which I now see plainly in the marginal note next to the recipe! The word "success" refers to the fact that the dish was a tremendous success anyway.

We were able to find most of the ingredients in our house, from a green bell pepper to shrimp. We did not have linguine, and I refused Pam's suggestion to substitute spaghetti, because I know each holds sauce a bit differently. I did however -- perhaps arrogantly -- make a few other substitutions. Where the recipe calls for scallions, I used a bit of finely chopped onion. Where it calls simply for diced tomato, I could not resist adding a bit of tomato sauce to give the dish more body. And most arrogantly of all, I omitted the saffron, as I almost always do. Although I'm often a bit of a spendthrift in pursuit of culinary integrity, I've never been able to justify the expense of saffron. I understand that it is delicate and that it needs specific conditions and intense labor, leading to a cost -- in the hundreds of dollars an ounce -- that is difficult to fathom for a product that can be grown legally. Since it is both the most expensive and the most subtle of spices, I never have seen the point. But now that I have realized -- belatedly -- that this recipe is actually named for Valencia because this Mediterranean port city is the hub of saffron production, I will try to include the saffron next time.

And there will be a next time! This dish -- even bastardized -- was delicious. Everyone who tried it loved it! (Our daughter is a real vegetarian, so she had stripped-down linguine instead of the Valenzana dish.) Reflecting on the dish later, I think what distinguishes this dish is that the garlic is cooked first and allowed to caramelize with the crushed red pepper, then quenched with sherry before the onions are added, and the onions do not get a chance to sweeten in the same way. The dish also includes peas, which seem an odd element, but they are always a welcome source of fiber and vitamins. Paired with a local Chardonnay and served with a rustic, crusty bread, this was an savory and popular meal.

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