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...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Very Local Sauce

The better the coffee, the less the need for cream or sugar. When I organize a tasting event, as I did yesterday, I try to balance this fact with the knowledge that for many people, both additives are essential for a variety of reasons. I therefore always provide half-and-half, and often guess incorrectly how much is needed. I must admit that yesterday I even partook of a bit myself, as the student presenting Vietnam coffee suggested -- correctly -- that the Vietnamese add condensed milk to their coffee for good reason. Not having that particular confection, half-and-half was a helpful substitute.

Coffee is just the prelude to this story, though, which is really about basil. When I brought home all the extra dairy product, Pam suggested using it in a recipe she had recently found in one of our shelf's oldest stand-by books: 365 Ways to Cook Pasta. We have had this highly-rated book for over 20 years, but did not use it much at first as some of the ingredients seemed too fancy. Over time, it has become a reliable source of ideas, and Pam had used one of its best features: a thorough index. Unlike many cookbooks that index only by a recipe name and main ingredient, this book indexes far enough down the ingredient list that a reader can find a way to employ just about any ingredients that might be at hand. In this case, we have plenty of extreme-local basil to use, and Pam had found a recipe calling for basil, cream, and not much else. (Extreme-local refers to this basil's "farm" of origin being a series of pots on our front porch!)

A more obvious choice, since we had recently purchased a big block of Parmesan (we never buy the over-priced pre-shredded stuff), would have been fettuccine Alfredo, and our daughter was clamoring for that. I opted for this lighter recipe (#94), simply called Spaghetti with Basil Cream Sauce. I adapted it in the following ways: half-and-half instead of heavy cream (see above) and lemon juice from a bottle instead of fresh. The recipe simply calls for gently boiling 1.5 cups of cream until it reduces by half,  then adding 2 Tbsp julienned basil, a tsp of lemon and a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, I cooked 12 ounces thin spaghetti and tossed together.

The sauce was too thin, which I could have corrected by adding flour (if I had realized it in time), cooking a bit longer (if I had realized it in time), or using heavy cream (see above). All of those options off the table, I simply sliced some Parmesan into the finished dish, and got no complaints.

And the daughter? She went back for seconds. And thirds, fourths, and fifths. She argued that it was only because she took small portions, but I think we can safely add this to the reliable comfort-foods list!

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