When I was growing up, my mother was like some kind of strange food-oriented human carbon paper, in that she osmotically picked up the cooking style, tastes and techniques of whichever place she happened to have visited last. If she happened to go to India, that was it – we’d be up to our gills in dhal for months. Israel? You couldn’t take two steps without putting your foot into a wet bowl of soaking chickpeas. The thing was, that back in those days, my mom’s taste for travel was more towards the exotic, and so it was always this seemingly endless stream of naans, stuffed vine leaves, squids tentacles and Vietnamese snake wine – which is all well and good, but when you’re a twelve year-old kid, you can’t help but wish that mom’s next trip was to somewhere normal for once. You know… like the KFC factory.
So, whenever I hear people wistfully blabbing on about “mom’s cooking”, I can never really identify, because my own childhood was a somewhat unwelcome whistle-stop tour of places in the world I’d never been to and didn’t know much about but why did they hate me so much because now my mom wants to make me eat sheep’s brains. Again.
Obviously, in hindsight it was an amazing introduction to the scope and variety of global eating and has made me desperate to find a way to ditch real-life and just become a Food Tourist (someone needs to invent this job soon and then give it to me) – but it’s quite a difficult thing to assimilate when you’re a kid. Also, because she was always morphing her cooking, there was never that ‘one dish’ that most households have as That Awesome Thing That Mom Makes, and which if you’re lucky, gets passed down from one generation to the next. It doesn’t matter how arbitrary that thing may be (because let’s face it, it’s usually something ridiculous like Special Peas where the secret ingredient is toothpaste) it’s just automatically entrenched that Mom’s Way is better than anyone else’s.
The Italians are of course, the All Time World Champions of this. It actually gets ridiculous, to the extent that no one can ever agree on how something actually should be made, because the arguments always devolve into shouting matches where the central debating point is that Giuseppe’s mom was rumoured to have fucked a pig once so how can she know how to make Amatriciana properly?
Now, of all the global cooking styles, the approach and outlook of the Italians is probably that which gets me hotter and sweatier than any other (which is impressive considering I already operate a pretty high default-level of sweatiness…). But I obviously don’t have some Italian mama lurking in my family tree at whose elbow I’ve learnt the lost and dark arts of how to knock up the perfect carbonara. So, I decided the other night, in the interest of a life that will at some point conceivably not just revolve around me, that I wanted to start working on some stuff that could be my own version of That Awesome Thing That Mom (Dad in this case, unless in the near future a whole bunch of stuff gets really really weird…) Makes. You know, because as much as I will inevitably despise any future children who might suffer the misfortune of being had by me, I don’t want to feed them vine leaves for the first decade of their lives.
So, in keeping with my current mini-obsession with both lemons and simplicity, I started off with a recipe from the incredible Tessa Kiros – and ended up with…
Dad’s Amazing Incredible Lemon pasta – hurrah hurrah.
This really is the key to the whole thing. If you’re not going to make it yourself, get some good “home-made” dried pasta – because who actually wants all that pain right? The only people who blab on about ‘the romance of fresh home-made pasta’ are trying to sell pasta-makers.
1 tbpsn butter
1 large lemon
150g Crème Fraiche
4 tbpsns brandy
1 handful fresh-grated pecorino cheese
1 tbspn chopped parsley
What To Do
Bring a salted pot of water to the boil, drop in a teaspoon of olive oil, then add the pasta.
Grate all the zest off the lemon and put it to one side. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a pan, and when it’s just beginning to bubble add the lemon zest and stir it around. Just when it’s starting to sizzle and pop – add the brandy. Let the alcohol bubble mostly away, and then stir in the crème fraiche and squeeze in the juice of your de-zested lemon. Stir it around until it gets a rich, creamy quality, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Now, this is where the magic happens. You pasta should be lovely and al dente by now – taste it to see if it’s right. If it is, drain it but keep one cup of the cooking liquid aside. Add the pasta to your creamy lemon in the pan, turn the heat down (but not off) and start to toss the pasta so that it gets an even coating. Bit by bit, add some of the pasta’s cooking liquid and you’ll see it instantly gets a glossy, saucier feel. Now you also need to start adding the grated pecorino while you’re still tossing the pasta. At the risk of sounding like a 12 year-old – toss, add, stir, toss. It should end up being a light, creamy, lemony, cheesy object of wonder. Transfer it to a bowl, add whatever cheese you have left over, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and, well…eat it.