I was recently in Morgantown, West Virginia, for a few days, and as I wandered down the street looking for grub one night, I ventured into a disheveled, charming Italian place called Puglioni’s, where the square loaf of crumbly bread was served on a plate in a shallow bath of garlic and butter. Ordered clams in a clear sauce on fettucini, and I knew something was different with the first bite.
The flavor was fuller. The noodles weren’t perfectly smooth, with irregular divots and bumps that delivered more sauce.
“Tell me,” I asked the waitress, “do they make the pasta here?”
“Yes sir. Everything but the angel hair is made at the restaurant.”
I knew it!
(I’ve been told Italians don’t consider angel hair a true Italian pasta. But this might be snooty b.s., as apparently angel hair — or capellini d’angelo — has been around since around the same time as the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlan and Europe developed the first sawmill. So a minute.)
At the same time as I discovered this place, a friend in Columbus had whisked Jenn away for a trip to Trevioli Artisan Pasta in Columbus. At that fine specialty grocer and restaurant, Jenn found farfalle (bowtie) pasta made with squid ink, and she picked up a portion to make a nice dinner for us when I got back in town.
So twice in a week, I rediscovered the difference that fresh-made pasta can make. I’m not going to kid myself; 9 times outta 10, or, heck, 99 times outta a hundred I’ll be ripping open a cardboard box and dumping the dried stuff into the pot. But when you can spare the dough (get it?) or the time to make it, the fresh stuff will reward you with a whole ‘nother level of richness and texture.
Jenn made a simple sauce for the farfalle, so as not to overwhelm the pasta. It was a reduction of tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, flat-leaf parsley and shrimp. With the squid ink, I guess that made it surf and surf. And also it was delicious.
Her success, though gastronomically pleasing, was a rueful reminder that I declared 2014 the Year of the Sauce for me, way back in January. Instead of actually working on my sauces I seem to have reinterpreted “sauce” as a 1950s synonym for booze. Which, I mean, yeah. No regrets.
I did make the phenomenal discovery a few months back that if you’re making a marinara with eggplant and you don’t salt the eggplant first to remove moisture, the eggplant will cook down to mush in the pot, making a beautifully thick sauce that has the essence, if not the pan-blackened chunks, of eggplant. And to bring this full-circle, I might’ve forgotten to salt the eggplant because of the whiskey I’d been drinking. (Or it might’ve just been Jenn’s fault. Can’t remember. Now where’d I put my drink?)
Anyway, rumor has it that a new downtown restaurant in Columbus will have on its menu a selection of fresh-made pasta. And I think they’ll also have a liquor license. So, the odds of them (a) making a delicious sauce served on (b) fresh pasta, and putting it in front of me alongside a (c) whiskey on the rocks are very good indeed.
It’s all coming together.