I moved to Boston just about seven years ago. Actually, for those of you interested in geographical specificity, I moved to Somerville. But I didn’t even know what the distinction was between them at the time. On the day I arrived, after having driven through the night, through Canada, with only a two hour stop for a nap at 6:30 in the morning before chugging onward and pulling up to my new apartment at 2:30 PM, I decided to try to take the subway down to the Boston Common and the Public Garden to hang out there in the remaining late afternoon sun. (Actually facing the boxes of my belongings in my new space was simply too daunting. I needed some time.)
The last time I had been in the area was the summer between kindergarten and first grade, and the only thing I still remembered from that experience in Boston was being in the Public Garden. Actually, what I remembered was sitting on the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Public Garden, and that memory was largely based on a photograph my mom had taken.
In heading towards this destination held in my memory, the very first thing I did (and this is a remarkably easy thing to do in Boston, even if you have a better sense of direction than yours truly) was get on a bus going in exactly the wrong direction. I don’t even know how I figured out I was on the wrong course, except perhaps when the conductor yelled, “Arlington Center!” All I remember is how vivid, and noisy, and full of energy everything felt. I always feel this way in a new city, senses heightened as I eye everything closely trying to discern what it is, what it means, where I’m headed.
The Boston (and Somerville, and Arlington – oops) that I remember from that day was technicolor. I especially remember a particularly intensely red sign. Within days, I could no longer say which sign it had been. Fairly rapidly, I grew familiar with my new surroundings, and the bright sharpness of the colors and the shapes of buildings gave way to assumptions. It would just look the same way as it always did.
It’s amazing how quickly you can stop really seeing things.
Last week, I was back in Somerville (I no longer live there) to do a bit more data collection (so much data!). As I climbed the steps out of the subway and emerged onto the square, something I have done many, probably thousands at this point, times, something, perhaps the fresh dampness of rain caught in the air, or the fact that I used an exit that I hadn’t used in several years, shook me out of myself and back into that place. Suddenly, it was just as bright and bustling, as new and overwhelming as it had felt seven years before. Sadly, the sensation only lasted for a few minutes, but the experience of it still lingers. It was invigorating.
Interestingly, I had something of a similar experience eating this pasta. Something about the grassy, garlicky smell or the emerald green flecked trails it left behind in the bowl, brought surging back the sensations I had the first time I ate pesto (or “green noodles” as we called it at the time). Way more than seven years ago.
And it’s not even technically pesto! being utterly without nuts. Perhaps that is actually what allowed me to be overtaken with that sense of newness and excitement. It’s just different enough from what you expect to give you a little pinch on the arm and awaken you fully to what you’re tasting and smelling. But, not to worry, it has all the same delectable oily, salty, grassy, cheesy characteristics that are the reasons why we can’t help but love pesto.
This pasta sauce is inspired by a winter pasta recipe on 101cookbooks, but I took it in my own direction. The original recipe called for boiling the kale and shallot before pureeing them. And, while I can see the attraction of saving yourself an extra pot for clean up, I prefer to be profligate with my pans if I think it will improve the flavors, and so I sauteed them instead. There are very few vegetables I can bring myself to boil, and neither kale nor shallots are among them.
I’m also a bit sensitive about raw garlic in sauces. Sometimes I like it, but more often I find myself drawn to the mellow, golden savoriness of roasted or sauteed garlic. Roasted garlic, especially, is an absolute treat, the way it pops out of its papery skin, already turned into a paste, and its garlic flavor as soft as baby bunnies. So, I roasted my garlic.
Then I blitzed all the vegetables together with a small flurry of Parmesan and a steady stream of olive oil, until they created a thickly flowing jade colored river of sauce to toss with my pasta. Which was fresh! Joel has turned into quite the skilled pasta roller, and we cut the rolled dough into large floppy noodles. Perhaps a little ungainly, but delectably rustic and good for the sauce to cling to. Also, quite fast to cut.
And, while you don’t need to make your own pasta for this to be a wonderful supper, I’m going to take this moment to play my little pasta PSA for you: “Fresh, homemade pasta: if you have 30 minutes (most of which is time while the dough rests), if you can stir, and if you have a rolling pin, then you’re ready to make pasta! You don’t even need a machine to be cranking out fresh pasta like an Italian nonna. Fresh pasta, it’s insanely delicious, and it’s easy.”
As if this weren’t already enough to justify my senses being driven into hyperdrive, I also added torn hunks of burrata. Sigh. Burrata. If you are not familiar with burrata, it is a fresh cheese that has the delicate flavor and springiness of an extremely good quality mozzarella, but then when you slice into it, a creamy, mascarpone-like center comes oozing out. And sends you directly to il paradiso di formaggio. (Boy, I wish that were actually a place.) If you can’t get your hands on burrata (or can’t quite bring yourself to shell out $8 for a couple oz. – even though it’s worth it, I swear!), you can tear up chunks of a nice, fresh mozzarella, and you’ll achieve something of the same affect. It won’t leave you in pasta purgatorio, at any rate, of that you can be certain.
This may not awaken your senses quite to the same extent it did mine. You each have your own set of memories and experiences and your own place to tap into to come alive. But, no matter what your predispositions are, I can still guarantee this pasta will tickle your tastebuds.
Pasta with Burrata and Kale-Roasted Garlic Sauce (inspired by 101cookbooks) (serves about 6)
- olive oil
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peels still on
- 1 bunch of kale, washed and coarsely chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 1/3 cup (loosely packed) shredded Parmesan
- salt and pepper
- homemade pasta cut into wide noodles, or squares, or about 1 lb. of pasta in a large shape
- about 8 – 10 oz. burrata or fresh mozzarella, torn into smallish pieces (with burrata this is a messy process, but you get to enjoy licking your fingers afterwards)
- Preheat your oven to 425F. Put your garlic cloves on a piece of tinfoil, drizzle them with just a bit of olive oil, wrap them up tightly, and roast them in the oven until tender, around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Heat a Tbs. of olive oil in a large frying pan until it is shimmering. Add in the shallot, and cook over medium-high heat until it is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the kale, sprinkle with salt, and cook until it has wilted, about another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Put the kale, shallot, and Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic from their skins and add those to the food processor as well. Process until the kale is finely chopped. With the food processor going, drizzle in about 1/3 cup of olive oil, until it forms a thick sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste (I like mine pretty salty!).
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the noodles. For fresh noodles, cook for just about 2 minutes. For packaged noodles, cook according to the package instructions. Reserve a little of the pasta water before draining your pasta.
- Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a little of the pasta water if it seems to need a bit more liquid. Gently stir in the torn cheese. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper again. Serve warm.