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Eat, drink and be merry

Like all things cultural, it's impressive and inspiring to witness outstanding cooking. However, as much as I love sophisticated preparations, creative combinations and refined recipes, they just can't deliver the deep and honest satisfaction of plain, down-to-earth experiences. Just as I know of no painting in the world which could give rise to the same primordial feeling of happiness as a good sunrise. Simplicity seems to be the key, which is why I often advocate uncomplicated food. It's a thin line, though, between preparing a simple meal and simply preparing a meal, between unpretentious and uninspired cooking. It's worth taking a look here at the Italian kitchen. Pasta is almost synonymous with easy meals, yet it's so easy to get wrong, by cooking it too long or teaming it with a dull sauce. Classic Italian cuisine is full of plain recipes (often pasta with only one vegetable, for example tomatoes or beans) and if you get the details right they're anything but boring. If you stick to their strict simplicity, though, they develop their full character.

A good way to try this out is with broccoli - or any other green vegetable with a strong taste, such as rucola or even dandelion leaves - with pasta like orecchiette or any other with a rough texture. First, prepare some salted water for the pasta. As a side note, many people only add a little bit of salt to the water, which isn't enough; the water should really taste a bit salty. I sometimes see people adding oil as well, but that's really not necessary. Just stir it from time to time and you pasta won't stick together. For this dish, remove the dry bottom of the broccoli, cut everything else (even the stem and leaves) into smaller pieces and wash them thoroughly. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and vegetables at the same time, so that they cook together. In the meantime, heat some oil at low heat together with two or three garlic cloves and a whole small pepperoni (all cut into smaller pieces). When the pasta is done, don't strain it through a sieve (that would mash the vegetables), but scoop it out of the water with a slotted spoon. Add the aromatised oil and mix well. Divide the pasta on single plates and add some freshly grated black pepper and chips of parmesan or pecorino (much better for this dish than grated cheese). If you get the ratio and timing right, there is truly no need for complicated techniques or more ingredients.

 

Tim Aretz

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