Saturday, October 6, 2012

3-minute meals. 1) Choir night pasta.

   Sometime around when the church bells ring--somewhat tinnily--the angelus, we open a bottle of wine and enjoy an apero. Then I get on with making supper. Normally, it's a leisurely process and we usually end up eating around 8:30 p.m.
    But not on Wednesday nights between now and next summer. Wednesday evenings means choir practice. Wednesday evenings means that, by 8 p.m., we need to be in the Salle des Tilleuls (one of Léran's communal halls), music in hand, voices primed, ready to sing.
   On Wednesdays, we eat at 7:15 p.m.
   For most of us, pasta is the default meal when we're in a rush, but it does take at least ten minutes to bring your penne from hard to al dente. And that's after the water comes to a boil.
   My life changed... Hang on a minute, I think we need capital letters here... My Life Changed When I Discovered Pasta made in Treziers.
   Treziers is a small village of about 100 inhabitants some 9 km from here, situated on a crest with stunning views of the Pyrenees. It has no boulangerie but it does have a square with a fountain at its centre, and a mechanic who mends Mercedes.
    And it also has someone who makes organic pasta.
   I've been buying this since I first saw it in SuperU a few years ago. It costs about two euros for 500 grams. Going off on a tangent for a moment, supermarkets in France are invariably staunch supporters of local producers. That's why you find charcuterie made near Lavelanet, chive and nettle vinegars, and confit of onions from close to Mirepoix, and so on.
   Lately my favourite pasta has been sharing shelf-space with other locals but, for a long time, it had an entire end-aisle display in the big SuperU in Mirepoix. I can't even begin to imagine a North American or UK supermarket doing that. Normally this prime location where you're forced to slow down your cart as you round the end of the aisle is sold at a premium. Hence, megaliths of junk food from multinational companies are what you usually find there.
    Patricia Corsini makes spirals, tagliatelle and a couple of other varieties. All of her pasta is organic--that little green and white "AB" sign means "agriculture biologique"--and everything else you want to know is on the packet. That includes the cooking time (which I'm charmed to see someone has changed by hand from "3 mn." to "2-3 mn").
     Ignore these instructions at your peril. It'll turn into a big doughy blob and serve you right. This pasta really does cook that quickly so you have to hover over the pan, tongs in hand, fishing out a tagliatelle or a spiral as you come to the end of the cooking time.
     Meanwhile you heat up some bottled pesto, or frozen if you had the foresight to stash it away this summer. Chez nous, this week's sauce was half a jar of bought red pesto mixed with the remains of the tetrapack of tomato-and-oregano pizza sauce we used the other evening.
     Other times, I chop fresh tomatoes, tear up a fresh mozzarella, slurp olive oil over it and add lots of torn basil leaves.
     Lemon rind, a bit of lemon juice, olive oil and grated Parmesan is another almost-instant sauce.
Drain the pasta, toss with your sauce of choice and, in all cases, strew on plenty of coarsely chopped parsley to make the plate look pretty.
    Maybe not three minutes from start to finish but the fastest way I know to get supper on the table.

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