Pedantic Pasta

26 Jan

My first cooking class.

Williams & Sonoma is a classic example of how accessible my favorite places are in the wonderful place I live, and why going with that little you-should-really-try-this-out-instead-of-saying-you-will-one-day is truly as rewarding as it seems. I’d like to be Dr. Seuss when I cook, but when I feel like being James Bond, there are few places that I’d rather hang out in than the clean yet inviting oak cabinets and Le Creuset containers that dot the store’s floor.

The retailer offers free technique classes in the same fashion. Like the tables holding panini presses, their classes kind of just fit in here and there but offer a quick way to learn some new trades or, in my case, set some established ones into mental concrete instead of reading recipes like eye exams.

I went to the Saturday course entitled “Fast and Fresh Pasta,” and now I don’t have a fuzzy concept of properly cooked noodles, homemade sauces, or layering vegetarian lasagna. She explained the various pairings of sauces to pasta, with more delicate sauces meriting delicate pastas. I would not serve ziti or large shells with an alfredo, as the the alfredo needs to be able to spread. A denser pasta accepts a meatier sauce, and my technique guide says “the ideal match is one that brings the sauce and pasta into a unified whole.” A very collectivist bit of advice I’ll sleep with under my pillow. Alexander the Great had The Iliad, I have a sauce and pasta matching guide to conquer the world with.

After actually trying out making pasta with that mindset, I now have atypical pasta experimentation under my belt, and nothing. Will. Ever. be. The same. Seriously, though, my favorite fellow food mad scientist and I made a thyme and balsamic grilled “ratatouille” of squash and zucchini. These little buckaroos, that were tender Frisbees of favorite Italian affinities, went on top of rigatoni (the teacher would have been proud of our unintentional making of a vegetable base, while a meat or ragu would have fit well too), and a hybridazation sauce, just to make it sound fancy. We took a basic sweet basil Classico sauce, added canned tomatoes for more density, and then added some tomato pasta to make it more, pasty (?). A little bit of fresh basil, crushed red pepper, cooking wine, and time to soak, and it was a bossy sauce. It was both fast and fresh, and now I know how to do more with “plain, old pasta.”
We decided to christen the dish “The Swedish Word For the Evening Meal.”

The class itself was like living an episode of a Food Network show. Our host Barbara, who “nightlines” or “weekend-lines” as a Williams & Sonoma sales associate, regularly works at the Medical University of South Carolina during the week. I would not have guessed that our very interactive and pancetta-stirring maestro lives this double life of digging through medical records, admitting the best of the best, or whatever else she does.

I think working in that environment would be pretty demographically odd. The token college student that’s not over 30.

Here’s a schedule of classes.

To all my pre-med friends out there, maybe you should rethink whether you should just study. Maybe making bolognese can teach you a few things about life, or at least about your colleagues.


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