Saturday, November 14, 2009

The standard

I just finished reading Nigel Slater's memoir, Toast. His stories, tied so closely to food, are vivid and relatable. Doesn't every child crave sweets? Did you ever dread what was in your school lunch? What does food mean to you? To me, food can be comfort and it can be basic fuel, but it is always important. Food is often the reason we gather together. It has few negative memories for me. (I generally get over the bad experiences; I have gotten food poisoning twice from a local restaurant, but I've gone back because the food is amazing.) Even my flopped recipes are repeated with good humor. The first pancake always burns...

Ever since I can remember, my family has made spaghetti with brown butter and mizithra. Mizithra is a salty semi-soft Greek sheep's cheese. It reminds me of ricotta salata - and both are delicious with pasta. This is your typical get-the-kids-to-eat meal. Butter, cheese, and pasta. This may have factored into my family's decision to start having periodic dinners at the Spaghetti Factory. If a relative comes to town and we all want to spend time together, we go and get a huge table for 20+, make a lot of noise, and eat a lot of pasta. At least half the table will order mizithra. However, it tastes so much better at home. You'll have to wait an hour to get a table at the restaurant, but your homemade spaghetti dinner will be done in ten minutes.

I made a foolish mistake when making the spaghetti. I turned on the wrong burner to boil my pasta water and instead burned the bottom of my favorite enamel saucepan, which happens to be the perfect brown butter pan. Sigh. You need a pan where you can see the bottom; a non-stick black saucepan will not work, but stainless steel or enamel pans perform well. I like to cut the butter up into pieces to even out the melting. Cook the butter on Medium to Medium/High. Stir the butter to avoid burning. When the butter turns a tan color, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook - and continue browning. The butter should smell nutty. The French call brown butter "buerre noisette," or literally "hazelnut butter." Brown butter is great with pasta, but also wonderful as a sauce on chicken, fish, or vegetables - and a traditional addition to baked goods.

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