The past is a strange mirror to look into. And sitting here, in the attic surrounded by boxes and old sketchbooks from art college I feel my breath catching a little with memories.
And all that work I did in college? Well, looking at it now, it wasn’t very good. Does everything we do pale and fade into the average when we look back, only the occasional thing really standing out as any good? Or is everything preparation for what is to come, footnotes and experiences on our journey?
But life isn’t about everything being incredible, the highlights wouldn’t be highlights if there was nothing to compare them to. Mostly we go along, quite happily, occasional highs, occasional lows, but mainly somewhere in the middle.
Most of the food I cook is nice enough, nothing spectacular, but then there is the occasional thing that goes into the canon of special food that’s a real treat. Simple things generally, like a roast chicken, drowning in tarragon butter and encased in crisp Parma ham; softly scrambled eggs infused with curry leaves and spices and served with lots of green chillies; beans, chorizo and broth with pork; simple fish curry; tagliatelle with chestnut mushrooms, chilli, garlic and olive oil; salmon with curried spelt; a tomato salad at the height of summer, dressed with shallot vinaigrette and chopped parsley.*
All these things are in contrast to an average midweek meal of a risotto for example, or even a jacket potato with butter and cheese. A meal made with not much more than an easy supper in mind. Perhaps some cubes of garlic courgette liven it up a little, or a salad on the side cuts through its comforting richness, but it’s still the everyday. And that everyday should be celebrated as much as the extraordinary. A little touch of something extra here and there can make things livelier than you think. If things are done with care, no matter how simple, they mean something and are greater for that thoughtfulness.
We last had pizzoccheri about seven years ago, cooked for us by Mary Ann in her apartment in the Alto Adige, northern Italy. Hearty and rustic it was served with the traditional chard which I’ve swapped for tender stem broccoli. For some reason, it’s a dish that has stuck in my mind. I don’t know why particularly, it’s nothing special. It’s comforting and homely, just the meal to get your strength up for a long day’s Italian sheep herding, or whatever they do that close to Switzerland.
The pasta is so easy to make, you roll it by hand so there’s not even a need for a machine. I’m of the belief that drenching things in garlic butter will generally improve them — unless its the jam knife for your morning toast, which has the opposite effect — and that is the case here. You would think buttery garlic potatoes, comforting ribbons of pasta and healthy greens cooked together with melting cheese is heavenly. I thought so, but the rest of the family were less than impressed. There were upturned noses and downturned mouths.
Maya liked the potatoes (who wouldn’t?) but not the rest, Noah seemed like he’d spent the meal having to read a report on boredom and Bee said it “had potential, but even if it is a ‘classic’ recipe that doesn’t mean we need to eat it.”
If you don’t want to make the pasta yourself, use a wholemeal tagliatelle or something with a little weight to it. And you can use shredded savoy cabbage or chard as the original does. I used Tilly Whim cheese from Farmdrop instead of the traditional Fontina or Tomi. It needs a semi-soft cow’s cheese that will melt deliciously over everything. You could use coarsely-grated Gruyere too if you like.
For the pasta:
50g plain flour
150g buckwheat flour
A pinch of salt
Enough water to bring it together into a nice softish dough. About 150ml
For the rest:
300g small potatoes, or Maris Pipers, cut up
200g tendereste broccoli, sliced in half, lengthwise
A good few handfuls of cheese such as Tilly Whim or Fontina
A generous grating of Parmesan
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely grated
A drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
Make the pasta by bringing together the flour, salt and water in a large bowl and mixing until it comes together in a flaky dough. Continue kneading, rolling and stretching it in the bowl until you have a smooth, silk and slightly elastic dough. Add more flour to it to help keep it from sticking to your hands as you go.
Leave it to rest, covered for about half an hour.
Heat the oven to 180c.
Make the garlic butter by heating the butter until melted, seasoning well then add the garlic. Heat gently for a few minutes being careful to not let the garlic colour. Remove from the heat.
Flour the worktop and roll out the pasta to about 1-2mm. Roll up and slice into ribbons then cut into pieces about 4-5cm long. Toss with a little flour to keep from sticking together.
Bring the potatoes to the boil in salted water for about five minutes then add the pasta and cook for ten more minutes. Add the broccoli and cook for a couple of minutes then drain everything.
Put a layer of the potato mix in a baking dish then sprinkle with half the cheese.
Cover with the remaining potato, pasta and broccoli then add the remaining cheese.
Season with a little salt and pepper, pour over the garlic butter and cook in the oven for about twenty minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.
Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and serve hot.
*There are of course, plenty of disasters and things that were best glossed over, never to be repeated, but certainly to be learned from.