Friday, 22 March 2013

Two pastas for The Shape of Water - Cook the Books


Last month my mother guest-blogged her entry for the current round of Cook the Books, our happy little foody online bookclub, hosted by Deb, Rachel, Simona and Heather. And now it is my turn.

Despite my mother's evident enthusiasm for them, I hadn't previously read an Inspector Montalbano book, although I think I have seen some episodes of the TV series. I was looking forward to The Shape of Water to see what (other than the food) there was about these books that people rave about.

But... I didn't really get it. I mean, Montalbano comes across as an attractive man, and I liked the slight moral ambiguity of his role. It was the writing that got in the way. I wasn't sure if it was because the translation was awkward or if it was just the problems of a first novel in a series that takes time to develop. After all, I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld but the first one in that series is dire. I got lost in the labyrinthine relationships and bureaucracy (although that could well have been deliberate) and in many of the conversations I had to check and double check who was saying what.

I'll have to read another to really decide how I feel about it.

In trying to decide what to make, inspired by The Shape of Water, I knew it had to be pasta. I love pasta. I don't eat it as often as I would like but it really is my favourite food. If I had to exclude all but one starch from my life, I would wave goodbye to rice, bread and potatoes and cling to pasta. I had so many ideas that I ended up making two dishes.

My first was inspired by a properly Sicilian dish, pasta alla Norma. This is also a dish that my mother makes a lot when her eggplant bushes are fruiting heavily, so it seemed apt. Instead of sticking to the classic tomato and aubergine version, I gave it a bit more heft and spice with 'nduja (Calabrian sausage but since Calabria is just a short hop across a narrow strait from Sicily I bet you can get it there) and some roasted yellow peppers. It was delicious, although possibly a bit too spicy - I got a little carried away with the 'nduja.
Penne rigate - the ridges are just the thing to hold the oily, spicy sauce

My second dish took a slightly more fanciful journey. I'd been thinking about making fesenjan - that lovely Persian dish of poultry, walnuts and pomegranate because I happened to have duck legs, some walnuts and half a pomegranate. But I also really wanted to eat pasta. I rationalised that Sicily was under the control of the Byzantines and Arabs for a long time, and they do have a tradition of agrodolce sauces so a Persian feel would not be completely out of place.

Rather than just tossing pasta through a Persian stew, I decided to bring a bit more Italian flavour to the dish. I slowly roasted two duck legs, basting them with pomegranate molasses from time to time, then stripped the flesh from the bones and cut it into chunks. I made a very lemony (Sicily is famous for lemons, right?) walnut and sage pesto. I cooked my fettucine, reserving a cupful of the nice starchy cooking water, and then I tossed the pesto, cooking water and chunks of duck meat through the drained pasta back on the heat. I stirred it until the duck was heated through and the pasta was thoroughly coated in the pesto. Then I garnished it with pomegranate arils to provide more of an agrodolce burst. I was extremely happy with how it worked out. The pomegranate and lemon provided enough acidity to balance the rich duck and walnut, and the sage provided a nice earthiness that tied the walnuts and duck together. And of course, pasta always makes my heart sing.
Fettucine with duck, walnuts and pomegranate

17 comments:

Debra Eliotseats said...

Pasta is always correct to make for any occasion. (Even for a murder mystery!) I "think" I liked this novel---does that even make sense. You are a genius for the pom additions!

(And, how cool was it that your mom did a guest post. I may have to copy that!)

Caroline said...

They both look and sound delicious. I too would happily abandon rice and potatoes, but then it would be difficult to choose between pasta and bread. Bread might just win...

The Cat's Mother said...

I'm with you on pasta as the preferred carb. Both dishes are great, but the duck, walnut & pomegranate is inspired.

Foodycat said...

Debra - I know exactly what you mean!

Caroline - I love bread, but pasta comes first.

Mother - it was really delicious. I was so happy that it tasted exactly the way it did in my head!

Couscous & Consciousness said...

Oh my gosh, your Persia meets Sicily duck and pasta dish almost brought me to tears I want it so much. I'm with you - I simply could not live in a world without pasta - definitely my carb of choice too. In fact, I am convinced it is its own food group! I totally love what you did with the duck, and pomegranate, and I can't wait to try that pesto. I often make a pesto with walnuts and spinach, or sometimes walnuts and broccoli (yes that makes a great sauce for pasta), but I've never tried sage. Definitely something I could try with the sage bush that is growing rampant at my front door. Thanks so much for the inspriation and have a wonderful weekend. xo

Rachel said...

Your Montalbano-inspired duck pomegranate and walnuts pasta sounds really divine. Great job for Cook the Books!

Foodycat said...

Sue - it's really good - you don't need a lot of sage though!

Rachel - thank you!

Mary said...

Both dishes sound wonderful! I'm going to have to get my hands on that book. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

The Café Sucré Farine said...

Wow, both of these look amazing, how fun to be inspired in a culinary sense by literature!

Claudia said...

Your duck with pomegranate sauce and pasta sounds so good. I was just (yesterday) reading up on fesenjan sauce from Laura Kelley's The Silk Road Gourmet. Wanting to use it for an Easter lamb dish.

Angie Schneider said...

Whenever I don't know what to cook for the lunch, pasta has always come to the rescue. Both all look very tasty and comforting.

Barbara said...

Oh my, that looks fabulous, Debra. Such an unusual combination in a pasta dish.
I am not familiar with the book, but give you great credit for wanting to read the next in the series. I don't usually do that, but if everyone is raving about the series, guess it is worth a try.

Choclette said...

I would hate to have to choose only one starchy food, but pasta would certainly be hard to live without. But too much of a good thing? When we had CTs Scicillian sister in law staying with us once, she insisted on coking for the whole week as we were out at work and I must say by the end of the week I was really glad not to have to eat pasta for a while. I do like the flavours you've used in your 2nd dish - duck aside of course.

grace said...

i've never tried walnuts in my pasta, but i keep seeing it here, there, and everywhere. now i see no use in trying it without those pomegranate arils! :)

Deb in Hawaii said...

Pasta is indeed the "little black dress" of dishes--appropriate for any occasion and the fact that you made two such delicious dishes takes it up a notch. I am not familiar with fesenjan but I now want to be. ;-)

In reading your review, I had some similar reactions to the book--found it a bit muddling, especially at first, but I am glad I read it and I think I might give the second one in the series a shot at least.

Foodycat said...

Mary - the language is quite pungent in some places! Just a warning in case you do read it!

Chris - it is fun. The book club has been running for years now and it is a great way to read things that never would have crossed my mind!

Claudia - I can recommend it. It would be wonderful with lamb!

Angie - oh yes!

Barbara - well, if people whose opinion on books is similar usually recommend something, I'm prepared to give it a go.

Choclette - oh that's funny! I've never eaten pasta every day for a week!

Grace - I like walnut pesto, with or without pomegranate!

Deb - if you like those sorts of Middle Eastern nutty dip/paste/salad things you would like it!

Simona said...

I think Inspector Montalbano would like both of your pasta dishes. I like that you shared with us the sequence of ideas that led to the final results.

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