Henry Hsieh畢業自紐約大學，曾於美國紐約International Culinary Center及義大利帕瑪ALMA餐飲學校就讀，是米其林一星餐酒館Longtail與原木柴燒餐廳Wildwood Live Fire Cuisine的營運總監。不過他總是說「叫我Your friend at Longtail就好」，Henry熱愛美食更愛分享美食，對餐飲業有獨到的觀察，他現在要以幽默風趣與富文化視角的專欄文字來分享他對美食與餐飲的所見經歷。
Within the last month, several people have coincidentally asked me the same question: ‘What, in your opinion, is the perfect pasta?’
Wow, what a succinct yet impossibly complex question. It could be answered in a sentence, and it could be a college thesis that raises even more argument; nevertheless, a great question. Naturally, this got me thinking. Memories of living in Italy suddenly flew through my head both the super delicious as well as the not so wonderful. I suppose one way to investigate this is to break down the elements of a bowl of pasta, and then see how it comes together as a whole.
First, we start with the pasta, the basis of the dish, the building blocks. What is the shape- is it dried, is it fresh, is it some despicable form of gluten free pasta which seems to be all the craze these days? Is it in ribbon form, is it in tube form, or is it, and for me irresistible, stuffed form? How is it cooked? It is pretty expected these days whether you are in the East, or in the West that if you are having Italian pasta, the noodles are generally cooked al dente. Generally true, though often not. Al dente means, to the tooth, in Italian. I must stress that it does not mean raw or uncooked. To cook pasta al dente, is to cook it to the optimal texture. The right timing is required so that every bite has just a gentle bounce in fresh pasta and a light snap in dried pasta. This is the precise moment when the starch has been cooked and enough moisture has been absorbed so that the life and dare I say the virility of the noodle is unmistakable in every bite.
There is simply nothing worse that biting into a glob of mushy sloppy characterless goo. Believe me this concept isn’t so new anymore, but the acceptance of this texture is something many non-Italians are still trying to appreciate. But I always say enjoy something as it is meant to be, do as the Romans do. I’ll try to tell some people, listen, if zhongzi is eaten with glutinous rice and pork, for the love of God, do not put fried rice and pineapples in the damn thing!
Some people may think that the shape of the pasta is irrelevant and perhaps interchangeable, and while I encourage everyone to eat what makes them happy, there are some rough guidelines to the shape of pasta. Try to remember this: the thicker the sauce, the thicker the noodle, and the lighter the sauce, the lighter the noodle. If you are having an unctuous wild boar ragù from the Tuscan hills, please give me a hand cut, wide pappardelle made with extra egg yolks still bouncy like a fresh made duvet, just enough surface area for the sauce to grab on to it with bits of meat caught between each ribbon of pasta. Now, if I’m having butter with white truffles, let it be tagliolini or tajarin so I can slurp it to my hearts content while being obliterated by its perfume!
相信接下來你也猜到了，一盤義大利麵第二重要的元素就是醬汁。到底該用紅醬、白醬還是黑醬？義大利不同地區與不同的季節都會有不同的醬汁偏好，如果是在八月中旬的季節，我可能連一盤醬汁厚重的山豬肉醬麵吃都吃不完（前提還得是要在冷氣房）。如果是吃佐以南義蘇連多檸檬、馬斯卡彭起司和薄荷葉的螺旋麵（Fusilli）的話，我絕對會狠狠的給它吃上兩盤，然後再搭配清爽的Greco白葡萄酒，眺望著美麗的山城小鎮阿瑪菲（Amalfi），就會令人想要讚嘆「啊，這就是甜美人生！」這就是義大利人常說的「La Bella Vita！」一盤義大利麵是否完美，醬料絕對是要角，不管是在北義、中義還是南義都偏好自己的醬料，且隨季節不同也會有所改變。
So as you may have guessed, sauces, the second component to a bowl of pasta is highly important as well. Is it red? Is it white? Is it black? Different regions, and different seasons call for different kinds of sauces. Serve a thick ragù in the middle of August; unless I’m in an air-conditioned room, I will probably have trouble putting it down. Serve a fusilli with fresh mascarpone and Sorrentino lemons and mint leaves, I’ll gladly take two bowls, while washing it all down with a crisp Greco overlooking the Amalfi. La bella vita! Depending on where you are, what mood you are in, and what season it is, sauces contribute enormously to that perfect pasta.
Different regions of Italy are stronger in different kinds of pasta, and sauces. Much to do with the terrain, and the climate, Northern and Southern Italy have its own magic when it comes to pasta. My professor of food history once told me an anecdote, and it went a little something like this: A Northern Italian will always say that their pasta is better than a Southerners, and vice versa. However, two Italians both from the North but from different regions will claim that their region is better than the other person’s. Two Italians from the same region but different towns will claim that the pasta from their town is better. And finally, even if they are from the same town, the pasta on this street is 100 percent better than that of the pasta from another street down the block!
This is Italy, a proud country indeed. Lets take for example the stuffed pasta. There is an entire family of pasta with minute differences and thus resulting in completely different dishes. Ravioli, raviolone, mezzelune, agnlotti, plin, cappelletti, tortelli, tortellini, I mean the list goes on. They are all stuffed pasta in some form or shape. And you know what? My region where I lived in Emiglia Romagna, has the best darn little cappelletti and don’t you try to tell me otherwise!
I remember the first time I had the cappelletti in brodo. It was a cold winter’s day. I was still a student at ALMA, the Italian culinary school near Parma. Many people have told me the cappelletti in brodo is traditionally served during the holiday season through the bleak months of winter, and almost always homemade by nonna, or grandmother. The cappelletti is a small stuffed pasta that resemble little hats usually filled with bits of minced beef or pork, parmigiano and the lightest pinch of nutmeg which ties the whole dish together. It’s cooked ever so gently and dropped into a sea of golden broth, and not just any broth, but a broth of capon or castrated rooster, much richer than that of regular chicken. It has so much flavor and depth it only took one sip to make a young cook far away from home feel quite warm and quite loved during the cold Italian winter. It really is like receiving a giant hug from the pasta gods. I’ll always remember this dish at Gallo d’Oro, the Golden Rooster, in Parma, a bustling trattoria serving the most delicious Emilian cuisine.
Lastly, the presentation of the pasta is also of utmost importance. There’s a reason why people say, ‘a bowl’ of pasta rather than a plate of pasta. Though, it is neither a full plate, nor a full bowl. It is sort of a bowl with a flat lip. The reason for this half plate half bowl shape is so that the sauce doesn’t run as it would on a flat plate, and it has the bottom in the shape of a bowl so the fork can easily pick up the pasta with the sauce together. When done right, it really is a beautiful thing. The sauce does not run when the bowl is tilted meaning it is thick enough and that it has been nicely emulsified from the pasta water the noodles were cooked in. (We can save the emulsification miracle for another time.) Just remember the sauce should glisten gleefully with every strand of pasta just lightly lathered in its beauty. It should coat the back of your spoon.
Of course, when you are done eating, be sure to take note of the leftover sauce. How does it look? Is it a puddle of water, or is it little streaks of flavor somewhere between the sacred and the sublime. A memory of mine from school was that once I had presented a sauce that was too thin, and my Chef gently tilted the plate and sauce came crashing down onto one side. With a displeased and disappointed flick of his wrist, spun the plate like a Frisbee back to me. Rejected. He never even tasted it. Woof. That is how important a sauce is.
So really, what is a perfect bowl, I guess there is a myriad of things to take into consideration: the kind of pasta, the sauce in which it is cooked in, the seasonality of the ingredients, and of course the balance of the whole dish. More importantly though, how does it taste, and how does it make you feel? Any dish that is so technically sound but without a little passion or flair could lose all the intention it had. I could be served uneven ravioli with completely irrelevant ingredients, but if it was done with love by my mother who happens to use whatever we have left in our refrigerator, well guess what, it’s perfect for me!