‘Tobagggiooooooooooooo’ – this was my greeting every day for two glorious months during the Winter Lockdown of Doom. ‘Tobaleeeeeeee’ ‘Robertoooo Tobaggiooooooooooo’. What beast had such a distinct call?
None other than my dearest of dear friends, Nicola (generously and ingeniously dubbed Nicolaggio by yours truly), housemate during this time; a talented musician and a bloody good cook. Yup! You guessed it. Part and parcel of living with an Italian man, a somewhat blissfully crazy one at that, was over-egged nicknames, dramatic coffee demos where he’d whip sugar with the first drops of coffee to make this mad cream thing (il buon café) and crucially; La Buona Pasta.
Pasta – you sweet, versatile, and comforting little carb. You come from a mythical land far away but have been bastardised a lot closer to home! I back myself in the kitchen, but until I learnt the ropes from Nicolaggio, I realised I had never treated you with the love and care you deserve.
Pasta is a ritual.
Pasta is science.
Pasta comes from the eyes.
It has genuinely been one of the pleasures of this year to learn from Nicolaggio, and now my current housemate Edmondo, how to make it properly.
Be it a proper ‘Norma’ with ribbon-thin slices of aubergine that become melty soft and indulgent as they almost confit in the garlic-scented oil (no chunks! Italians hate chunks of garlic); a simple ‘Aglio e Olio’ with a grand total of ingredients spanning 3 (oil, garlic, dried chilli) or the more indulgent combos from the great capital of Rome:
– Cacio e Pepe (cheese + pepper)
– Gricia (cheese + pepper + guanciale (cured pork jowl)
– Carbonara (cheese + pepper + guanc + egg
– Amatriciana (tomato and guanc, maybe some pepper)
There is pasta for each day of the week, for each mood, for each terrifying ‘end of the week panic’ where you realise you mistimed the groceries and you don’t have anything left in the fridge.
A flavour profile expresses itself in a thousand ways because with the addition of one ingredient, a new dish is born! It is artistry and innovation that my beloved British food could only dream of.
To take the 3 recently listed iterations of cheese-peppery goodness as an example, a true painting commences:
Your C P is simple, fiery and I would say cream-level 1/3. The pepper rules supreme – it is aromatic, oily, warm and yet, in its own way, sweet. Grazie.
The Grigri has just the guanciale added, and yet the taste is different. The fat that oozes from the pork adds a silky, rich and almost tar-like emulsion which is comforting in the mouth, and the pork sings. Nae, it screams! It is salty, smokey, and so much (sorry) umami that when Edmondo (what a name) made it for me the other day, I picked up notes of an almost citric, acerbic acidity which was truly delightful, and which I don’t think is as present in the king of them all….
CARBONARA!!!!! Ah la buona carbonara. You are truly something else. You bring a bit of flair and flirtatious energy to the proceedings. Who knew an egg could be so goddaammnnn delicious? Truly – the indulgence and smoothness of a good egg, emulsified in the fat of the guanc and seasoned by the pecorino is like… extraterrestrial? We cross galaxies, time zones, realities and dimensions. The few times that I have had a proper carbonara (never, ever made by me because it is tougher than it looks) I have flown. Voliamo brother, voliamo! It is a hug in a bowl.
I wanted to write this because I am fortunate enough to be living this reality again. Nicolaggio left his indelible mark on my eating habits, and now he has brought in his double to continue my quest to Pastalandia. Eddie has made me pasta 4 times over the last week, and I have flown 4 times over the last week.
I look forward, wholeheartedly, to sore ears, air travel sickness and long queues at customs as I board my Pasta Flight and FLYYYYYY some more over this next month.
Viva fockin Italia – a real, real soft spot has grown in my heart for you.