Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Fifteen years ago, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rosselini, and Minnie Driver appeared in a fine little movie about a Big Night.

The story centers about two brothers, Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci), Italian immigrants who arrive in the Golden Land of Opportunity - New Jersey - where they run a restaurant showcasing Primo’s excellent (and uncompromising) fare. Unfortunately, offering authentic Italian cuisine to food-ignorant Americans in the 1950’s is like casting pearls before swine. Their restaurant lacks a steady clientele...

...but Pascal (Holm), who operates a competing eatery nearby, has no such problem. A showy, larger-than-life personality, he has figured out the secret of success: Give the rubes what they want. Spaghetti, meatballs, flaming dishes prepared tableside, stereotypical music - it’s crap, but Pascal is doing quite well offering it up.

He’d like Primo and Secondo to sell out to him - they’re at the end of their financial rope - but they refuse. Pascal then offers to invite Louis Prima to come to dinner at their restaurant. A massive crowd is virtually guaranteed, and the brothers go all out to put on the Feed of the Century. But will Prima show?

We had our own Big Night this Saturday evening just past. Our friends Jackie and Johnny Tabs had received a pile of pasta-making equipment from Jackie’s mother, and several months ago they hatched a plan to have a small army of friends over to eat freshly made pasta.

Jackie and Johnny Tabs
Johnny Tabs and Jackie show off the fruits of our labors: a passel of pasta.

The pasta in question was a joint project, requiring the combined efforts of Jackie (who had grown up watching her mother make the stuff), Johnny Tabs, and me. We assembled mid-day Friday and proceeded to crank out a substantial batch of trenette (a long linguini-like pasta) and fettucini.

Crank out - literally. For once the pasta dough is made by carefully combining flour and eggs and kneading until satiny, the process involves repeatedly running the dough through hand-cranked metal rollers, squeezing it down to a uniform thickness. Then the skein of dough is run through the cutting rollers, creating long strands of the desired width.

We’ve all eaten plenty of dried pasta, the kind that comes in a box from the supermarket, and it’s a perfectly adequate Tomato Sauce Conveyance Device... but the hand-made stuff is another thing entirely. Cooked down to a perfect al dente degree of doneness and properly dressed, it is a true delight.

Fresh pasta: trenette (back) and fettucini (front).

We elected to serve our pasta three ways: with Jackie’s red sauce and SWMBO’s meatballs; with Houston Steve’s pesto (made with his home-grown basil); and with sautéed garlic, broccoli rabe and chicken andouille sausage. It turns out that trenette is the pasta of choice for serving with pesto (trenette alla pesto genovese being a signature regional dish) - who knew?

Pasta Three Ways
Pasta with pesto (top left), with red sauce and meatballs (top right), and with broccoli rabe, garlic, and sausage (bottom). Serious yum.

Laura Belle and JoAnn concocted a couple of monster antipasto platters, and I threw in a jar of my home-preserved marinated roasted peppers. A tasty salad, a few bottles of Chianti, a caffè correto, Marc and Shelly’s trifle, and Jackie’s pizzelle rounded out the picture.

Just as in the filmic Big Night, Louis Prima never showed. And just as in the filmic Big Night, everyone had a blast anyway. The only thing we were missing was the timpano.

1 comment:

Fiona Kathleen Hogan said...

I looooove pesto sauce. But I love the one with broccoli rab even more! I'm practically drooling here!