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Red, White and Blue Pasta

For all of you non-American followers (current count approximately negative 4), here in the States we enjoyed a long holiday weekend. Of course by any other country's standards, a three-day weekend is not, in fact, a long weekend, and this holiday itself is often overshadowed by the impression of it merely commencing summer.

While Memorial Day weekend does kickstart our minds into daydreaming of cold beer and hot barbeques while freezing in an air-conditioned office for nine or ten hours a day, it also is/should be a time to show gratitude for our men and women in the service, past and present. Stories of guys hocking any material possession to buy a ring for a girl back home; love letters written by hand and sealed with a kiss; tireless mothers shipping off care packages and reading prayer cards by heart; the actual battlegrounds those combat boots descend upon to keep us safe are images that I think of often. Aside from ROTC in college, my own father was exempt from serving his country as teachers were needed heavily in the sixties, but from a young age, I always remember him sending off donations to veterans, because he "never needed to do what they did." That gratitude made a big impact* on my mind.

But back to this weekend. In a move of pure coincidence, I ended up cooking what was the most patriotic-looking meal to date. And I didn't even plan it! For real. Between the last post and this one, Frank and I took my mom to Paris. (More about that amazing weekend another time.) Anyway, we definitely had our fill of French delicacies: cheese, baguettes, onion soup, wine, confit, tartare, quiche, steak, more cheese, more wine...the list goes on and I am not complaining! Don't put it past me to think that I was googling apartment prices and tuition at culinary schools once we returned. I did, and then I was quite sad.

Back home, gaining a bit of sleep and much love from our puppies, I was itching to be in my kitchen again. So I posed a question to Frank, which was, should we follow up the trip with a French dinner on Friday, or should we go a different route? Barbeque was on our minds, per the holiday weekend, but New York has basically decided to dedicate 2014 to crap weather. Funnily enough, my husband suggested what I was secretly thinking - seafood. My reply was, "Do you remember the spicy squid ink pasta with calamari and crunchy bread crumbs at Perla?"

Yep, that was decided quickly.

I never made squid ink pasta before and to be honest, I was prepared for a complete disaster. My cute man had gone shopping on his company-Friday-off (sigh) so we were fully prepared. I set about to make pasta as usual - welled flour, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt and a drop of olive oil. In went a tablespoon of ink. The dough was coming together, albeit a little stickier than usual. The color was good, but not professional-quality. I added another tablespoon and suddenly I had a velvety, richly colored dough in my hands. Nuts!! I couldn't believe it.

Before I had made the dough, I worked on the sauce. When we had eaten Perla's particular version of this Italian classic, the chef actually came out and described how the sauce was created, which did not include butter. Well, I'm not as clever, and I didn't remember the exact method of his sauce, so guess what? I had just come back from Paris, where butter is currency. Alas, my version included the one thing in this world better than diamonds or bunny rabbits. I diced up a small shallot and sauteed it in olive oil, seasoned. A clove of shaved garlic went into the pan followed by a bit of canned crushed tomatoes and a freshly diced heirloom as well. A nice dash of red pepper flakes, a glob of butter, more salt and pepper, and this was sauce was ready to simmer. No need to add a glug of red wine, as summertime sauce should be more about the tomato and fresh herbs, yes?

I had already pulverized a hunk of old baguette, drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven, set aside for the final topping. Meanwhile, the squid tubes were cleaned and cut. By the way, I just use kitchen shears to cut them into rings; seems easier than slicing with a knife.

With the pasta dough now cranked out** into fettuccine, I boiled that off while the calamari cooked in the red sauce. This way, the calamari wouldn't become rubbery and overdone, yet they would also lend a briny hand to the sauce while they simmered. The ink pasta was cooked al dente in just about the same amount of time as regular pasta - one minute, ninety seconds tops - and we were ready to go.

I pulled the fettuccine directly into the sautee pan and threw in freshly torn basil to finish. Once plated, I sprinkled the dish with the bread crumbs and a final drizzle of oive oil. I had made a salad too, which happened to complement the main dish, at least in color. When I gave Frank the grocery list, there were necessities, like the ink and the calamari, and then items such as, "Salad buddies. You know, do it right" on the list. He had picked out baby romaine and purple baby cauliflower. I pickled the cauliflower along with a shallot and dressed them in a very tangy red wine and lemon vinaigrette, laid over the romaine.

We sat down at the table and I noticed for the first time that this was literally a red, white and blue dinner - A thin, summery red sauce, white as can be calamari, blue fettuccine. Accompanied by the bluish salad and a dry red wine, we both eagerly dug in.

As we all know by now, Frank tells me everything is delicious, even if it truly isn't. But. This dish? It was pretty incredible. I feel uneasily showy by saying this, but it was good. Just the perfect amount of hot from the red pepper, a hearty bite to the midnight colored pasta (!) and the calamari were so fresh and tender that they complemented the crunchy bite of the bread crumb very well. The salad was a tangy success, and luckily I made just too much black pasta that one of us had an envious lunch later in the week.

Lastly, I can't say it enough: we are lucky to enjoy a leisurely Friday night dinner at home, safe and secure, while our men are far away or even on American soil, defending our freedom. Thank you, from the top and the bottom of my heart. I live in a big city that is never quiet, and always shaded with a bit of concern. Thank you.

* A site to donate to our veterans:

A site where you can donate, or even befriend a soldier and become a pen pal, as I have:

**According to my mom, which I believe to be 100% true, the only machine is a crank machine. Pish posh to electrified plastic crap. This here is a very nice version, probably three times as expensive as the one on my counter: fancypants pasta machine

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