Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit the Academia Barilla in Parma, a centre dedicated to the preservation of Italian food culture with cooking classes, research and development projects, events and an epic Gastronomic Library that houses over 11,000 cookbooks dating back to the 16th century.
On the same trip, I toured the Barilla factory - the largest pasta factory in the world - to see firsthand how dry spaghetti, penne, rotini and other pasta shapes are made. It was nice to see the quality of ingredients and simple preparation involved in making one of the most common dinner table staples around the world.
This crash course in pasta was a great reminder of how quick and simple it is to prepare, and how many ways you can dress it up without opening a jar of sauce - in the same amount of time as it takes to cook the pasta itself. Fall schedules are busy, and families often rely on the pizza guy to feed everyone at the end of the day. But when you can have a real, homemade meal on the table in less than 15 minutes, why resort to takeout or frozen dinners? Dry pasta is the ultimate pantry staple - at around $2 a pound, it can hang out on the shelf until you’re ready for it, and pairs well with whatever ingredients you have on hand or need to use before it winds up in the compost bin.
Pasta with Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Feta
This is a deliciously different pasta dish utilizing one of Fall’s best ingredients: Brussels sprouts! The bacon and sprouts cook quickly in a skillet while the pasta cooks - you can finish it off with salty, briny feta or creamy goat cheese, tossed right in the pan with the warm pasta. It will convert even those on the fence about Brussels sprouts.
½ lb. spaghetti or other dry pasta
6 to 8 slices bacon, chopped
½ lb. Brussels sprouts, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream
¼ to ½ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions, or until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, cook the bacon in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat; once the pieces are crisp, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the drippings in the pan.
Add the butter to the skillet, and then the Brussels sprouts. Cook them for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing as needed and seasoning with salt and pepper until they are soft and starting to turn golden on the edges.
Reserve ¼ cup of your pasta cooking water when you drain the pasta, then add it to the skillet along with the cream. Add more of the reserved pasta water if it seems dry, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning (this dish loves pepper) and top with feta or goat cheese, tossing once or twice to combine. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Julie is a food editor for ParentsCanada, a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor, and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. For more information, visit dinnerwithjulie.com. And be sure to check out her and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth’s website, www.rollingspoon.com, or on Twitter, @RollingSpoon, exploring their mutual love of music and food.
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