Last week, I went for a haircut in my local cheapie salon. I was thumbing my way through a magazine in the waiting room when I came upon an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow. I should have known better. I should have just walked away from that magazine right then and there, but of course, like a witness to a bloody 5 car pile-up, I could not look away. Gwyneth was talking about the decision to add to her collection of houses, one in Los Angeles. She said that she just could not live in a world where her children couldn’t wake up and pick fresh avocados off their own trees.
Bless her heart.
She continued on, chatting about her involvement with the “Iron Man” franchise and how the absolute worst thing about it was abstaining from her common indulgences in pasta or french fries the night before filming. My stomach churned for a moment as I felt the heave of my breakfast deciding whether it would resurface upon the salon floor. The shampooist brought me a Dixie cup of water. I settled.
It’s not actually Gwyneth that makes me nuts. She’s almost too easy a target. Gwyneth Paltrow is what Martha Stewart would have become if she’d been sassy or pretty enough to land a rockstar husband.
It’s the façade that infuriates me. It’s the notion that being successful is effortless, especially when you came into the world rich and pretty. She has parlayed her movie star personality into a multi-platform “foodie” enterprise, with a website and cookbooks and a television show that are all preaching the same thing: unattainable perfection. I can’t help but feel like I’m being sold something that I wouldn’t enjoy once I got it. It feels soul-less and contrived. I feel like Ms. Paltrow is much more involved with her façade than with teaching any of us how to be better people. Maybe I don’t want to be pretty, rich, and thin.
I was recently teaching my mom a few basic tricks in the kitchen. She has very little experience cooking but is a master at most things she sets her mind to. I could sense her frustration with the learning curve and I realized how much of my own cooking I couldn’t teach because I have come to trust my intuition. I could tell how desperately she wanted the food we were cooking to be instantly delicious and beautiful. She expected a masterpiece without having ever done it before.
And THAT, your honor, is my problem with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Flawlessness is a mirage.
It’s a disguise.
When we compare ourselves to the model, we lose. It takes a lot of work and patience to get things right. From the “Goop” web designer, to the gardner who planted that avocado tree whose fruit her children enjoy every morning, it takes a team to create an empire of beautiful things such as Ms. Paltrow’s. And I’m sure every member of that team botched a lot of things before they learned how to do it well.
With food, it’s imperative that you quiet the judging voices in your head so that you can learn from your intuition. How do YOU think it tastes? What do YOU think it’s missing? Screw it up. Make a mess. Take some chances. Forgive yourself for not nailing it every single time. You’ll have so much more fun in everything you do if you let yourself blunder a little. The sweetness of your eventual success will be that much more delicious. It’s 100% true for the kitchen but also for everything in life.
And learn from the richness of your mistakes.
The day that I had set aside for making this pasta turned out to be almost 110 degrees in my kitchen. We were in the midst of a heatwave with no end in sight. I had been inspired by a pasta from a new app called “Look and Cook” that has absolutely beautiful pictures of food in the process of being cooked (but isn’t also selling a “lifestyle”). My basil was ready for clipping and the tomatoes in the market were hitting their peak so I disregarded the unpleasantness of a truly hot work environment and set out to perfect big bow pasta with a basic tomato/ garlic/ basil sauce. You’ll notice there are no pictures of the process on my blog. The evolution of each dish is often chaotic- especially when I’m cooking it for the first time. My flour covered counters are not the kind of food porn I’m trying to promote.
In the end however, they came together perfectly- as they almost always do. I love the marriage of these simple flavors in both the pasta and the sauce. It’s perfectly summer – clean, fresh and pretty. Far from flawless, but so honest that you forget the struggle.
Pasta Bows Three Ways
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups durum semolina flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, pureed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pesto
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- Toss the flours together in the middle of a large cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the combined flour and add the eggs one at a time. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour. Knead the dough until the shaggy mass becomes a cohesive mass – adding more flour if the dough is too sticky. Knead for another 5 minutes, adding flour if necessary.
- Separate the flour into three balls. To the first, knead in the sundried tomato puree; to the second, the pesto; and to the third, the black pepper. Knead each ball of dough, adding more flour as necessary, until the color is uniform.
- Wrap balls in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.
- With a generously floured pasta machine, take a piece of dough from the first ball that’s about the size of your palm. Roll the pasta through the widest setting, adding more flour to the dough so it does not stick. Fold that piece into thirds and pass it through again. Fold it in thirds once and pass it through once more. Then adjust the machine to the #2 setting and pass the pasta through, reflouring the machine as necessary. Continue rolling, changing the settings on the machine until you reach the #7 setting.
- Lay the sheet of pasta out on a board and cut 4inch X 2 inch rectangles. Pinch the center of these rectangles to make a bow and set them on a sheet until you’re ready to cook them.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 5 tomatoes, peeled and seeded and cut in quarters
- Handful of basil, cut into chiffonade
- Place heat on under a large pan. When hot, add the oil and let sit for 1 minute. Add garlic, a dash of salt and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and toss with garlic and oil. Add more salt to taste and pepper and let cook for 5 minutes, covered. The tomatoes will break apart and become a loose sauce.
- Heat a large pot of very salty water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook for exactly one minute. Toss the pasta into the tomatoes and garlic and then add the basil. Top with grated parmesan cheese and leave the kitchen clean up for later.