I’m a sucker for minimalist recipes (and Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column), and I couldn’t pass up a recipe that emphasized good, al dente pasta. So, I loaded up on some 100% durum wheat semolina spaghetti, and prepared to make Smitten Kitchen’s version of Mario Batali’s spaghetti with cheese and black pepper recipe. dsd suggested I also make a salad, and I was delighted—I love side salads. I picked a pea salad with radishes, to use up some greenmarket radishes.
The pasta was easy, and, luckily, far less scary than I expected. I generously salted a pot of water and cooked the spaghetti until it was al dente, which was probably too much—it ended up too soft for my tastes by the end. I drained the pasta (reserving liquid), dried the pot, and poured in 1/4 cup olive oil; while waiting for it to heat, I poured a little pasta water over the pasta, to keep it moist. When the oil started smoking, I stepped back and dumped the spaghetti into the oil. I was expecting a huge sizzle and lots of splatter, but it was fairly sedate; I dumped the rest of the pasta water over the spaghetti, without further incident. I added 2 tbsp butter and 3 oz Pecorino Romano, then started adjusting pepper and cheese to taste. It was ready in no time! The fresh pepper was delicious, and the pasta was not overloaded with oil or cheese. My one regret was that the spaghetti was no longer al dente, and if it had been, this would have been even better. I’ll take the spaghetti out sooner next time.
The pea salad started with toasted cumin seeds. I toasted them for just a few minutes, then ground them up.
For the salad, I boiled a bag’s-worth of frozen peas; to them, I added sliced radishes and feta, and added dressing, salt, and pepper, and tossed. I’m not a huge fan of feta in salads, but this worked well (it was balanced by the peas), and would probably benefit from dill next time. I’ll certainly use this dressing again, especially with peas.