Monday, April 4, 2011
Penne with Plums, Bleu Cheese and Ham
Lately I've been experimenting with rich, strong flavors balanced with lighter, acidic fruit. I made a nice pasta with gorgonzola, apples, bacon and onion, and I thought plums would work in place of the apples, being similarly tart. I got water on for pasta and made a base for the sauce with some olive oil, chopped sweet onion, garlic and diced smoked ham. When all that was hot and sweating, I diced a plum and added that. I was concerned about the color running and getting muddy, but the plums basically kept to themselves and caramelized nicely. When the pasta was still a little firm I transferred it to the skillet with the sauce ingredients, along with about a third of a cup of the pasta water, which helps to bring the sauce together. I could have used a little white wine or stock, but the ham, garlic and bleu cheese were such strong flavors that to have any hope of tasting the plum I should avoid any more complicating elements. I cooked the pasta in the sauce for another few minutes, and once I added the pasta water the plum color did start to run a little, which may explain why people don't use plums in pasta that often. When the pasta water was mostly absorbed, I added the bleu cheese and tossed it until it softened and became partly incorporated as a sauce.
I plated the pasta and dressed it with some chopped parsley, toasted pumpkin seeds and a coddled egg yolk. I put an egg in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking. I did that because the eggs were in the refrigerator, but if I had a room-temperature egg I may have just floated the yolk on the pasta and let the residual heat denature it a little. I like using egg yolk to help bind a sauce that has chunky elements like the ham and plum dice in this one. A little snowfall of parmigiano was the last bit of business before I served it to Heather.
The reviews were unfortunately focused on the toothiness of the pasta, which was apparently a little too firm. Prior to tasting the pasta, one of the customers reported "hating" it, while another said "you know I hate raw pasta all I can taste is raw pasta," but the harshest comment was "Why did you make pasta I can't eat? You should have tested it." There were a few other comments, and possibly even some returned after trying the pasta, but unfortunately I missed them as I had left the room to watch Baseball Tonight on TiVo.
 Late-returning reviews were much better. Flattering even.
Posted by Steve Albini at 3:08 PM