If asked: What’s your favorite type of pasta? I’d have a tough time responding.
First off, I have no authority on the subject. I'm less Italian than a slice of Sbarro baked-ziti pizza at a thruway rest stop, aka not at all. My mom, however, grew up in the Bronx, part of an Irish community that borrowed family recipes from their better-fed Italian neighbors. She makes a killer lasagna. I can guarantee there are at least two in her freezer right now, plus extra tomato sauce “just in case.”
There are also too many great pastas to choose between. I love the elegance of tagliatelle, how it flirtatiously twirls itself around the end of a fork; the lusciousness of pappardelle; the comfort of spaghetti; the stability of rigatoni (like the guy your mom wished you would date), sturdy and reliable in almost any situation.
If asked: What’s your least favorite type of pasta? For the majority of my adult life, the answer would have been simple: farfalle. By far one of the more juvenile members of the pasta family, right there alongside elbow macaroni. I would rather use it to decorate a Christmas card than waste a good sauce on it.
In reality, I hate wasting food—even more than I dislike farfalle. It’s a distaste shared by my husband, Guillaume. He believes, for example, that cheese never ever goes bad and can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. I mostly agree with him, but I’ll also clandestinely toss a tub of moldy cream cheese. Being French, he may know his cheese, but I know a bagel shouldn’t wear fur.
Recently, when I discovered a leftover half-kilo of farfalle in the deep recesses of our pantry, I cursed the childish little bow ties, then started thinking of how to prepare them for dinner.
“My least favorite of the pastas,” I notified the public at large (by Instagram, where else), to which my sister cheekily replied, “My kids love them! Maybe you just don’t know how to cook them.” Which was very possible.
The box recommends precisely 11 minutes of cooking time, but our Parisian kitchenette is small—so much so that our fridge sits charmingly in the narrow hallway—and a kitchen timer seems an extravagant use of space. So I do without.
Instead, I stand expectantly close to my boiling pot of salty water, stirring occasionally and watching until the ends are translucent and the center still firm. I taste one noodle to determine whether the farfalle are finished. Once they are, I sauce with a simple garlicky, olive oil–based concoction. Then, I eat them.
Like ordering a swimsuit online, farfalle always seems to disappoint.
Maybe it’s because the firmness isn’t uniform, or because the noodles do a poor job of mopping up the last remnants of sauce. I’ve just never been a fan of the farfalle.
But before I hoist my opinion on discerning readers, I figured I should ask someone more knowledgeable for their take on my forsaken farfalle.
So I call my chef friend, Davide Ciampi, a native of Puglia who’s spent the past five years cooking in reputable kitchens around Europe. We met during a stage, or cooking internship, at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Basque Country, where I would not infrequently close myself in the walk-in refrigerator and cry between crates of produce.
The name farfalle means “butterfly” in Italian, Davide tells me. Parents like to serve farfalle to children to lure them into eating less kid-friendly foods like vegetables.
“Do you like far-fall-lay?” I ask.
“It’s called il farfal in my dialect,” he begins, “and the shape doesn’t really matter because dry pasta all tastes the same. But some people don’t like farfalle because of the texture—it’s more al dente in the center.”
Feeling a touch of validation, I ask if he were to prepare farfalle, how he would do it. With prosciutto, cream and whichever fresh herbs he has on hand. And that’s prosciutto cotto, he tells me, not prosciutto crudo.
As it turns out, this prosciutto and cream combination is popular in Northern Italy, where you’ll often find it prepared with fresh peas, too. And it makes sense: A light and creamy sauce will cling to the tiny noodle nooks and edges.
I’m determined to try the pasta per Davide’s recommendation—but then Paris is overtaken by a heat wave, or canicule. As the idea of cooking with heat seems slightly masochistic, I decide to wait it out, sipping cold soups and ordering Korean takeout instead.
Once the heat breaks, I return to my rendez-vous with farfalle.
I stop by a specialty Italian food store on Rue des Martyrs to pick up prosciutto and a box of farfalle—granted, fresh would probably be better, but I’m interested in rescuing the everyday, store-bought variety—then a produce stand where I find a healthy bunch of tarragon and giant pods of fresh peas.
While I wait for my generously salted water to boil, I heat a pat of Normandy butter and some olive oil in a large pan, then finely chop a few small white onions. I cook the onions with a few pinches of crunchy salt until all are translucent and some are a little crispy, then add the peas. At this point, the water is ready for my farfalle.
Once the peas taste cooked, I add cream and fresh ground pepper. I let those come together a bit, and the cream starts to take on a toasty color from the other ingredients. Already, it’s looking and smelling very tasty. Then I add the chopped prosciutto and things get even more exciting.
Just before the farfalle is al dente, I spoon it into the pan, bringing along some starchy water, and let the noodles tumble around in the sauce while they finish cooking. I end with chopped tarragon and grated Parmesan.
The result is a velvety coating on all of the tiny butterflies, and a flavor that feels both light and rich, with a fresh punch from the tarragon.
Lesson learned: Don’t knock a pasta until you’ve prepared it using a tried and true recipe from the motherland.
This home cook still prefers other pastas—tagliatelle, you’re my main gal always. But as far as farfalle goes, it was a pretty delicious dish. If you find yourself contemplating how to use a leftover box of farfalle, I’d highly recommend it.
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