Out of all the spice – and I mean spicy heat – that we can add to food, red pepper flakes must be my least favorite. It’s a personal preference, so I certainly do not judge when people litter their cheese pizza with the little bastards. Quite the contrary, it intrigues me how different people have different tastes.
Twenty-some years ago, my late wife and I would often discuss our differences in food tastes. When we first met, I was shocked when I learned that she couldn’t stand to be around beer, red wine, bleu cheese, goat cheese, mushrooms and asparagus.
About a year later, she (being the psychotherapist that she was) shared a scholarly article with me written by a team of Swiss neurologists who were able to quantify how tastes affected different people in far different ways, by measuring the activity in certain parts of the brain. It was groundbreaking research in the mid-90s and it explained that people are wired to either shy away from foods such as a stinky cheese, or like me be attracted to cave-aged Roqueforts whose aromas (to some) are reminiscent of my socks after a long three-day hike on the Appalachian Trail in early August.
No, people have varying tastes and that is a quantifiable fact. With that being said, however, I find it interesting that certain instances arise in which a loathed food product does well on certain palates. My daughter, for example, did not fall far from the tree, finding bleu chees in any form quite despicable.
Last summer we found ourselves at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at lunchtime at the only spot where we could find a table: The Brown Derby. A sister-copycat of the original in Los Angeles, the menus were different from inside to outside. We decided to sit outside, as the menu was easily one-fourth the price of the inside menu. Unfortunately, it was a lite fare menu so we were limited in selection and on the menu was noted something to the effect of “sorry, but no substitutions or special requests. You get what you get.”
After much debate, she decided to order the cobb salad, which I knew had bleu cheese on it. She succumbed to the decision as we were starving and in the hot July Florida sun, the thought of a salad was much more refreshing to her than wagyu sliders.
The salad came and I braced myself for what I was sure to be a complaint of some sort (and I certainly would not have blamed her, knowing her aversion to stinky sock-cheese). But not only did she not complain, but she loved the salad and was excited that she liked bleu cheese in something. The small crumbles mixed throughout the dish complemented the other ingredients perfectly and she was sold, at least for the moment, on a food that she has always disliked.
And for me, the gustatory foe is the red pepper flake. There is only one practical use that I have found for these spicy little flakes, and that is in this pasta dish below. A traditional pasta of Northern Italy, this spicy tagliatelle (enriched with eggs) does incredibly well with a buttery, meaty Bolognese or just simply with olive oil and parsley as I have listed below.
Either way, I love red pepper flakes in this pasta and it goes to show you that if you know for a fact that you loathe a particular food, it’s quite possible that you simply haven’t had it the right way; meaning that you haven’t had it to your liking, yet.
Spicy Red Pepper Tagliatelle
enough for 4 people
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups All purpose flour
3/4 cup Semolina flour
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp. Olive oil
- Run the pepper flakes through a spice grinder so that their size doesn’t rip the finished dough as you roll it
- Combine ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook
- Mix on low for about 10-12 minutes. The dough will go through various stages and it could be sticky before it becomes a pliable doughball
- Cover with plastic and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes
- Place on a clean surface with plenty of flour to prevent it from sticking
- Cut the dough into five equal portions and cover with a clean kitchen towel to prevent a crust from forming
- Using a pasta roller, run each piece through, starting at the widest thickness that the machine will offer. You can fold it over a couple times to help develop the stretchiness of the pasta, but once you have it at the width that you want, continue with the rolling
- Decrease the size of the opening on the roller and get it to what we call “window pane” thickness, which means that you can see the color of your skin through the pasta. Set it aside and roll the remaining sheets
- Cut the pasta as you would fettucine.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. It will only take two-to-threes minutes to cook, so stay on top of it
- Remove and serve plain with extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and parsley or go with a hearty Bolognese, which is a traditional topping for this pasta