December 1, 2018

Pasta - Pasta in Houston

I have a tremendous respect for complex foods. For example, Thai food with its complexity of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy ingredients all rolled into a particular curry.

But, actually, I prefer simpler food. And that is why I love and look forward to eating Italian food. In my opinion, and I am certainly not the first person to note or acknowledge this, Italians love simplicity, in order to allow the flavor of the meats or vegetables to not be masked by a lot of different herbs and spices. And so for this reason you find dishes that maybe just have the seasoning of some salt, some pepper, maybe one or two types of dried herbs. Fish will still taste like fish. Spinach will still taste like spinach. Which isn't to say that sauces are always simple, ragus for pasta can be complex.

Although there are many Italian chefs who are doing fusion dishes, the Italians do have a saying about the importance of using ingredients that complement each other. This is summed up in the expression, 'si sposa o non si sposa'. Roughly translated that means it either marries or it doesn’t marry. So for example if you were making a risotto in the style of Milano you would not want to use a Sicilian cheese. Regions have their preferences for the way the foods go together. 

And fitting in beautifully in this Italian universe of cuisine is pasta. Now initially of course you have several courses in a typical Italian meal. You have the appetizer course that proceeds the pasta, the antipasto, meaning meaning "before". Then you have your pasta dish. And then, you have your main entrée which will be some sort of protein and some vegetables and then you’ll have some dessert. The sauce accompanying the pasta may be simply butter, butter with garlic, a fresh tomato sauce, or a more complex ragú with its ingredients of onion, celery, carrot, garlic, pancetta, milk, wine, tomatoes and stock. Check out the pasta map further down in this blog to get an idea of regional pasta dishes.

And then, there is the glorious category of Italian-American cuisine, where the wonderfulness that is pasta in a thickened sauce has lent itself to becoming the actual meal itself here in the United States. When we go to Italian restaurants we will order a delicious plate of pasta only, spaghetti for example with a meat sauce, or meatballs or other things. Tagliatelle for a ragu Bolognese.

Here's an example of that Italian-American 'pasta as a meal in itself' twist. This is a tray bake spaghetti and meatballs recipe by my friend, Mesha (see link) :

Mesha's Corner Bake Tray Spaghetti and Meatballs

Initially angel hair pasta, that is, cappellini, a thin pasta, could be found in desserts, but here in the US of A, angel hair pasta has taken on a life of its own and shows up as a main course in Italian-American restaurants. 

Other pasta dishes paired with sauces show up at restaurants. There is the black pepper dish of Rome, (cacio e pepe). The beloved lasagna (or tagliatelle) alla Bolognese. Pasta alla Norma. There is spaghetti alla carbonara, in which the hot pasta 'cooks' the eggs to finish the dish. And the fettucine Alfredo (though the following map seems to say "no" to it). Notice how different pasta shapes match up with different recipes?

(Map courtesy of

And there are many stories associated with pasta. And there are hundreds of different types of pasta shapes created and named. 

Some pastas lend themself to sauces and are formed with old style bronze dies in shapes that work really well with the sauces. The rough surface helps to hold the sauce.

One would spend an entire lifetime, I suspect, just exploring the pasta types and accompanying sauces of the different regions of Italy. 

Pasta is my passion. Pasta is what I look forward to eating. I would eat pasta every day if I could.

My love of pasta is such that I even own a copy of this book here, about the architecture of pasta.
(Pasta by Design)

I make pasta. It's easy. Eggs, flour, salt. A KitchenAid mixer with the pasta making attachments. A gazillion recipes on the web. And I had an aha moment once when I realized that plastic coat hangers are perfect for drying pasta.

(Photo courtesy of Williams-Sonoma)

I'd been making it on my own for many years but a class with Giuliano Hazan in the 80's  took my skills from very good pasta to spectacular pasta. He has written several excellent books. Here is a link to his Amazon page:
Link to Giuliano Hazan Amazon Page

Here is a link to his website with a how-to-make pasta instructional from Giuliano:

Giuliano Hazan Homemade Pasta Recipe

One of my favorite pranks is to purchase the extremely
l  o  n  g   Garofalo brand of spaghetti and then sit back and watch as my guests twist and twist the pasta on their fork while wondering "just how long is this?". And it is an excellent spaghetti.

Now, what are some places to find better than grocery store brands of pasta? Well, my three favorites are:
Italian-American Grocery Store, 3605 White Oak in the Heights

Spec's Downtown Location, 2410 Smith Street

Central Market, 3815 Westheimer

Four, actually. We need to include the two Phoenicia's (downtown location and Westheimer).

For freshly made pasta, there is the historically significant Fabio Milano's Artisan Pasta at 2129 West Alabama. A Houston treasure for almost 40 years.

What about dining out in Houston? The following is not a definitive list, but just a sampling of restaurants which I respect, helmed by an Italian chef or owner. If you can think of any others, please post in the comments section.

Fresco Cafe Italiano

Sud Italia Ristorante

(web link currently not operational. Here is their address on Westheimer: 12126 Westheimer Rd

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

Recently a query was made to the FB group Houston Foodie Friends moderated by Cleverley Stone about where one can find home-made pasta in Houston. In addition to Fabio Milano's Artisan Pasta, the following restaurants were recommended by members of that group:

Boada Cuisine
6510 Del Monte Dr, Houston, TX 77057
Campioni Restaurant
13850 Cutten Rd, Houston, TX 77069
Ciao Bello
5161 San Felipe St, Houston, TX 77056
Coppa Osteria
5210 Morningside Dr, Houston, TX 77005
DaMarco Restaurant
1520 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
Fresco Cafe Italiano
3277 Southwest Fwy Ste A, Houston, TX 77027
Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
3215 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098
North Italia Restaurant
1700 Post Oak Blvd #190, Houston, TX 77056
2520 Amherst St, Houston, TX 77005
1834 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX
947 North Gessner Road, Houston, TX 77024
Vinoteca Poscol
608 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
Giuseppe's (in Spring, Texas)
8320 Louetta Rd # 160, Spring, TX 77379

abio Milano Owner, 

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