Pasta Dharma Talk

I have been craving pasta and noodles like mad recently.

There is a reason for this, which I can’t really go into right now, but it means that for the past week, four out of seven dinners have been pasta or noodles of some form or another. Penne with Meyer lemon cream sauce, Spaghetti with Creamed Eggplant and Walnuts, and then last night, I made a quickie old favorite, Za Jiang Mein, light on the pork and heavy on the tofu, and tonight–well, tonight, I wanted tortellini.

But I didn’t want that stuff from Buitoni. Blech. I wanted real tortellini.

So, that meant I had to break out the old faithful Atlas hand-cranked pasta machine, and have at it.

I figured I would wait for Morganna to come home from school, and we’d make it together, because I knew darned good and well she hasn’t made pasta before.

She was so excited.

And we had great fun. I was going to do a big post on how to make pasta using an Atlas, and show how to fold tortellini, step by step but several things happened.

One, I discovered that it is really hard to simultaneously teach one person how to do this, -and- take pictures. When you are working with fresh pasta, especially, since it wants to dry out immediately and you cannot let it dry out before you wrap the filling into the pasta.

So, I stopped trying to take pictures while the pasta was being made.

Which was a good thing, because the batteries in the camera crapped out anyway. So, I was forced to take them out, stick them in the recharger, and then return to teaching Morganna the art of wrapping pasta dough around tortellini filling.

When the batteries ran out, and I realized I couldn’t teach Morganna and take pictures is when I decided that I just needed to be “in the moment,” and it helped me go with the flow of the evening. Things didn’t work out.

So what?

Sometimes, I think that we all need our plans thwarted now and again. It keeps us humble, and it makes our minds more flexible, when we have to go off script and adapt to changing circumpstances.

Which is how I finally ended up teaching Morganna how to wrap tortellini–I adapted to the fact that she didn’t know much about tortellini, but she sure did know from Chinese food.

It really told me a lot about Morganna’s culinary education when I noticed she was being very clumsy at wrapping the tortellini. Finally, I said, “You know what? Screw how the Italians do it–wrap it like a wonton.”

At which point, Morganna’s fingers flew and out came a perfect wontonellini. I noticed that my fingers were more nimble using that method, because, well, frankly, she and I have wrapped a heck of a lot more wontons than we have tortellini.

I’m sure Marcella Hazan will not mind, and if she does, well, she isn’t likely to come to Ohio to register her complaint, so I don’t care.

And they tasted really, really good, too. The pasta was a simple egg dough wrapped around a filling of shallot, garlic, lacinato kale, prosciutto, parmesgiano-reggiano and ricotta cheese seasoned with a tiny bit of freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper. I sauced it with a tomato-cream sauce that I spiked with some red wine and dried chile flakes and garnished with fresh basil.

It took us three hours to make dinner, but hey–Morganna and I had a hell of a lot of fun. As she said, it was better than math any day.

After dinner, I got the pleasure of sitting down with Morganna and introducing her to one of my favorite films, which was a perfect cap to our zen evening of pasta.

We watched Tampopo, which, well, it is one of those movies that every foodie needs to see. A comedy by director Juzo Itami, Tampopo tells the tale of a woman (named Tampopo, which means, “Dandelion”) who wants to learn to make the best bowl of ramen in the world so that her noodle shop can be the best it can be. She enlists the aid of Goro, a cowboy-hat wearing truck driver, who is a connoisseur of ramen, which can be considered one of the national “fast food” dishes of Japan. An amazing list of memorable and quite amusing characters are woven into the fabric of this film, which speaks to the love of food, and its meaning to all humans in life, and in death.

It is a comedy, that at moments is uproariously funny, but other parts are sad, or poignant.. It is also a restrained sort of love story, which tells more in what it leaves out than in what it shows openly, and there is passion, friendship and folly aplenty as the plot unfurls.

Every time I see the movie, I see something new, and it is particularly satisfying to introduce it to Morganna, who laughed heartily and yet was touched as well.

I think it will end up to be a favorite of hers, as well.

So, that was our evening of zen pasta. We toiled all evening making pasta, filled and shaped it, cooked it, and made sauce for it, then ate it, and it is all gone, now. That is zen. Living in the moment. One moment, there is a pile of tortellini which we spent hours making, and in the blink of an eye–it is gone.


That is the way of all cooking, not just pasta or noodles of course. It seems rather foolish, doesn’t it–to toil so long and hard, for something that is transient, like dinner. jIn the film, Tampopo toils for months to perfect her noodles, which will sell for a few coins, and be eaten within minutes by her customers, but she knows the secret–it gives her satisfaction to please her customers. It makes her heart glow to feed people food that makes them smile, that makes them slow down and actually taste what they are eating.

And besides–here is the truth of it all.

Food only appears to be transient. One minute it is there, and the other minute, it is gone, or it seems to be.

But, of course, it isn’t gone. It is transformed. It is broken down into its component elements and used to build our bodies.

The tortellini I cooked today is even now becoming part of Morganna, Zak and myself. It is used to provide energy for us to live, and yes, in that sense it is consumed, and gone. But some of it is used to rebuild our bodies. To repair our muscles, skin and bones. To make new blood cells, to make new hair growth.

Part of that tortellini will be with us forever.

That is the true zen secret of cooking. What I cook, and transform with my energy, goes into other people and becomes a part of them.

In essence–I am becoming part of them.

And when you look at it that way–it is an illustration of the essential unity of all things–we are all part of each other. The true illusion is that of separation.

Thus concludes my pasta dharma talk for this evening.



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  1. The whole process of cooking is deep, in nature. It’s especially deeply fulfilling when shared with the person whose company you enjoy, whose being you love. Many times had I enjoy and rejoiced in the every second of preparing food together with someone I love. Enhanced when we’re cooking sinful things *smiles*

    I wonder if other people see or feel cooking the way a few of us do sometimes.

    It’s a great feeling. And a great satisfaction.

    Comment by Nirah — April 5, 2006 #

  2. What a beautiful post Barbara. I’ve never quite thought of food that way. “The Big Night” and “Chocolat” are my two favorite foodie films. I’ll have to look into “Tampopo”. Thanks!

    Comment by Sally — April 5, 2006 #

  3. A beautiful meditation. And a reminder that some things just can’t be rushed or corralled into what our ideas of them are.

    Tampopo is one of my favorite films!

    Comment by Diane — April 5, 2006 #

  4. Excellent post 🙂

    I didn’t know about the film “Tampopo”, but there is a fusion noodle bar in Manchester (England) called Tampopo, so I’m guessing that’s where they got the inspiration from. They sell great noodles, by the way 😛

    Comment by Stephanie — April 5, 2006 #

  5. That looks delicious and I think making it like won tons is fine. I love Tampopo. There is a particularly erotic scene, as I recall, with food that beats the infamous feasting scene in Tom Jones.

    Comment by Sher — April 5, 2006 #

  6. Greetings from Montreal Canada!
    I share and applaud your philosophy Barbara and I too absolutely adored Tampopon.

    Comment by Connie — April 5, 2006 #

  7. Just two or three nights ago I made a tagliatelle aglio-olio with a bit of preserved lemon, parmesan, and pepper… I think the meyer lemon cream sauce would definitely tempt me. Put a little citrus in front of me and I’m easily excited, I guess.

    I love Tampopo… it was one of the first DVDs I made sure I had in my library. I’m also partial to Eat Drink Man Woman‘s food scenes, even though it was only loosely about food.

    Comment by Jason Truesdell — April 6, 2006 #

  8. I am going to take your recommendation and get the movie “Tampopo”, Barbara.
    Sounds like fun.

    Food and dharma… they go hand in hand, I think. Tortellini becoming part of your bodies, I guess that is the tortellini ‘karma’.:) They must have done something good in their past life, to become food to good people like you.:)

    Comment by Indira — April 6, 2006 #

  9. A more pedestrian post: how is tortellini folding different from won-ton folding?

    Comment by Hadar — April 7, 2006 #

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