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Eating with Your Eyes Doesn’t Always Work

When I worked (briefly) in the restaurant world, we spent a lot of time on presentation. The understanding was, you eat with your eyes first so each plate should appeal visually. Well, last night’s dinner sure looked pretty, didn’t it? That’s a big ol’ dish of Fettucine with Tomatoes and Crispy Capers you’re looking at, requested by Stephen after we ate at The Redhead for my birthday (YUM) and were intrigued by some deep-fried capers atop a Caesar salad. Lord knows it smelled heavenly while I cooked it, anchovies and garlic sizzling away, then prosciutto (my kosher relatives can stop reading now) and basil. But it tasted…ok. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad. But both Stephen and I found it mildly disappointing—at one point we turned to each other and said, at virtually the same time, that the fresh fettucine we’d used was the best part. Now, I know a good handmade pasta (even store-bought, as ours was) can be a song worth singing all on its own, but we weren’t expecting it to overshadow the sauce like that.

More than 100 people have “favorited” this recipe on Food & Wine’s web site, so I’ve got to assume that I went wrong somewhere. I’d try again, but to be honest the prosciutto kinda grossed me out. Since I grew up kosher, I just don’t have experience with that kind of stuff—I wound up fishing the pieces out of my bowl and passing them to Stephen. This delighted him, sure, but it put a damper on my own enjoyment. Leads me to believe I probably won’t attempt to perfect this recipe.

But if I did, here’s what I’d do differently:

  • Measure my anchovy paste (the recipe calls for 4 chovies, so I just used a healthy squirt of paste. Perhaps it was too healthy—the flavor may have been a bit too strong.
  • Watch the flame under the pan. The directions say to cook the chovies and garlic over high heat until the garlic turns golden, and it’s a mighty fine line between golden and brown. Then you add the prosciutto, and supposedly brown that too. Nu-uh. My garlic was so close to burning that I turned the light down, and the prosciutto was left wan and grayish. I think a medium flame the entire time probably would’ve worked better.
  • Use canned (or Pomi) diced tomatoes instead of fresh if it ain’t tomato season. I used two largeish plum tomatoes, thinking it would be ok, but those tomatoes had zero flavor. Seasonal cooking, ladies and gentlemen.

I’d love it if you’d try this recipe and report your results here, or blog about them and link back so I’ll know. I’m dying to know if my improvements would help, but I’m still so weirded out by the thought of cooking with pig products that I’ll never know without someone else’s help.

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